Low-fat diets. High-fat diets. Eat good fats. Stay away from bad fats. There is so much information out there and it can be confusing to know what the best diet choices are. Especially when it comes to healthy versus unhealthy fats.

Most foods we eat contain fat of some kind. There are many kinds of fat including trans, saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Are they all bad for you?

Unhealthy Fats

Trans and saturated fats are unhealthy and can raise the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. Dietary cholesterol, while technically not a fat, is typically lumped into the fat category. Dietary cholesterol originates in animal based food sources, such as meat and poultry and is typically not as harmful to the body as trans or saturated fats.

Examples of foods rich in trans fats include:

- Foods processed in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as crackers, cookies, and cakes.

- Fried foods such as french fries, battered chicken, and doughnuts

Examples of foods containing saturated fat include:

- Tropical oils such as palm, kernel, shea nut, and coconut

- Animal sourced foods such as dairy products, seafood, meat, and poultry

Food derived from animal sources contains levels of both dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Red meat contains far higher levels of both than poultry, dairy, or seafood.

Are all fats unhealthy?

No. In fact, there are fats that, in moderation, are actually healthy and provide multiple benefits to the body, especially the heart. These heart healthy fats are in foods that contain unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.

Maintaining a diet of foods that include these types of fats and excludes trans and saturated fats will lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Good fats lower the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. Again, moderation is the key as many food sources rich in healthy fats are also rich in calories.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat, are especially beneficial in the control of cholesterol levels. Hence the popularity of fish and flaxseed oil supplements. They both contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Examples of foods containing healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include:

- Canola, peanut, almond, and olive oil

- Sunflower, soy, and other vegetable oils

- Avocados, seeds, and nuts

- Peanut butter

Examples of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:

- Cold water fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel

- Flaxseeds

- Walnuts

Make Good Fat Choices

- Replace the use of fatty salad dressings and butter with olive oil

- Use olive or canola oil for cooking

- Skip the potato chips and cookies in favor of a handful of nuts and/or seeds

- Eat 3-4 servings of cold water fish each week

- Make sandwiches with sliced avocado instead of cheese

- Replace red meat with chicken

Although monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats minimally affect LDL levels in the blood, they still need to be eaten in moderation. Large quantities of any fat will contain relatively high calorie levels. Make sure you maintain a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Limit fats to a small percentage of your overall intake.

Author's Bio: 

J.D. Bell is a former professional health and nutrition counselor who is now, as a first time father at age 45, is focused on his own longevity.

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