We’ve practically been programmed to think that fat is bad. I mean, how long have low fat foods and low fat diets been around? Much longer than low carb foods and the low carb diet, which has now sort of replaced fat as the nutrient to be the most scared of and confused by these days.
Of course, fat still does an amazing job of scaring and confusing the hell out of people for various common reasons.
For example, some people still think eating fat is what makes a person fat. Other people know this isn’t true, but still consider fat to be the “bad” nutrient they should avoid because it’s unhealthy. And while other people realize both of these thoughts are mostly false, they are still confused by the concept of good fats and bad fats, which should be eaten and which shouldn’t, and more.
So, let’s try to clear up all of that fear and confusion right now.
The 4 Different Types Of Fat
There are primarily 4 different types of fat that are found in the foods we eat every single day. They are:
- Trans Fat
- Saturated Fat
- Monounsaturated Fat
- Polyunsaturated Fat
The reason so much fear and confusion surrounds this nutrient is because each type on that list has a significantly different effect on the human body. For this reason, you can never really look at fat as just one overall nutrient. You need to look at whether it’s trans, saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Good vs Bad
Now, the general public has broken these 4 types of fat down into 2 very basic groups: good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and bad fats (trans and saturated). The problem is, the general public likes to make things as simple and easy to understand as possible, and often gets things wrong in the process. This is a good example of that, as “good” and “bad” is a lot more cut and dry than it actually is.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the fats on that list are in fact bad and should be avoided, while others are good and should definitely be eaten. It’s just not as clear cut as some people would hope. Let’s take a look at why…
The “Bad” Fats: Trans & Saturated
Virtually every single negative thing you’ve heard about fat in your life has been in reference to either the trans or saturated form of it. All of the health problems, all of the potential risks, all of the bad stuff… these are the 2 (supposed) causes of it all.
In recent years, trans fatty acids have become the new “bad” thing in your diet. Everyone made a big deal about it being added to our food labels. We all made a big deal about the amount of it in fast food. The fast food restaurants made a big deal about how they were going to remove it all. It seems trans is the form that has definitely gotten the most attention over the last decade.
The question is, is it really as bad as we have made it out to be? Simply put… YES IT IS!
Mostly found in foods like vegetable shortening, margarine, doughnuts, pastries, fried foods, fast food, and junk food snacks like potato chips and cookies, trans fat is pretty much just as bad as everyone has made it out to be. In addition to these foods, trans fat is also found in EVERY food that has a “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil listed anywhere in its ingredients. Even if the food says it has 0 grams of it, seeing those words in the ingredients proves the label is a lie.
See, trans fat only needs to be listed on the label if there is half of a gram (0.5g) or more per serving. So, if there is just slightly less than that (like 0.499999g), it will say there are 0 grams of it. It’s dumb as hell, I agree. Luckily we can check the ingredients and find out for sure.
The reason trans fats are so bad is because research shows it has the potential to cause or increase our risk of everything from heart disease and stroke to cancer and diabetes. So yeah… it’s definitely one of the bad fats.
For this reason, the ideal daily intake of trans fat is 0 grams per day or as close to it as you can possibly get.
Found in many of the same foods as trans fatty acids, saturated fat is the other of the supposed bad fats. It’s most abundant in dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, butter and ice cream, and is also found in fatty meat, poultry skin and egg yolks. It’s also in coconut oil and palm oil, which are the oils commonly used when making typical junk foods like chips and other similar snack foods.
The question is, is it really as bad as it’s been made out to be? Not exactly.
See, it’s not that saturated fat is actually good, it’s just that there is conflicting research on just how bad it truly is, if it’s even that bad at all. On one hand, it is commonly referred to by the general public and mainstream media as the biggest cause of high LDL cholesterol levels (which is the bad cholesterol) and is viewed as one of the main dietary causes of heart disease. On the other hand, recent research shows that these supposed negative effects are reduced (or nonexistent) among healthy people who eat right and exercise.
Like I said… conflicting research. So, what are we to make of it? Well, no matter how bad it actually is, it’s no where near the level of trans fat and therefore doesn’t need to be avoided completely like trans should (it actually plays some important roles in optimal hormone production, so you don’t want to completely eliminate it from your diet).
However, saturated fat should still be limited to some degree in most people’s diets, with 1/3 of your total fat intake being an ideal amount to shoot for (unless your doctor has recommended otherwise). I wouldn’t recommend any more than that, though.
The “Good” Fats: Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated
With the bad (or supposed bad) fats now covered, it’s time to move on to the good (or supposed good) ones. In recent years, you may have become aware of the fact that certain types of fat can have positive effects on the human body. So positive in fact that supplements containing these types of “good” fats (like fish oil and flax seed oil) have become quite popular and highly recommended by trainers, nutrition experts and doctors.
Well, every good thing you’ve heard about fat has been in reference to either the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated form of it.
Found mostly in nuts, seeds, and oils like olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil, monounsaturated fat has been shown to help lower our LDL cholesterol levels and therefore help prevent the very same heart disease risk that the “bad fats” help increase the risk of.
For this reason, monounsaturated fat can indeed be considered a good and fairly healthy source of fat and should comprise a significant portion of your total daily fat intake.
Are you familiar with the term “essential fatty acids?” You know, the super important fatty acids that are absolutely essential to the health and function of the human body and must be supplied through your diet because the body isn’t capable of producing it on its own? You’ve probably heard of them… the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Ring a bell? Well, these essential fatty acids are all polyunsaturated fats.
Most abundant in fatty types of fish (like salmon, sardines, etc.), fish oil supplements, and various nuts and oils, polyunsaturated fat should also comprise a significant portion of your total daily fat intake and combine with monounsaturated to fill the majority of it (saturated fat should be the minority).
Now, we know it’s important because we need to get our essential fatty acids, but is it really as good as it’s made out to be? YES, but it’s not that simple.
You see, the omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are in fact quite good and are extremely important parts of our diet. These fats (especially the omega-3) have plenty of research showing benefits ranging from reducing bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol, to lowering our risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. And MUCH more.
The problem is, the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the typical diet SHOULD BE about 2:1 for optimal health. What it ACTUALLY IS instead is more like 20:1. This lopsided ratio has been shown to cause many of the same negative effects I mentioned earlier when discussing the bad fats.
What that means is, while we definitely need a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fat and the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, we need to pay extra special attention to getting enough of the omega-3 that is almost always greatly lacking in every normal diet.
This fact is a HUGE part of the reason why I (along with countless experts and doctors) have been taking a fish oil supplement for years and highly recommending everyone else do the same. You can learn all about them in my guide to Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements.
How Much Fat Should I Eat A Day?
Now that you know the basics of trans, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat as well as how good or bad they truly are, the last question you probably have is how much total fat you should be eating per day. Well, looking at various research and expert recommendations from various sources, here’s what I recommend.
About 20-30% of your total daily calorie intake should come from fat.
Since 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, here’s how you’d do the math. First, find 20-30% of your daily calorie intake. Let’s pretend it’s 2500 calories, and let’s also go with an even 25%. In this example, you’d do 2500 x 0.25 and get 625 calories from fat. Next you’d divide 625 by 9 to see that this example person would need to eat about 69 grams of fat per day. Simple.
No more than 1/3 of that total should come from saturated fat. The majority of it should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including a fish oil supplement). None of it should come from trans fat.
And that’s it. I hope this has helped clear up any fear and confusion you had about fat.
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