Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007. 

Most people do not think of dietary fat as something that plays a role as part of a healthy diet. But, in fact, fat can be part of a nutritious diet as long as you choose the right fats.

The 4 fats

1. Saturated fat. This is the fat you want to limit in your diet as much as possible.

Why? Saturated fat raises cholesterol. By lowering saturated fat intake, you can decrease your cholesterol and therefore reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Where is it found? Saturated fat is found in animal products such as milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, meat, and eggs. Coconut oil also contains a significant amount of saturated fat. When eating foods of this sort, choose low-fat and lean options such as skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese, reduced fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, and lean meats.

2. Trans fat. This is another fat you want to limit in your diet. Trans fat is made during a process called hydrogenation, which turns liquid vegetable oil into a shelf-stable hard fat.

Why? Trans fat decreases your “good” HDL cholesterol and increases your “bad” LDL cholesterol, thereby increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Where is it found? Trans fat is found in margarine and many fried foods, like donuts and French fries. It is also found in snack foods such as commercial baked goods, packaged cookies, and crackers. If you see the words “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil” on a nutrition facts label ingredient list, you’ll know that food contains trans fat.

3. Monounsaturated fat. This is one fat you want to incorporate into your diet instead of saturated fat and trans fat.

Why? These fats help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. By including monounsaturated fat in your diet, you can actually reduce your risk of heart disease.

Where is it found? Good sources of monounsaturated fat include vegetable oils (canola, olive, peanut, sunflower, and sesame), nuts, seeds, avocado, and peanut butter.

4. Polyunsaturated fat. This is another good fat you want to incorporate in your diet in place of saturated fat and trans fat.

Why? Polyunsaturated fats have similar beneficial effects on heart health as monounsaturated fats. In addition, certain polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fats are fats that we must get from the foods we eat, and are essential to overall brain and body health.

Where is it found? Vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, and safflower contain polyunsaturated fat. Foods such as walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, trout, and albacore tuna (fresh and canned), are also good sources.

The bottom line

Balancing the intake of fats in your diet by increasing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and decreasing saturated and trans fat allows you to have a positive impact on your health. Adding good fats and limiting bad fats can help you decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, and decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.