Choosing Healthy Fats

grouping of foods containing healthy fats on table top (salmon, olive oil, nuts and avocados)

Dietary fat has gotten a bad reputation. Low-fat, reduced fat, and fat-free foods are marketed as being heathier for us. Some are, and some aren’t. But the fact is, your body needs fat to survive. Fat, along with protein and carbohydrates, provides energy to the body in the form of calories. It also works to store extra calories, maintain healthy skin and hair, and insulate the body. However, eating too much fat can lead to obesity and extra weight and raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers.

But not all fats are the same. Although we need fat in our diet, we should eat fats in moderation and choose them wisely: some fats are “good,” while others are “bad.” Here’s what you need to know:

  • Unsaturated fats are “good” fats found mainly in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. At room temperature, these fats are liquid, not solid. There are two broad categories of good fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Find them in most nuts, soy products, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, tuna, and salmon.
  • Saturated fats are the “bad” kind and are found in meat and other animal products, such as butter, cheese, and all milk except skim. Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils, which are often used in baked goods you buy at the store. They are solid at room temperature.
  • Trans fats are the worst type of dietary fat, found in stick and some other types of margarine. They’re also in certain snack foods that you buy at the store or in a restaurant, baked goods, and fried foods. If you see "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils on an ingredient list, the food contains trans fats, even if the nutrition label says “0 grams.”

The American Heart Association recommends cutting back on trans fat and making saturated fat only 5% to 6% of total daily calories. For example, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of these calories should come from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.             

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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