Good Fat, Bad Fat – What’s The Difference?

With the cooler months approaching, it’s amazing how we start to crave foods that are higher in fat and sugar. It’s not as if we’re back in caveman times and have to bulk up because we will be exposed to the elements for months at a time and unsure where our next meal will come from….. But, are all fats bad?

Read on to find out more about fats and which are the good ones.

There are three main types of fat in food:

  • Saturated fat,
  • Polyunsaturated fat and
  • Monounsaturated fat

The terminology refers to how many hydrogen atoms are in the fats. Saturated fat means it is saturated with hydrogen, not saturated with fat as some people think. Unsaturated means that some of the hydrogen atoms have been removed from the fat…… There are also trans fats.

So which ones should be go for and which ones should we try to avoid?

Fat types

  • Saturated Fat Generally considered as a “bad” fat because of its link to heart disease and some cancers. Saturated fats tend to disrupt the normal regulation of cholesterol in the body, causing blood cholesterol levels to rise. Foods high in saturated fats are listed in Table 6.1. Note: one saturated fat, stearic acid, does not raise blood cholesterol. Stearic acid is found in cocoa butter used in manufacturing chocolate.
  • Polyunsaturated Fat These fats are essential nutrients, as the body cannot make them. They are important for good health. The most common type is the omega-6 polyunsaturated fat found in polyunsaturated margarines and oils and many seeds and nuts. The omega-3 fats are found in some plant foods, such as canola oil, linseeds and walnuts. The more effective long chain omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found in seafood, particularly oily fish and the fish oils extracted from them. These fish oils are linked to brain health and a reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Monounsaturated Fat Like polyunsaturated fats, these fats are viewed quite favourably in health terms. Common sources include olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and a range of monounsaturated margarines based on olive oil and canola oil.
  • Trans Fats Although trans fats can look like a monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, they act more like saturated fats than unsaturated fats. For this reason health authorities consider them to be “bad” fats. Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in the fats of, and from, ruminant animals (such as sheep and cows), therefore trans fats will be found in lamb, beef, whole milk and butter. Trans fats are also formed when unsaturated oils are converted to a semi-solid state to form some hard margarines or to be used in baked foods. Since the mid-1990s margarine manufacturers have modified their production processes so that soft margarines are free of trans fats. Hard cooking margarines still contain some trans fats. Food manufacturers internationally are trying to reduce the amount of trans fats in their products

Saturated fat Unsaturated fat
Cream Monounsaturated margarine
Lard Polyunsaturated margarine
Butter Monounsaturated oils, such as canola, olive
Cooking margarine Polyunsaturated oils, such as safflower
Palm and coconut oil Avocado Nuts
Commercial cakes, pastries, biscuits Peanut butter Seeds
Fatty takeaways Hard cheeses Tahini (spread made from sesame seeds)
Fatty meats, salami Snack foods, crisps Oily fish (omega-3 fats) Lean meats

Source: The Australian Food And Grocery Council – Nutrition and Health the fact and figures, 2008.