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What should I know about “good” and “bad” fat?
Q: Lately, the news has carried warnings about fatty and processed foods, with names of different kinds of fat—some that are good for you and some that are bad for you. This is very confusing! Please explain.
A: Eating too much fatty food is dangerous for children and adults. It increases the risk of becoming overweight and developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, and can cause strokes, colon cancer and other diseases.

Fats are an important nutrient for building healthy body tissue and providing energy for activity, so we all need some in our diet. For example, because fats are an important building block for nerve and brain tissue, it’s recommended that babies be given whole milk instead of low-fat or non-fat milk products until they turn 2 years old, while their brains are growing rapidly.

But for older children and adults, the general recommendations regarding fat are:
1. Limit the amount of fat you eat.
2. Be aware of the different types of fats, and eat more of the “good” fats, which contribute to healthy tissue and less of the “bad” fats, which increase our risk for heart disease and other conditions. In general, good fats are liquid oils, and bad fats are solid fats. You can imagine solid fats clogging up your arteries throughout your body, just like bacon grease clogs up your kitchen sink.

Here are some terms to look for:

“Good” fats
Monounsaturated fat: This is the best kind of fat, from vegetable sources. It actually helps lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise the HDL (good) cholesterol in your blood, which lowers your risk for heart disease. It is found in olive, canola and peanut oil as well as nuts and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fat: This is a good fat, also from vegetable sources. It helps lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol, but it also lowers the HDL (good) cholesterol in your blood, so it is not quite as helpful in lowering your overall risk for heart disease. It is found in corn, soybean and cottonseed oils.

“Bad” fats
Saturated fat: This is a bad fat, mostly from animal products. It increases the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease. It is found in whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, lard and coconut and palm oils.

Trans fat: This is a very bad fat, artificially made from vegetable oil that food manufacturers process (“hydrogenate”) to make it solid. Trans fat increases the LDL (bad) cholesterol even more than the saturated fats, and also lowers the level of HDL (good) cholesterol, which dramatically increases the risk for heart disease. It is found in margarine, packaged snack foods (such as cookies, cake, crackers, chips, donuts and pies), many canned soups, packaged noodles, microwave popcorn and most deep-fried foods in restaurants. Read the food labels and look out for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”—you’re likely to find it in most processed foods.

In addition to looking out for fats, be sure to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein sources. And try to get exercise every day. For more information, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website: