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March 4, 2020

The Facts About Fat

By Grace Burton, MS, RDN, LDN 


Due to conflicting nutrition messages, I receive a lot of questions regarding dietary fat. “Should I try to follow a low-fat diet? Or a diet high in fat, as is seen with the keto diet?” “Should I avoid avocados and nuts and buy low-fat or powdered peanut butter to cut down on the amount of fat?” Let’s first clear the air by saying that dietary fat is absolutely necessary in our diet. It plays a role in several key processes in our bodies, such as hormone production, nutrient absorption, brain functioning, and keeping our bodies warm. Not to mention, it provides energy and helps keep us satisfied. Fat can make up anywhere from 20-40% of our daily caloric intake. That being said, not all fats are created equal and we do want to choose certain types of fats more often than others. The “good fats”, including unsaturated fats, are heart-healthy as they help to improve our blood cholesterol levels. Replacing more of the “bad fats” with the good fats may help to lower the risk of heart disease. Below is a breakdown of the good versus bad fats.

Good Fats: Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They can be found in plant-based foods and fish. There are 2 types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

  • Monounsaturated fats
    • Olive, peanut, and canola oil
    • Avocados
    • Nuts, nut butters, and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats
    • Sunflower, soybean, and corn oil
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
      • Fatty fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines
      • Flax seeds, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts

Below is a list of suggestions for how to incorporate more of these healthy fats in the diet:

  • Cook with olive and/or canola oil.
  • Aim to increase your intake of fatty fish, up to the recommended 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week.
  • Use avocado as a spread on sandwiches or toast, put on salads or tacos, or make guacamole to use as a dip for veggies or whole wheat crackers.
  • Snack on nuts, trail mix, or nut butters with fruit or whole grain crackers. And no, you do not need to opt for the low-fat or powdered peanut butter – the full-fat kind is more satisfying and it provides heart healthy fats!
  • Flax seeds and chia seeds are relatively tasteless and therefore, they can be easily mixed into foods like yogurt, salads, smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, or baked goods.

Bad Fats: Saturated & Trans Fats

The unhealthy fats are solid at room temperature. They can be found in high fat animal products, fried foods, and many store-bought baked goods.

  • Saturated fats
    • Fatty red meat, processed meats (bacon, sausage, hotdogs, etc.), and pork/poultry with the skin
    • Full-fat dairy products
    • Coconut oil, palm oil, and butter
  • Trans fats – avoid completely!!
    • Stick margarine, shortening
    • Certain baked goods or processed foods
    • Fried foods
    • Anything with “partially hydrogenated oil” listed in the ingredient list

Suggested ways to limit the bad fats:

  • Try to eliminate all foods that contain trans fats.
  • Remove the skin from meats before eating.
  • Choose leaner ground meats (at least 90% lean).
  • Cook mostly with olive and canola oil and use butter and coconut oil very sparingly.
  • For a salty, crunchy snack, go for nuts or trail mix more often than potato chips as a more heart-healthy alternative.


Reading labels can help to show you whether the fats are healthy or not. Check out the nutrition label for almonds below.

Notice how the majority of the fat is coming from the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, making this a heart-healthy fat source. However, if more of the fat was coming from saturated fat, it wouldn’t be a heart-healthy choice and you’d want to consume it less often.

For more help with heart healthy eating, call to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care registered dietitian by calling (919) 237-1337, option 4.


Grace is a registered dietitian working at the Wake Forest and Northeast Raleigh locations. She enjoys running, and especially likes doing races in other cities because it gives her an excuse to visit new places. She also loves trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the NC State Wolfpack at football and basketball games.

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