Fat Is Not The Bad Word
You May Think It Is


Fat (called lipids in food) is required for the production of cell membranes and is necessary to digest and absorb vitamins A, D, and E. It provides essential fatty acids that help maintain your immune system, give you strong nails, shiny hair, and healthy skin. It also produces hormones that affect everything from hunger and sex drive to your moods.

It is an essential nutrient, and at nine calories per gram (protein and carbohydrates each have four per gram), it is the most calorie dense macro-nutrient.

The lipids we will look at here are the primary ones we eat and how they affect our health, fitness performance, and longevity.

The Good and the Bad

Good fats help protect us from diseases. They are the mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties. Consuming more of the mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated kind can lower total blood cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising good High Density Lipids (HDL). They may also improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure.

Saturated and trans-fat, on the other hand, tend to raise bad Low Density Lipids (LDL), elevate triglycerides, and promote obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Not a pretty picture.

So minimizing saturated lipids and eliminating trans-fats should be your goal.

The following is a lipids breakdown . . .

  • Mono-unsaturated — Olive, canola, and peanut oils; nuts and avocados.

  • Polyunsaturated, Omega-6 type — Corn, safflower, sesame, soy and sunflower oils (and in margarines, salad dressings, and mayonnaise made with these oils), most nuts and seeds.

  • Polyunsaturated, Omega-3 type — Cold-water fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna; flax seed, and walnuts.

  • Saturated: Meat, poultry, butter, cheese, cream, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils; processed foods such as cookies, crackers, chips and other baked goods.

  • Trans — Stick margarines, shortening, packaged baked goods, pastries, crackers, candy, French fries and other fried foods.

HDL and Cholesterol

HDL is a sub-category of cholesterol. It is the good stuff that keeps the bad (LDL) from “clogging the pipes.”

The table below from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute shows the ideal cholesterol levels (in milligrams per deciliter) that you should aim for to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Remember that when it comes to total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, the lower the number the better. On the other hand, with HDL, the good stuff, you want the highest possible number.

Total Cholesterol
Under 200, Desirable
200 - 239, Borderline High
240 or more, High

LDL (Bad Cholesterol)
Under 100, Optimal
100-129, Near Optimal
130-159, Borderline High
160-189, High
190 or more, Very High

Triglycerides
Under 150, Acceptable
150-199, Borderline High
200 or more, High

HDL (Good Cholesterol)
60 or more, Optimal
40-59, Acceptable
40 or less, Low

The Institute of Medicine recommends that all adults consume 20 percent to 35 percent of total calories in fats, with an emphasis on the healthier unsaturated kind.

The next important thing to remember about lipids is the probable need to increase omega-3 fats in your diet . . .

The typical Western diet provides ratios between 10:1 and 30:1 of omega-6 to omega-3, in other words we are dramatically (and unhealthily) skewed toward omega−6.

Healthy ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 range from 1:1 to 4:1. Studies suggest that the evolutionary human diet, rich in seafood and other sources of omega−3, may have provided such a ratio. For example, grass-fed (wild) animals accumulated more omega−3 than do today’s grain-fed (factory farmed) animals, which accumulate relatively more omega−6.

"Diets rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids fight disease and contribute to overall better health. Over 60 health conditions have been shown to benefit from essential fatty acid supplementation." -National Research Council.

Eating more cold-water fish and/or taking fish oil, and eating less grain-fed beef, is a good way to get more omega-3 into your diet.

Personal note: We eat salmon at home and also take daily a high quality fish oil from Vital Choice. Their fresh-caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon looks wonderful, but is a little too pricey for us. My wife, Patty, buys ours at the local market. But Vital Choice's salmon oil capsules are as pure as it gets and they are competitively priced. They ship it anywhere and fast. We couldn’t be more pleased. Give Vital Choice Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Oil Supplements a try. —LF

Finally, to avoid trans-fats, know that fried fast food, margarine and dough-nuts contain them, but so do many wholesome-sounding foods like whole-wheat crackers and some cereals. Read the labels. If you see the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" or "fractionated" oils — that means trans-fats. Avoid the product.



Return from Fat to the Nutrition page.