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There are different types of fat. Your body makes its own fat from extra calories, and fat also comes in the foods you eat. Fats are essential to your health. They are a major source of energy, and they help you absorb some vitamins and minerals. They help build cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves. They are also essential for helping with blood clotting and muscle control.

But some types of fat can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease, and all fats are high in calories and can add to weight gain. They can also be a source of inflammation.

You should generally try to select healthier fats and avoid the less healthy ones.

How do you choose?

Bad fats are solid at room temperature, while good fats like olive oil are liquid.

There are 2 types of solid, bad fats:

Saturated fats. 

They usually come from animal sources. They will increase bad cholesterol.

  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Meat, lunchmeat
  • Poultry, poultry skin
  • Coconut products
  • Palm oil, palm kernel oil and products
  • Dairy foods (other than skim)
  • Partially hydrogenated oils

Trans fats.

Most are man-made from oils in a process called partial hydrogenation. Just like saturated fat, they can increase your bad cholesterol.

  • Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
  • Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
  • Stick margarine, vegetable shortening
  • Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
  • Anything containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, even if it claims to be “trans fat-free”

There are 2 types of good fats – Unsaturated fats:

These are the healthier choices and usually occur naturally in foods.

Monounsaturated fats.

  • Canola oil
  • Almond oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Peanut butter
  • Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Peanut butter

Polyunsaturated fats.

  • Corn oil
  • Fish oils
  • Soybean oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines) and fish oil
  • Soybean and safflower oil
  • Soymilk
  • Tofu

How Much Fat Is OK?

Of course, in all things – keep it balanced, except for trans fats. You should always try to avoid or minimize your intake of those.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, recommend the following targets for healthy adults:

  • Total fat: 20% to 35% of daily calories.
  • Saturated fat: 10% or less of daily calories.

This means that if you eat 2,000 calories per day, 400 to 700 calories should come from fat.

  • Avoid trans fat. Check food labels for partially hydrogenated fats.
  • Use oil instead of solid fats.  Sauté with olive oil instead of butter, and use canola oil when baking.
  • Eat fatty fish. Eat salmon and mackerel twice a week to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Bake or broil seafood rather than frying it.
  • Choose lean meats and skinless poultry. You should trim most but not all visible fat and skin from meat and poultry.
  • Snack smart. Many processed snack foods are high in trans fats. Instead, pick whole fruits and vegetables to snack on.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Most foods contain different kinds and amounts of fat. Keep it balanced. For example, canola oil contains some saturated fat but is mostly a monounsaturated fat. Butter, on the other hand, contains some unsaturated fat but is mostly a saturated fat.

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