Good fats or bad fats: what’s the difference?

By Gianna Shikitino
October 16, 2008

Shannon Keough

Many aren’t aware of the good and bad fats that they consume daily. To prevent the risk of heart disease and strokes in the future, people should learn the difference between good and bad fats.

What are good fats?

Omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats that are known to clear bad cholesterol (LDL) while boosting the good cholesterol (HDL).

“Good fats were decided on observational studies,” Dr. Kate Lally, who practices at Radnor Medical Associates, said. “It was noticed that people who ate the Mediterranean diet, namely people from the Mediterranean, ate a diet high in fat, but didn’t seem to have the same rate of heart disease as other people-namely Americans.

We noticed that most of their fats came from vegetarian sources or from fish and were chemically different from the fats most Americans eat. These fats are metabolized in the body into good cholesterol instead of bad cholesterol and actually prevent heart disease,” Lally said.

What types of food can we find the good fats in?

“They are found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants,” Chris Hyson, M.Ed., director of health and wellness education, said. “Some examples include salmon, avocados, olives, walnuts, almonds and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.”

“Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body needs to function properly, but does not make,” Hyson said. “Other non-fish food options that contain omega-3 fats include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil. Additionally, supplements are available; however, the evidence of heart-healthy benefits is strongest with eating fish.”

“Omega-3 fats have many potential beneficial effects including improving cognitive function in developing children, enhancing immune function and improving cardiac health in a number of ways,” Hyson said.

What are bad fats and where can we find them?

Saturated fats and trans fats are destructive to the body and the heart. These fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the risk of heart disease.

“Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and seafood,” Hyson said. “Some plant foods are also high in saturated fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter.”

“Trans fats are found in small amounts in various animal products such as beef, pork, lamb and the butterfat in butter and milk,” Hyson said.

“Trans fats were invented as scientists began to ‘hydrogenate’ liquid oils so that they can withstand better in the food production process and provide a better shelf life,” Hyson said. “As a result of hydrogenation, trans fatty acids (TFAs) are formed and are found in many commercially packaged foods, commercially fried food, packaged snacks such as microwave popcorn, vegetable shortening and hard stick margarine.”

Hyson said, “Some studies also show a link to a greater risk of Type 2 Diabetes.”

How can we lower bad fat and LDL intake?

“We should all try to eliminate trans fats from our diets and minimize saturated fats,” Lally said. “Eating a diet low in processed foods is good for you and if you do eat processed food, looking, for labels that say ‘trans fat free’ or avoiding anything that has ‘partially hydrogenated’ in the ingredient label is important.”

“We all start building up plaque at young age. Most college students already have the precursors to plaque build up,” Lally says. “It is important to limit your red meat intake, eat a diet low in processed foods and high in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. The younger you are when you make changes the better it is for you in preventing heart disease and strokes.”

What are some tips for college students to avoid bad fats and LDL?

“Cabrini students who eat on campus can use Dining Services: Balance Mind, Body and Soul Web site to look up food labels for all kinds of foods offered on campus,” Hyson said. “Go to and click onto ‘Nutrition Tools’.”

“Another valuable Web site for nutrition planning and information is My Pyramid:,” Hyson said. “Remember that certain fats are vital to our health, so again, the key is to replace healthy fats with less optimal choices.”

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Gianna Shikitino

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