Understand Fats from Best to Worst
Understanding how we rate fats from best to worst, you first need to know the sources of fats. There are three separate sources you need to look at when rating fats from best to worst. In the complex world of fats, it is important to understand that there are good fats and bad fats. So when we say we are rating fats from best to worst, there are indeed fats that are good for you.
Sources of Fats:
- fats from plants and seafood (e.g. soy, nuts, and vegetable oils) are the healthiest
- fats from food factories (i.e., hydrogenated oils) are the worst (See Facts About Hydrogenated Fats and Oils)
- fats from animal sources fall somewhere in between – healthy in moderation, unhealthy in excess.
Rating fats from best to worst
- omega-3 fatty acids: decrease cholesterol; decrease total fats or triglycerides (See Food Sources of DHA and Omega-3)
- monounsaturated fats: decrease total fats; decrease LDL (bad cholesterol); no effect on HDL (good cholesterol).
- polyunsaturated fats: decrease total cholesterol; decrease LDL; decrease HDL.
- saturated fats: increase total cholesterol; increase LDL
- trans-fatty acids: increase total fats; increase cholesterol; increase LDL; may decrease HDL.
Why You Need Fats is another good resource for information.
Traffic light eating: Rating fats from best to worst guide
Green light fats
Fats in this category contain at least 80 percent unsaturated fats. Most contain some essential fatty acids, and all contribute to the health and well-being of the mind and body.
Note: The green light is not a license to overeat fat. Eating too much fat regardless of the type can cause obesity, which itself raises blood cholesterol levels.
|Human milk||Richest overall source of healthy fats Algae oil Richest source of DHA|
|Flax seeds, flax oil||Richest source of essential fatty acids and DHA.|
|Fish (cold-water, especially Alaskan salmon and tuna)||Coldwater fish, especially wild salmon and tuna, are, like flax, rich sources of DHA.|
|Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)||Rich source of essential omega 6 fatty acids, mostly unsaturated fats.|
|Canola oil||Ranks second to flax oil as the oil richest in essential fatty acids, especially DHA|
|Soy products (e.g., soy milk, tofu, tempeh)||Rich in essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, similar to fish oils. Also, contains lecithin; can reduce cholesterol|
|Olive oil||Mostly unsaturated fats|
|Nuts||Almonds and walnuts contain 90 percent unsaturated fats; cashews are low in total fat that is mostly unsaturated.|
|Peanut butter||Mostly unsaturated fats; buy organic and unhydrogenated; Also, good source of protein. Healthy alternatives to peanut butter are soybean butter, sesame seed butter, and cashew butter.|
|Hummus (a spread made from chickpeas)||Approximately 85 percent unsaturated fats, plus good source of protein, folic acid, many vitamins and minerals, and no cholesterol|
|Wheat germ||Mostly unsaturated, plus rich source of many other vitamins and minerals|
Yellow light fats
Fats in this category contain a balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids which, if eaten in moderation, contribute to the health and well-being of the body. Look for low-fat varieties. In addition, many of these foods are rich sources of other nutrients as well.
|Yogurt (low fat)||Like all dairy products, mostly saturated fats.|
|Milk (1 or 2 percent)||Around 50 percent of the fat content of whole milk|
|Egg||More unsaturated than saturated fats; yolk is high in cholesterol; use only egg white if you are cholesterol sensitive.|
|Beef (sirloin, trimmed)||High cholesterol, around 50-50 saturated and unsaturated fats.|
|Turkey (breast, skinless)||Around 50-50 saturated and unsaturated fats.|
|Veal (loin)||About 50-50 saturated and unsaturated fats|
|Cocoa butter||Even though it is a saturated fat, it is metabolized like a monounsaturated fat similar to olive oil.|
|Coconut oil||Over 90 percent saturated fats|
You could eliminate all the fats in this category and you would be healthier for it. Any nutrient that might be in any of these fats could be obtained from other fats with better nutritional credentials.
|Tallow (chicken or beef)||Ninety percent saturated fats|
|Lard||High in saturated fatty acids|
|Palm-kernel oil||Mostly saturated fats. Contains palmitoleic acid, a fat, which eaten in excess, can interfere with essential fatty acid metabolism.|
|“Hydrogenated,” or “partially hydrogenated”||Tops the list of fats that are bad for you.|
|Margarine||High in hydrogenated fats, especially those with a lot of coconut, palm- kernel, and hydrogenated oils.|
|Shortening||Especially those with lard, hydrogenated oils, palm kernel, coconut oils, or tallow.|
|Cottonseed oil||More unsaturated than saturated fat, but usually hydrogenated and may contain pesticide residues.|