Why Eating Fat Keeps You Healthy

Making Sense of Dietary Fat

Fats have received a bad rap for years. Consuming fat has been blamed for causing obesity, increased cholesterol, and health problems.  

Many doctors and nutritionists once viewed a low-fat diet as the answer to weight loss and managing health issues. Similar to the misinformation surrounding carbohydrate restriction, fats have been lumped into the "bad" food group category for too long. The truth: It's important to eat fats every day for good health. 

Our Bodies Need Fat

Avocado

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Fats are one of the three macronutrients required for the body to function at an optimum level. That means a large percentage is required to maintain good health.

According to the Dietary Reference Intakes published by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, 20% to 35% of the calories we consume should come from fat. The purpose of fat in our body is for growth and development, energy, vitamin absorption, protection of our organs, and maintaining cell membranes. 

Understanding the important role fats play in daily food intake can help highlight why it should not be removed from our diet. Fats are an important source of energy during workouts. Fats also contain active molecules that influence how muscles respond to insulin and control response to inflammation.

Fats are necessary for energy and hormone production, vitamin absorption, maintaining the membrane integrity of every cell in our body, and growth and development.

Beneficial Fats Keep the Body Healthy

Salmon

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Comprehensive research shows the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t linked with weight or disease. It's the type of fat and the total calories in the diet that really matter. 

All fats are not created equal and knowing the difference can help us choose what works best for our health. Some fats are more beneficial and heart-healthy, while other types are less beneficial and have been linked to heart disease. They are commonly referred to as "good" and "bad" fat, respectively.

With all the “don’t eat fat” hype, some people stopped consuming the fats that are beneficial for heart and overall health. While choosing healthier fats is better for your heart, keep in mind that all fats have about the same number of calories.

The "Good" Fats

Pumpkin seeds

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Unsaturated or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as "good" fats. Health benefits of unsaturated fats include lowered blood cholesterol levels, reduced inflammation, and stabilized heart rhythms. Beneficial fats are predominantly found in foods from plants and are liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fats:

  • Monounsaturated fat: These fats are liquid at room temperature but solidify when refrigerated. Olive oil is probably the most well-known monounsaturated fat. High concentrations can also be found in olives, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and canola and peanut oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Well known for their role in reducing overall blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, omega-3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fat shown to provide heart-health benefits. Food sources include fatty fish like salmon, trout, catfish, and mackerel, and also flaxseeds and walnuts. Dietitians recommend consuming omega-3 fatty acids from food sources rather than supplements; aim to eat two servings of fatty fish each week. 

Plant-based fats such as olives, avocados, and nuts are beneficial to the heart. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, plus walnuts and flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can combat inflammation.

The "Bad" Fats

Eggs

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Saturated or trans fats are known as "bad" fats. They increase the risk of disease in the human body. There has been much controversy and debate over the subject of saturated fat. Long-term studies indicate that cutting back on saturated fat can be heart-healthy if replaced with beneficial fats, especially polyunsaturated fats. At the very least, try to eat saturated fats sparingly. There are two types of "bad" fats:

  • Saturated fat: Linked to increased blood cholesterol level, clogged arteries, and heart disease, saturated fats are found in animal sources like red meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, eggs and vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature (such as palm oils). The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fats to 5% to 6% of daily calorie intake.
  • Trans fat: This type of saturated fat is made by heating liquid vegetable oils in a process called hydrogenation. This process reduces spoilage and extends the shelf life of food products. Hydrogenation turns a liquid into a solid food product such as margarine. Trans fats are used in restaurants and the food industry for frying, baked goods, pastries, processed snack foods, and margarine. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting trans fat.

More research is needed to determine the value of saturated fats from animal sources, but current studies suggest they should be consumed in limited quantities. All trans fats made of hydrogenated oils should be avoided as part of a healthy diet.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. 

  2. American Heart Association. Saturated fat.

  3. American Heart Association. Trans fats. Updated March 23, 2017.