Fat was once considered bad for health, but as research has evolved we now know that all types of fat are not equal. Fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. It plays a role in brain health, helps build cell membranes, and allows the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins. However, some fats can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Studies show that monounsaturated fat reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), which helps to lower the risk for heart disease and stroke. There is also evidence that these fats can help control blood sugar. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, and peanut butter.
Polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) have been found to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke. These fats are found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, tofu, and fatty fish like salmon and trout.
Health experts consider trans fat to be the worst type of dietary fat. Trans fats are byproducts of hydrogenation (turning a liquid fat into a solid) and are present in many processed foods. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower protective good cholesterol (HDL). As a result, the FDA has mandated that industrial trans fat be eliminated from foods by 2018.
A diet high in saturated fat can increase total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL), but some reports now question if the link between saturated fat and heart disease is as strong as once believed. As research continues, health experts remain cautious and recommend that saturated fat be limited to 10 percent of total daily calories. Saturated fat is found in red meat, whole dairy, coconut oil, and baked goods.