Health and Nutrition Corner: A guide to unsaturated, saturated and trans fats

Fats tend to get a bad reputation – the health-conscious tend to avoid them and they’re one of the first things consumers look to eliminate when battling the bulge. But, fats are important to overall health, though they’re certainly not equal. The type and amount of fat is important, with Health Canada categorizing them as the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: Unsaturated fats

Choosing foods with unsaturated fat can be part of a balanced diet, according to Canada’s Food Guide. Moreover, swapping saturated and trans fats for unsaturated can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. There are two main types of unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – both of which are found in peanuts, nuts and vegetable oils.

The bad: Saturated fats

Saturated fat is found in many of the foods Canadians enjoy regularly, such as meats and dairy products. Studies have shown that saturated fats can raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which puts consumers at a higher risk for heart disease. Those looking to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diet should opt for leaner proteins and use vegetable oil over butter, lard or shortening.

The ugly: Trans fats

Unlike other fats which are found naturally in foods, trans fat is made from a chemical process when liquid oil is turned into solid fat. Similar to saturated fat, trans fat raises LDL cholesterol levels, but also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol. When it comes to food labelling practices, a product that has less than 0.2 grams of trans fat and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat can be labelled as trans fat-free. With misconceptions about fats, peanut butter has had a bad reputation in some communities. But did you know that 85% of the fat in peanuts is the “good” unsaturated fat? With these “fat facts” in mind, consumers should feel guilt-free enjoying peanuts and peanut butter regularly.

For more information on fats, including recommended daily amounts and understanding nutrition labels, see Health Canada.