Did you know that up to 20 to 35 percent of your diet should be fat? That’s right—fat isn’t completely banned! Most of the fat you eat, though, should be in the form of so-called “good” fats. That said, according to government food surveys, most of us don’t need more fat in our diet, as we’re meeting that recommendation—though we’re not necessarily eating the correct balance of the right types of fat. Put more simply: we’re not eating enough good fat, and we’re eating too much bad fat.
But what are “good” fats—and which foods contain that kind of fat? We’ll tell you.
What Makes Fats “Good”?
How one fat is healthier than another comes down to how they’re built—their chemical structure causes them to “behave” differently in our bodies. Good fats are unsaturated (i.e. their chain of carbon atoms isn’t fully saturated with hydrogen atoms), and so are more flexible, or liquid at room temperature. So-called bad fats are saturated, meaning their carbon chains are completely full with hydrogen atoms. They’re more rigid and solid at room temperature. They also, per the scientific research, raise our “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Foods packed with good fats include:
- Seeds and their oils (hemp, flax, chia, etc.)
- Plant-based oils (that are liquid at room temperature)
- Nuts, peanuts, and their butters
- Oily, cold-water fish
Why Good Fats Are Good for You
Unsaturated fats are good for you a handful of reasons—and they’re best-known for their heart health benefits, including lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol (or, at the very least, not increasing LDL) and helping to decrease your risk of developing heart disease. There are two types of good fats—one is monounsaturated fat and the other is polyunsaturated fat. Although both are good for your heart, the polyunsaturated ones seem to have slightly more of a heart health boost.
Fortunately, hemp is mostly made up of polys, and also contains a type of polyunsaturated fat—called omega-3s—that is particularly good for you. The type of omega-3 in hemp seeds and the oil made from hemp seeds (plus, chia, flax, and walnuts) is called ALA. It’s different from the omega-3s found in oily fish (those are called EPA and DHA), but ALA still offers anti-inflammatory, brain, and heart benefits.
Other Benefits of Good Fats
Research reviews that looked at people who frequently ate foods rich in healthy fats (think: nuts, seeds, and fish, and about 4 servings a week, sometimes one serving a day) lowered their risk of dying from heart disease and cut their risk of stroke. Other published research (this from two very large, well-respected prospective studies) found that when participants swapped out 5 percent of the saturated fat intake and replaced it with an equal amount of unsaturated fat, they also cut their risk of dying from heart disease, and also lowered their risk of dying from cancer and neurodegenerative disease, as well as generally just lengthening their lives.
The Bottom Line
Don’t shy away from all fat. They’re an essential part of our diets. Do be mindful, though, of what type of fat you’re eating and aim for the majority to come from unsaturated fat-rich foods, such as hemp oil, hearts, and seeds.
Get more information about foods brimming with key healthy fats—and how you should be eating them. And here you can read about why those good-for-you omega-3 fats are so important.