Fats: The Good and The Bad

Fats come in many forms. Some help our bodies and some hinder our health and well-being. Eating fat does not translate to weight gain. When purchasing fats, be sure they are organic, cold pressed and "extra virgin," if applicable. Buy oils in small containers, as they quickly go rancid. Smell your oils for rancidity and discard them if they don't smell fresh. To avoid rancidity, keep oils in an airtight container in a dark, cool place. In general, it is important to prevent exposure of oils to high temperatures; therefore, it is best to avoid frying foods. Occasional frying is okay, if you use certain oils. These oils are indicated with an asterisk (*) next to them. See below.

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower total cholesterol, including LDL (bad cholesterol), and to raise HDL (good cholesterol). Examples of monounsaturated fats are listed below:

  • Olive Oil*
  • Nuts - including peanuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios – make sure they are raw
  • Avocado
  • Canola oil - hybridized from rapeseed oil, canola oil is a new fat in the human diet. It is not at all proven in long term research to be safe for us.
  • Peanut oil

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats also lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated oils are not meant to be exposed to high temperatures because they are quite unstable. They should be avoided in cooking. The standard deodorization process that all 'vegetable oils' undergo can result in the formation of trans fatty acids.

  • Salmon – make sure it is "wild" and not farm-raised
  • Fish Oils – High in Omega 3 Fatty acids, this can be an effective supplement
  • Corn Oil – corn is mostly genetically modified (GMO). Corn oils are highly processed and should be avoided
  • Nuts and seeds – Should only be eaten raw
  • Safflower oil – should be avoided completely
  • Sunflower oil
  • Flax seed oil – high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, it can be used as an effective supplement
  • Hemp seed oil - Hemp oil contains GLA, an important omega 6 fat, and LNA, an omega 3 fat, both of which are great for health

Saturated Fats

It is important to note that saturated fats are vastly different from each other, depending partly on "chain length". Long-chain saturates (as found in much animal fat), tend to modestly raise serum cholesterol, while the medium-chain and short--chain fats actually lower it. Below is a list of saturated fats:

  • Coconut oil* – It is rich in certain saturated fats called medium chain triglycerides (MCT's) which stimulate fat metabolism and lower cholesterol
  • Butter*– Should be used for cooking in moderation
  • Palm oil* – This oil is absolutely safe for anyone! It is the most commonly consumed vegetable fat worldwide

Hydrogenated Fats

Hydrogenation is used to convert liquid oils into solid form, such as spreads and margarine made from vegetable oils. All hydrogenated fats need to be avoided.

Common Misconceptions

  1. Saturated fats are bad for us
    If you look at other cultures worldwide, you will find that almost all people cook with saturated fats: butter is used in Europe, ghee in Northern India, pork lard in China, and coconut and palm oil in the tropics; these cultures fare much better than Americans when it comes to heart disease.
  2. Polyunsaturated fats are good for cooking
    Most polyunsaturated fats get oxidized when exposed to high temperatures. When oils are oxidized they can form free radicals in the body. Free radicals are the primary cause of heart disease and cancer.

The best oils for cooking are olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil and butter.


  • Instead of frying vegetables, try steaming, boiling, or baking (roasting) them. If you do stir fry, use a small amount of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Season your vegetables with herbs and spices, rather than creamy sauces, butter, or margarine.
  • Make pasta with tomato sauces, not creamy sauces.
  • To reduce saturated fat, use oil instead of shortening in baked goods.
  • Use skim or low fat milk, rather than whole milk or cream, in soups, baked goods, cereal, and coffee.
  • Substitute plain low-fat yogurt, blender-whipped low fat cottage cheese or buttermilk in recipes that call for sour cream.
  • Buy organic eggs.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat from organic grass-fed animals. Buy game meat such as venison and buffalo. When purchasing these meat, buy only grass-fed – not meat that was "finished" with grains.
  • Trim fat from meat before and after cooking.
  • Roast, bake or broil meat, poultry, and fish. No frying! Avoid doing too much grilling as well, unless you wrap the meat in aluminum foil.
  • Remove the skin from poultry before cooking.
  • Cook meat and poultry on a rack so that the fat will drain off.
  • Chill meat or poultry broth until the fat becomes solid, then spoon it off and discard the fat.
  • Avoid high-fat fast foods and snacks such as french fries, burgers, onion rings, Doritos, chips, etc. Avoid eating ANY partially hydrogenated oils usually found in vegetable fat, shortening, or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, or margarines. This fat lurks in many processed foods.

Don't be afraid of eating good fats: nuts, seeds, fish, spreads like Earth Balance, and baked blue corn chips.

Dr. Vida Talebi, ND