What Types of Fats Should You Avoid?

  • DATE: SEPTEMBER 15, 2020


A healthy diet consists of a balanced consumption of proteins, carbs, and fats. Yet, the different types of fats (unsaturated, saturated, and trans) affect your body and health in distinct ways.

And while the healthy fats (called unsaturated fats), are associated with positive health effects, the American Centre of Disease Control and Prevention raises awareness about the increased risk of chronic disease development and overall mortality, due to high consumption of saturated and trans fats, along with overconsumption of sugar and sodium. [1]

That being said, most Americans exceed the dietary recommendations for saturated fat consumption on a daily basis. [2]

But what exactly are saturated and trans fats, and why are they unhealthy? Which foods are rich in these? How much of them can you consume? How to offset the negative health effects of those fats?

This article will guide you through the answers of all of those questions!

  1. What should you know about saturated fats?

  2. What foods are high in saturated fat?

  3. Why are saturated fats bad for you?

  4. What should you know about trans fats?

  5. What foods are high in trans fat?

  6. Why are trans fats unhealthy?

  7. How much trans fat should you eat?

  8. How to eat more healthy fats?

What should you know about saturated fats?

Saturated fats are basically fat molecules that are saturated with hydrogen molecules. And while that is confusing for most people, you can easily recognize saturated fats by looking at their physical properties. They are usually solid both at room temperature and when refrigerated. [3]

What foods are high in saturated fat?

Saturated fats can be derived both from animal and plant sources:

  • Butter

  • Animal fat

  • Fatty meat

  • Processed meat

  • Full-fat dairy foods

  • Chicken skin

  • Palm oil

  • Coconut oil

  • Cocoa butter

Why are saturated fats bad for you?

According to a 2020 review paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, eating high amounts of saturated fats could be related to increased risk of developing various health conditions, including [4]:

  • Increased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) buildup in arteries

  • Heart disease

  • Weight gain and obesity

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Type 2 diabetes

That being said, the same sources looked into the results of numerous systematic studies that have found no association between saturated fatty acids consumption and increased risk of heart disease. In fact, some of those studies suggest a positive link between saturated fat consumption and a lower risk of stroke (when consumed in limited amounts).

Taking those findings into account, it’s important to consider the quantity and quality of consumed saturated fats when evaluating their health effects.

In that sense, the American Heart Association recommends the following dietary guideline:

Consumed saturated fats should not exceed 6% of your daily calorie intake to prevent increased risk of heart disease and obesity.

The advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian): Fat is an essential component of the diet, but it is important to prioritize healthy unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats whenever possible. All foods and fats are fine in moderation, but the more you can displace saturated and trans fats from the diet, the better off you’ll be. Consume more plant based fats and seafood instead of fatty meats and full-fat dairy products in order to decrease the amount of saturated and trans fats in the diet.

What should you know about trans fats?

Trans fats can be either natural or synthetic. The natural form of those fats is present in minimal quantities in animal products.

However, the type of trans fats everybody is talking about is the synthetic, artificially created one. It is made from vegetable oils and additional hydrogen molecules to make those oils more stable, solid, and with long shelf life. On the food labels, these fats are often indicated as “(partially) hydrogenated oils.”

What foods are high in trans fat?

Trans fats occur mainly in processed and packaged foods, including [5] :

  • Cakes, cookies, and pastries

  • Chips

  • Packaged snack foods

  • Packaged sauces and dressings

  • Flavored popcorn

  • Fast foods

  • Margarine

  • Shortening

Why are trans fats unhealthy?

Similar to saturated fats, the health effects of trans fats are mainly related to coronary damage and weight gain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the consumption of foods with hydrogenated fats may lead to the development of the following diseases, and health risks [6] :

  • Unbalanced cholesterol. Trans fats increase the LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower the HDL (good cholesterol).

  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke

  • Artery buildup

  • Increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes

  • Obesity

How much trans fat should you eat?

The American Heart Association suggests that trans fats have no beneficial effect on your health and body. In that sense, the association recommends cutting back on foods that contain hydrogenated fats. [7]

So the less you eat, the better!

How to eat more healthy fats?

Eating more healthy fats, or reducing the consumption of unhealthy ones can be easy when you make the right dietary choices. Below you can find some suggestions about substituting saturated- and trans fats- rich foods:

  • Use olive oil for cooking instead of butter, margarine, or coconut oil Cook/prepare your food at home from scratch instead of eating out or using precooked packaged meals.

  • Include more fish and seafood in your meals to substitute red meat If you go for red meat, choose lean, non-fatty cuts

  • Instead of full-fat dairy foods, choose their skimmed or low-fat version

  • Go (partially) plant-based. This can help you cut down saturated and trans fats from animal products.

  • Include more nuts and seeds in your diet (as a snack or a part of your meals)

  • Instead of frying your foods, use other cooking methods like baking, boiling, or air-frying.

Find out the best way to choose cooking oil in our dietitian approved article!

Frequently asked questions about unhealthy fats:

What fats should you avoid?

Avoiding the consumption of trans fats (present in processed and packaged foods) and limiting the intake of saturated fats (oil solid in room temperature and when refrigerated) can improve your diet quality and reduce the risk of various health conditions.

What are unhealthy fats on keto?

On keto diet or not, trans (hydrogenated) and saturated fats can be associated with increased risk of obesity and heart disease. Therefore, these two types of fat can be considered as unhealthy for all individuals (not only those on keto.)

How to avoid trans fats?

You can easily limit your intake of trans fats by reducing the consumption of processed and packaged foods (e.g., chips, cakes, instant foods, sausages, ham, flavored popcorn).

Can you avoid saturated fat completely?

Diverse and healthy diet consists of balanced intake of both unsaturated and saturated fats. In that sense, there’s no need to completely avoid saturated fats, but simply reduce their consumption to 6% of your daily calorie intake (guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association.)

Why are solid fats unhealthy?

Solid fats are often saturated fats. Excess consumption of these is associated to unbalanced cholesterol profile, increased risk of obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and other related heath conditions.

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