Three types of fats: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Sabina Muminović Last updated: 19 October 2023

Only recently have we stopped seeing fats as bad and began appreciating their benefits. But not all fats are equal, so learn which to love, which to limit, and which to let go.

Occasionally we all like to indulge in baked goodies, greasy dinners, and creamy desserts. Our taste buds might be in heaven, but our bodies are not as thrilled.

Those delicacies often own their delicious taste to a certain type of fats which harm our health. To have the best of both worlds and even benefit from them, learn how to recognise the good and the bad fats.

The importance of fats in our body

Fats are an essential part of our nutrition, crucial for many bodily functions.


  • are our energy source,
  • are vital components of our cells,
  • are essential for blood clotting and muscle movements,
  • help fight inflammation,
  • envelop our nerves, enabling a smooth flow of information,
  • insulate and protect our organs.

Three types of fats

Fats are chemical compounds made of glycerol and fatty acids. Our bodies can synthesise some fatty acids, but others we need to provide with food. Those are essential fatty acids.

The term “dietary fats” refers to fats of plant or animal origin which we eat or prepare food with.

The different chemical structure produces different types of fats, and this difference reflects in the way they affect our bodies. Let’s look at the three types of fats:

Trans fats

Mostly processed fats, they are a byproduct of hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into solids and extends their shelf life. Think margarine, which is originally liquid plant fat (oil), hydrogenated into a solid fat.

They lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol, promote inflammation, increase “bad” cholesterol (LDL), triglycerides, and insulin. All those factors increase the risk of coronary heart diseases.

Find them in baked, fast, and processed foods (cookies, cakes, potato chips, popcorn), animal products, and margarine.

Trans fats are also produced when vegetable oils are heated to high temperatures (e.g. during frying).

Saturated fats

They can drive up total cholesterol and promote LDL cholesterol. Find them in animal food (meat, milk and dairy products, eggs) coconut and palm oil. They are often abundant in processed foods.

Unsaturated fats

They are the good fats, beneficial for your health.

    • Monounsaturated fats are present in avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, seeds, and plant oils, such as olive and canola oil.
    • Polyunsaturated fats are essential nutrients we must get from food. Two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They have many health benefits, mostly focused on heart health – they help lower blood pressure and triglycerides, and raise good (HDL) cholesterol. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish, seafood, and walnuts, while omega-6 are widely present in nuts, seeds and most of the plant oils (canola, corn, flaxseed, and pumpkin seed oil).


It is worth mentioning that all fats, regardless of the type, are equally energy-rich. There are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat compared to 4 calories provided by carbs or protein.

This means that if you want to keep your kilos in check and waist from expanding, mind your overall fat intake as well as the type.

How do genes influence your body’s response to fats?

It’s not just how much and which fats you eat; your genetic blueprint influences how your body responds to different types of fats.

It might give you certain advantages or alert you to possible shortcomings. Find out with a DNA test! It can help you adapt your nutrition and diet to your body’s individual needs.

The APOA2 gene regulates the response to saturated fats. Saturated fats have an even more negative effect on people with an unfavourable variant of APOA2. If they overindulge, they have twice the risk of becoming overweight than carriers of the common variant of the gene.

The ADIPOQ gene regulates the response to monounsaturated fats. People with a favourable variant of the gene can efficiently reduce their body weight with a sufficient intake of these fats (resulting in approximately 1.5 kg/m2 lower BMI).

The PPAR-alpha gene regulates the response to polyunsaturated fats. A certain variant of this gene can result in a 20% higher triglyceride level if the carrier doesn’t consume enough polyunsaturated fats. If you carry this variant of the PPAR-alpha gene, it is crucial to add enough polyunsaturated fats to your diet to level out these differences.

Quick tips to replace bad fats with good fats

Ready to rethink your fat choices?

Here are some easy-to-implement tips to eliminate trans and saturated fats and replace them with healthier versions!

  1. Choose fats that are liquid at room temperature over those that are solid.
  2. Replace frying or roasting food with baking, poaching or steaming.
  3. Read labels. More than 5 g saturates per 100 g of product is considered high. Aim for 1.5 g or less per 100 g.
  4. If you like heavy, creamy, cheesy, and buttery dishes, which translates to lots of saturated and even trans fats, try plant alternatives to cooking cream (almond, soy, rice, olive oil, etc.).
  5. If a recipe calls for butter, replace one third with extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Replace cream cheese spreads with mashed avocado or greek-yoghurt with spices.

That way, you can have your cake and eat it, too!

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