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Family of Fats – A true story!

Fat: It’s the nutrient that tends to cause the most confusion. Should it be avoided? Should you look for low fat options? Is a food bad for you if it’s high in fat?

By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

Fat:  It’s the nutrient that tends to cause the most confusion.  Should it be avoided? Should you look for low fat options?  Is a food bad for you if it’s high in fat? All of these are very common and tricky questions. 

First thing to do is learn about the story of fats and that they aren’t all the same.1 Meaning, not all fats are “bad” for you and not all fats are “good”.1  You want to make sure that you’re choosing the right kinds of fat that will contribute to your health and wellness.  Especially considering healthy fats play an important role in heart health and absorption of important fat soluble nutrients like Vitamin A, D, E & K!2

The Story of Fats

Think of fats as being siblings in a family, each with unique personalities.

You have monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.1,2

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats

These are the “golden children”; basically the kids in the family that great the most praise.  That’s because these are the healthy fats!

Monounsaturated fats are naturally found in olive oil, canola oil, non-hydrogenated margarines, avocadoes and nuts.1,2

Polyunsaturated fats are broken down into Omega-3 fats and Omega-6 fats.  The Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, whereas Omega-6 fats are found in oils like sunflower and corn oil, as well as certain nuts and seeds.1,2

Both these fats may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease when consumed in moderation.2 This is because they help improve the balance of good and bad cholesterol levels in the body. 

Saturated Fats

This is the sibling that doesn’t really seem to do anything to help out around the house and is quite messy!  This is because saturated fat increases LDL “bad” cholesterol, which is associated with heart disease and stroke.2 Yet, some research shows that there is not enough evidence to link all saturated fat from specific foods to heart disease (see the messy factor!).2-4 Nevertheless, because saturated fats don’t improve heart health and have the potential to increase LDL cholesterol, most nutrition experts recommend to limit them/replace with healthy fats.2-4

Saturated fats are found in foods like: fatty meats, chicken skin, high fat dairy, coconut, highly processed foods and palm oils.1-4

Trans Fats

This is the rebel sibling.  Trans fats were originally used in foods to change liquid fats into solids.1 You really want to watch out for this one trouble maker as they increase the bad cholesterol levels in the body and decrease the good cholesterol.2 They also contribute to inflammation in the body which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.4 Trans fats are found primarily in processed foods (packaged cookies, cakes etc.) and fried foods from restaurants.1,2 They are also found naturally in some foods but these don’t affect the body in the same way as man-made trans fats.1

Invite the Good Siblings to Your Party!

In general, the recommendation is to have a small amount of monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats each day.1 According to the Dietary Reference Intakes for Canadians, people 19 and over should get 20-35% of their calories from fats.5  Percentage wise, that might seem like a lot…but keep in mind – fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates…which is why moderation is key!1-4

Here are a few quick tips for you to add healthy fats to your diet in moderation:1

  • cook with plant oils instead of butter or lard
  • prepare chicken with the skin on to add moisture, then remove it before eating to cut back on saturated fat
  • add avocado slices to your salad for a boost of monounsaturated fats
  • choose reduced fat dairy options
  • cut off the fat from meat or use lean meats to cook, like chicken and fish
  • Purchase packaged foods that contain 0g of trans fats

Cook with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation and celebrate the health benefits they offer!  The following chicken recipes are a great place to end the story of fats.

Chicken Avocado and Black Bean Salad

Orange and Almond Chicken Stir Fry

Hot Avocado, Chicken & Rice Soup


  1. Eat Right Ontario. (2016). Facts on Fats. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Facts-on-Fats.aspx#.Vs3d9lysaJV
  2. Heart and Stroke Foundation. (2015). Dietary fats, oils and cholesterol. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/c.ikIQLcMWJtE/b.3484237/k.D734/Healthy_living__Dietary_fats_oils_and__cholesterol.htm
  3. Siri-Tarino, P., Sun, Q., Hu, F. & Krauss, R. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 535-546. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824152/pdf/ajcn9130535.pdf
  4. Harvard Health Publications. (2015). The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from  http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
  5. Health Canada. (n.d.). Dietary Reference Intakes. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/nutrition/dri_tables-eng.pdf 


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