The Truth About Fats: Unhealthy Vs. Healthy + Types & Benefits

7 minute read

Back in the 1950s, when heart disease was first becoming a major threat to American lives, people were searching for an answer about what could be the cause of the rise of cardiovascular issues. The conclusion at the time was that Americans’ high-fat diets were largely to blame for the uptick in heart problems. And for many years, that theory persisted as the dominant way of thinking about healthy diets.

In fact, the old standard Food Pyramid even incorporates this idea, by placing fats near the top of the pyramid, making them the most scarce food you should consume.

But these days, there has been a surge of research that points to fats as being perhaps more beneficial than previously thought. But it can be confusing to keep all these facts about fat straight. And with all the various sources of information out there these days, on the internet, television, etc., it makes the real information even harder to find.

Here are the facts on fat and the difference between “good” and “bad” fat, so you can maintain your healthy routine and stick to a good diet.


One of the main reasons why fat is considered so bad for you is because of cholesterol.

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The reason that the scientists in the 1950s pointed to fat as a key cause of heart problems was because they discovered that people who had died of heart disease often had high amounts of cholesterol in their blood. So they recommended that everyone maintain a low-cholesterol diet.

It was an understandable idea, but unfortunately, those scientists were only working with the knowledge and resources they had at the time, so they didn’t have the same capabilities that scientists today have.

Modern research has shown that there is a difference between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol in your blood. It turns out, eating a meal high in cholesterol does not affect your blood’s cholesterol levels in a meaningful way.

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That’s why eggs and other high-cholesterol foods have become more popular in recent years, as the stigma around high-cholesterol foods is starting to become less severe.

Natural Fats

People often divide the types of fat into two categories—saturated and unsaturated. But the fact is, that’s not exactly the best way to categorize the types of fat that are out there.

It’s more useful to go by two different categories, natural and unnatural. Natural fats can include saturated or unsaturated fats. That’s because not all saturated fats are bad for you, and some unsaturated fats are actually necessary for your body to function.

However, unnatural fats, or synthetic fats that were made in a laboratory to enhance flavor, can be more dangerous and have in some cases been linked to negative health effects.

Trans Fat

This is perhaps the most dangerous type of fat there is. It enjoyed a heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, but since then, trans fat has come under public scrutiny as one of the worst fats for you.

It does not occur in nature; as a result, your body has a difficult time digesting these unfamiliar molecules, which can cause all types of issues in your gut and digestive tract. Trans fat has been linked to a wide range of negative health effects, so make sure you keep an eye out for this ingredient when you shop for foods.

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Trans fat is usually present in processed foods already, like potato chips and other junk foods, so it’s best to keep your intake of these foods at a minimum. Fortunately, the FDA has banned trans fat as an ingredient in foods beginning in 2018.

Saturated or Unsaturated?

Common knowledge seems to be that saturated fats are bad and unsaturated fats are good, but the reality is it’s not that simple. Not all saturated fats are bad, and some saturated fats can actually be good for your diet, depending on your goals. If you’re trying to gain muscle, for example, some saturated fats could be extremely useful.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can actually help with heart health, unlike what those scientists in the 1950s believed. These fats are present in foods like olive oil, avocado, salmon and other foods with healthy oils.

So keep in mind as you make your meal plan, you don’t need to eliminate all fats from your diet, just the unnatural ones like trans fat. And while you shouldn’t overload on saturated fats, they’re not as bad for you as you may have thought.

The Fatty Truth

As with many dietary facts, the truth about fat is that it's not exactly black and white. Not all fats are bad for you, but that’s not to say that you should load up on a high-fat diet, just because the negative health effects aren’t as bad as you thought.

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One of the most important things to keep in mind is that a healthy diet is all about balance. It’s important to get your body a wide variety of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and other important sources of energy and nutrition.

Getting enough fat is just as important as getting enough protein or carbohydrates. And while all of these substances have some negative reputations associated with them, the fact is that they are all necessary for your body to function, and they could even help you stay in good health.

The Bottom Line

The scientists of the 1950s were trying to answer a difficult question about the source of America’s heart health problems, and they did the best they could with the technology and knowledge available at the time. Unfortunately, the best intentions were unable to lead to the most accurate findings.

But thanks to modern research and scientific advancements, we know more about fat and the heart than those scientists ever could. Now you can take this knowledge and apply it to your own diet plan, so you can live your healthiest and most active life.

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