Understandably, fats often get a bad rap in the weight loss world. For instance, they were, perhaps unfairly, relegated to the top of a flawed food pyramid and removed from many processed foods during the 80's low fat craze.

This makes some sense, at least intuitively. After all, "fat" is the thing dieters are trying so badly to burn, and it does indeed contain the most calories per gram of the three macronutrients. While a gram of carbohydrate or protein contains about four, fat contains a whopping nine!

However, weight loss is about a lot more than just calories, and the line between dietary fat and bodily fat is nowhere near as straightforward as was once naively believed.

It is true that some fats are unhealthy, but others are essential for our body's functioning. For example, your body uses fat to support cell growth, to produce critical hormones, and to store fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

Especially as compared to simple carbohydrates, the right kind of fat can also help keep you full and satisfied on your weight loss journey and get your metabolism moving in the right direction.

So how can you tell the fat good-guys from the fat bad-guys? Perhaps with this handy-dandy round-up!

Saturated Fat

This is the kind of fat that is naturally found in most meat and dairy products; for instance, butter, cheese, whole milk, beef, eggs, and skin-on poultry. It is also found in select plant foods, like coconut oil and palm oil.

"Saturated fat" is so called because its molecules are saturated with hydrogen atoms, which also means it generally takes a solid form rather than a liquid one. However, evidence on its health role is mixed; some studies have strongly associated it with increased rates of heart disease and higher bad LDL cholesterol levels while other research found no such effect.

What experts do agree on is that replacing dietary saturated fats with simple carbohydrates will likely lead to even worse health outcomes, while replacing them with healthier unsaturated fats can only do you good!

Trans Fat

This mutant "nutrient" is rarely found in the natural world at all but comes about through a process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils so they will became more solid. The harder fat this process produces has a longer shelf life and so is used in many processed foods, ranging from chips to salad dressing. It's especially prevalent in margarine, fried foods, and baked goods.

Unlike saturated fat, which can be healthy in moderation, there's really no good reason to eat trans fat. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that anyone concerned about their cholesterol level eliminate trans fats from their diet entirely! If you're looking to avoid trans fat, beware of "partially hydrogenated oils" on ingredient lists, and stick to clean, whole foods whenever you can.

Unsaturated Fat

Now here's the kind of fat you should be eating, though you should still eat it in moderation to avoid consuming too many calories! Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and can be further divided into monounsaturated fats, which contain one unsaturated carbon bond, and polyunsaturated fats, which contain more.

Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like avocados and nuts, as well as in canola, olive, and peanut oils. These fats can raise your good cholesterol while lowering your bad cholesterol, as well as increase your insulin sensitivity, promote healthy energy levels, and even boost your weight loss!

Then there's polyunsaturated fats, the class that most notably includes omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids. They both are "essential"— meaning that your body needs them for certain critical functions but cannot make them itself. However, while we need some omega-6 for proper brain and muscle function, too much can promote inflammation.

If you're worried about the amount of omega-6 in your diet, you can make an effort to reduce the amount you take in from foods like sunflower, corn, and cottonseed oils. Instead, eat more of the anti-inflammatory omega-three, which can be found most abundantly in fatty fish as well as in foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, and walnuts.
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