aha fats oilRobbinsville, NJ - Confused about dietary fat? You aren't alone. With so many different fats out there, how you know which type of fat is 'good, bad, or ugly?' The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association offer information to demystify the different types of fats found in foods and why certain types of fat are downright ugly while other types offer health benefits.

"Not all dietary fat is created equal," states Katelyn Guli, Registered Dietitian for Sodexo at Raritan Bay Medical Center. "What many people don't realize is that not all fat is bad. In fact, certain types of fat are part of a healthy diet."  

There are four major types of fats found in foods: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. The "bad" fats are saturated and trans. These foods raise your bad cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Trans fat is considered the worse of the two because trans fat can also lower your HDL ("good") cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are considered better or 'good' fats; these may lower overall cholesterol when consumed in moderation.

Saturated fats are mainly found in fatty meats and whole-milk dairy products. That means cheeseburgers, milkshakes, steaks, and cream-based soups all contain saturated fats. Trans fats are found in many processed foods and fried foods, like doughnuts, French fries, chicken fingers, and biscuits. "To help moderate your consumption of saturated and trans fats, leave these foods for indulgences on special occasions," asserts Guli.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and seafood. Some household favorites that contain "good" fats include avocados, salmon, unsalted mixed nuts and olive oil. Fats, especially the unsaturated kind, are essential for cell growth and helping the body to absorb nutrients, and therefore should be consumed in moderation as a part of a healthy diet.

So how do you know what adds up to an ideal healthy diet? "A balanced diet is filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, legumes, lean meats, and at least two fish meals each week," says Guli. "To maintain a healthy diet, you should only consume as many calories as you burn, and limit your intake of added sugars and excess salt."