Which Fats Will Make You Skinny?

Healthy fats: your comprehensive list

Good fats vs bad fats for diabetics

Fat was the villain for years. The mainstream advice to the public was to reduce fat intake to lose weight and improve health. That advice turned out to be largely wrong. 

It turns out that not all fat is the same, a low-fat diet is not the only way, or even the best way, to lose weight and improve health. A better approach to hit your goals may be choose certain types of fat known to have health benefits. This is some information on how to make fat your friend for diabetes prevention and weight loss.


Types of Fat

Dietary fat is a nutrient in many foods. It provides about 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice the 4 calories per gram that protein and carbohydrates contain. For that reason, fats and high-fat foods are high in calories. It is easy to get a lot of calories very quickly from fat and high-fat foods.

However, there are many types of dietary fat, and they have different effects on your health. Some types of fat promote heart health, are linked to weight loss, and lower diabetes risk. Other fats have the opposite effect.


Bad Fats

Most saturated and trans fats are considered unhealthy fats. Animal fats, such as in fatty red meat, butter, and poultry skin, are rich in saturated fat. They may be bad for your heart, weight, insulin sensitivity, and diabetes risk. In general, aim to keep your intake of saturated fats to under 7 to 10% of total calories, or 16 to 22 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Tropical oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil, are also high in saturated fat. Some people are proponents of coconut oil as a healthy fat, although most evidence shows that coconut oil is unhealthy. The types of saturated fat in dairy products and chocolate do not appear to have harmful effects on your health. 

Trans fats appear to be the worst kinds of fat. Even a couple of grams per day can be harmful. They can raise “bad” LDL cholesterol, lower “good” HDL cholesterol, raise heart disease risk, impair insulin’s action, and increase your risk for diabetes. You are best off avoiding trans fats as much as possible, with a goal of zero grams daily.

Some trans fats are naturally found in red meat, but these do not appear to be harmful. In contrast, artificial trans fats that are generated while frying or during food processing are the harmful ones. You can avoid artificial trans fats by skipping fried foods and avoiding processed foods with ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oil.

Use fat to your advantage

  • Replace bad fats with good ones.
  • Choose cooking methods besides frying.
  • Keep portion sizes small, such as an ounce of nuts or a teaspoon of oil.
  • Reduce carbs a little by reducing refined starches and sugars (white bread, sugar foods) and increasing healthy fats. For example, instead of a two-piece sandwich closed-face, have one piece open-faced with a slice of avocado.
  • Choose fish instead of red meat sometimes.

Good Fats - Omega-3, 6, and 9’s

The “good” fats are linked to health benefits including lower body weight and lower risk for heart disease and diabetes., They tend to be unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats, sometimes called MUFA, are omega-9 fats. They are known for their role in heart health and their presence in Mediterranean-style diets. These famous fats may lower blood pressure, triglycerides, total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, and diabetes risk. Sources include avocados, olive oil, nuts, and peanuts. 

Polyunsaturated fats include the omega-6 and the omega-3 fats. The omega-3 fats are heart-healthy, with effects such as lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots, fighting inflammation, and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol. Omega-3’s are good for the brain and your mood, and they can lower diabetes risk. They may even help you control your weight.

Seafood is a source of long-chain omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA. The best sources are fatty fish, such as trout, sardines, anchovies, herring, tuna, mackerel, and salmon. If you avoid seafood, you can get some omega-3’s, in a form known as ALA, from walnuts and flaxseed. However, your body can only convert a limited amount of ALA into DHA. A good goal is to have seafood twice a week to get enough EPA and DHA.

Omega-6 fats can have some unhealthy pro-inflammatory effects, and some healthy anti-inflammatory effects. They are easy to come by in the American diet, with vegetable oils and nuts being rich sources.

The key to omega-6 fats is not to have too much. You are best off adding omega-6 fats into your diet not as an addition, but rather as a substitute for less healthy choices, such as saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. For example, you can use sunflower oil instead of butter when cooking, or have sunflower seeds instead of nut butter for a snack.

Using Fats Wisely

You can use fats wisely to lower diabetes risk and lose more weight. First, choose healthier fat sources.

Good and Bad Fat, and Fat Sources

Choose more often...

Limit...

  • Avocados
  • Nuts, nut butter, nut oils
  • Seeds, seed butter, seed oil
  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil and vegetable oil
  • Fatty fish
  • French fries, fried chicken and fish, doughnuts, and other fried foods
  • Packaged foods containing, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated and palm oils
  • Fatty red meat and skin from poultry
  • Butter, lard, shortening, margarine

Next, watch your portion sizes to avoid getting too many calories. 

  • 1 teaspoon of oil.

  • 1 oz. of nuts, seeds, or peanuts.

  • 3 oz. of fatty fish.

  • 1 tablespoon of salad dressing.

  • ¼ cup of avocado.

Then, eat them with nutritious foods, such as lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, or whole grains. You are not going to get as many health benefits if you have, say, guacamole with tortilla chips, peanut butter baked into cookies, soybean oil baked into a blueberry muffin with 40 grams of sugar, or salad dressing in a salad with bacon bits, croutons, and a load of cheese. Instead, you might try:

  • Guacamole with raw vegetables.

  • Baked fish with steamed vegetables and brown rice.

  • Whole-wheat pasta with olive oil, tomatoes, basil, and grilled chicken.

  • Nuts and apple slices.

  • Oatmeal with pecans, pumpkin, and cinnamon.

  • Cottage cheese with sunflower seeds.

  • Baked zucchini fries with olive oil.


Help with Fats

Whether you know each of your fats already or you are still learning what a fat is, Lark DPP is there to guide you in the right direction. Log your foods and use the app often so you can get feedback on how to use fats to your advantage for weight loss and diabetes prevention.

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health