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Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: What’s the Difference?

healthy lunch

We all know the food we consume can affect various components of our lives. What we don’t always know is if we’re making the best choices at mealtimes. Michael T. Murray, author of THE MAGIC OF FOOD, shares a guide to good fats vs. bad fats and explains how eating the right dietary fats can improve your health.

What makes a fat “bad” or “good” has to do with two key factors:

1) The way the fatty acids function as structural components in cell membranes, and

2) Their effect on hormonelike molecules known as eicosanoids.

Cell membranes are made mostly of fatty acids. What determines the type of fatty acid present in the cell membrane is the type of fat you consume. If it is mostly saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy products, the results will be less-than-optimal membranes as opposed to those of people who consume higher levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Considerable evidence indicates that cell membrane dysfunction makes a person more susceptible to many diseases. Without healthy membranes, cells lose their ability to hold water, vital nutrients, and electrolytes. They also lose their ability to communicate with other cells and to be controlled by regulating hormones, including insulin. Without the right type of fats in cell membranes, cells do not function properly.

Since the kinds of dietary fat consumed determine cell membrane composition, poor fat choices lead to reduced membrane fluidity, which in turn causes reduced insulin binding to receptors on cellular membranes and/or reduced insulin action. The resistance to the hormone insulin is the underlying factor that leads to weight gain, difficulty in losing weight, and the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is also linked to cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other conditions. Fortunately, we can take steps to reduce the development of these diseases by making sure we eat the right dietary fats.

Sources of Good Fats and Bad Fats

Good Fats

  • Sources of monounsaturated fats:
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Olive oil
    • Avocado oil
    • Canola oil
    • Macadamia nut oil
    • Sunflower oil (high oleic only)
  • Sources of alpha-linolenic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid:
    • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
    • Walnuts
    • Chia seeds
    • Canola oil
    • Soy
    • Sunflower
  • Sources of EPA and DHA, the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids:
    • Cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.
    • Fish oil supplements
  • Sources of medium-chain saturated fats:
    • Coconut oil
    • Grass-fed meat and dairy products
    • Organic free-range chicken and eggs
    • Wild salmon

Bad Fats

  • Sources of artificial trans fatty acids:
    • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
    • Shortening
    • Margarine
    • Many baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, etc. (read food labels carefully)
  • Sources of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, and other undesirable oils:
    • Most vegetable oils, including
      • Corn
      • Cotton seed
      • Grape seed
      • Safflower
  • Sources of oxidized fats:
    • Fried foods
    • Charbroiled meat
  • Sources of longer-chain saturated fats:
    • High-fat meat and dairy products
    • Grain or soy-fed meat and dairy products
    • Conventionally raised chicken and eggs
    • Farmed salmon

To learn more about the”synergetic effect,” pick up a copy of THE MAGIC OF FOOD by Michael T. Murray. 


Also from Tips on Life & Love: Fats in Your Food: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


Excerpted from The Magic of Food by Michael T. Murray, ND. Copyright © 2017 by Michael T. Murray, ND. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


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