The skinny on fats: Dietary fats and their differences

Written by Bharat Bhatia.

It's important to know that there are several types of fats, some healthy and some not so healthy. The good news is that no matter their shape or size, avocados fall into the healthy zone!

Popularized in the 1980s and 1990s, the low-fat diet was touted as a healthy eating alternative. People were made to believe that the removal or reduction of fat meant there would be no consequential weight gain or increase in cholesterol. Thus began the cryptic advertisements capitalizing on this sensation.

Low-fat and fat-free milks were promoted as healthier. And it was said that indulging in ice creams and other not-so-good for you desserts was completely okay as long as the packaging promised a lack of fat. Because who doesn’t believe convincingly ambiguous packaging?

The shift to carb blaming

Many people still experienced weight gain on a low-fat diet, mostly because of the increase in refined sugar. This eventually led to a shift toward the Atkins diet, which suggested that it was actually the carbohydrates, not fat, that caused weight gain and heart disease.

And while this may have led people to avoid refined sugar and starch, it subsequently led to an increase in cholesterol and saturated fats because of the diet’s failure to differentiate between different types of fats. It viewed all fat as good and all carbs as bad. Many Atkins dieters initially lost weight, but they would experience troubling side effects involving headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, constipation, kidney problems, and even increased rates in heart disease. For more worrisome side effects, see the video above.

The Atkins diet gained popularity in the early 2000s and peaked when its creator, Dr. Robert Atkins (who had a history of heart disease) died in 2003. Two years later, the Atkins company filed for bankruptcy. While this may suggest that low-fat diets are better than moderate-fat or high-fat diets regardless of the type of fat, we must also note that diets high in fat and low in carbohydrates typically involve a high intake of animal products. But what about high-fat, low-carb PLANT-BASED diets?

The video below shows the "USDA GREAT NUTRITION DEBATE:

Low carb gurus vs. Plant-Based Physicians"

Below is an excerpt from a Harvard article that touches on high-fat diets that have animal sources vs. those with plant sources.

"A 20-year prospective study of over 80,000 women found that those who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in vegetable sources of fat and protein had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with women who ate high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. Diets were given low-carbohydrate scores based on their intake of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. (9) However, eating a low-carbohydrate diet high in animal fat or protein did not offer such protection."

Perhaps the Atkins diet failed because of an excessive amount of the WRONG TYPE of fat, and failures associated with the low-fat diet involved not getting enough of the RIGHT TYPE of fat.

After all, we need a moderate amount of fat in our diet because of the essential fatty acids it provides, which our bodies cannot make themselves.

Some facts about fats

Despite what we have been told to believe, not all fats are the same and there are many different types.


Monounsaturated fats are those found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. These types of fats are known to lower cholesterol levels, which was a discovery made during a 1960s study that took note of seven different countries. The study revealed that despite a high-fat diet in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, the region has lower rates of heart disease.

Polyunsaturated fats come in two varieties: omega-3 and omega-6. Many people know that omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, which can also be high in cholesterol. It may be better to source omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, algae oil and soybeans.

Omega-6 fatty acids are in corn, sunflower seeds, soybeans and safflower oil.

Excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids increase the amount of triglycerides, or fat in the blood. A healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 1:1, but most Americans get 20:1 (meaning twenty times as much omega-6 fatty acids as omega-3 fatty acids).

Saturated fats are found in dairy products and meat, but they are also high in some plant foods such as coconut and palm fruit. These fats raise LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” and thus increase the risk of heart disease, so it is best to consume them sparingly.

Another type of fat that puts us at high risk of heart disease is trans fat. Most typically found in packaged and fast foods, trans fat should be avoided as much as possible. It is produced during a process known as hydrogenation, when hydrogen is added to oils, transforming them from a liquid into a semi-solid state. Many food manufacturers use this process to improve texture or increase shelf life.

Is chocolate a fat?

Chocolate is one exception to the rule regarding saturated fat. While it is high in saturated fat, the type of saturated fat is stearic acid, which converts to heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

While chocolate itself has heart-healthy fats, it generally comes with lots of sugar and often dairy milk, which is high in harmful saturated fat. It is best to indulge in vegan chocolates, preferably those low in sugar or with a stevia substitution.

Excessive sugar causes your liver to create more “bad cholesterol” and lowers your HDL, or “good cholesterol” (the kind that helps rid bad cholesterol from our bodies). It also increases your triglycerides, which, as mentioned, are fats in the blood stream. Just like high cholesterol, high triglycerides increases risk of heart disease.

The skinny on fat

Put simply, we should all be consuming more nuts, avocados, olives, seeds, and other foods high in healthy fats.

Some foods like walnuts have both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The body does require some omega-6 fatty acids, so walnuts and even soybeans are acceptable. But be sure to cut back on meat, dairy, coconut, palm, sunflower seeds, and other foods high in saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids.

#NotAllFatsAreEqual #AtkinsDiet #LowFatDiet #PlantBasedDiet #HealthyFats

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