Types of Fats

Fat is one of the major nutrients in food and provides essential fatty acids, which the body can't make. It is a source of fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also gives flavor to food. Some fats are actually healthy for the heart and lower disease risk. Other types contribute to heart disease and cancer. All fats have nine calories per gram, and since a heart-healthy diet is a lowfat diet, you want to limit your fat to no more than 30 percent of your caloric intake for the day.  

All fats are a combination of various fatty acids, but one type usually predominates. Different fatty acids have different roles in the body. Saturated fatty acids or saturated fats raise cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. They also raise blood pressure and make it more likely for your blood to clot. Blood clots are what cause heart attacks and strokes. The biggest sources of saturated fat in the American diet are red meat, whole dairy, chocolate, and butter.

Trans fatty acids are a type of fat made from vegetable oils that also raise cholesterol, blood pressure and increase the risk of diabetes. Some people think they may be more dangerous to our health than even saturated fat. Trans fats are found in foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil. Check ingredients in crackers, cookies, cereal, snack foods, nutrition bars, coffee creamers and margarines.

Unsaturated fats can be classified as either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Some types of unsaturated fats are actually beneficial for the heart. In fact, they can lower cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that also lower triglycerides and blood pressure, help with arrhythmias, decrease blood clotting, decrease inflammation and also may reduce cancer. The average American diet is low in Omega-3 fats, which may help explain why heart disease is the number on cause of death in the United States. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, nuts, beans, berries and leafy greens.