5 min read

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: An Explanation of Key Differences

Not too long ago, people used to think if you consumed fats, you’d become fat.

When did this idea come into existence? We don’t know. 

Why are fats widely misunderstood from a nutritional standpoint? We couldn’t tell you.

And why is the word “fat” harmfully tossed around as an insult? It’s plain rude, and again, we’re not quite sure.

What we can tell you is that it’s time to set the record straight on fats, because while some of them aren’t so great, others are potent macronutrients that your body needs to function and thrive. 

Fats—like plenty of other things in life—can be good or bad; you just need to learn the differences and gravitate toward the good.

Listing the good fats

Image of different tree nuts

We saved the best for first. Yet, listing good fats isn’t so cut and dry. 

There are four types of fats: 

  1. trans fats
  2. saturated fats
  3. monounsaturated fats
  4. polyunsaturated fats

Categorizing them as purely “good” or “bad” becomes tricky. 

Firstly, you should axe trans fats altogether —we’ll talk more about this later. You may be asking, is saturated fat bad too? You should only consume a small portion of saturated fats, as they quickly become harmful in excess.

This leaves you with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. On a molecular level, these fats have fewer hydrogen atoms. On a non-molecular level, these fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid, and that’s how you can tell them apart.

Image of cut open avocado

Mono and polyunsaturated fats are present in foods like fish, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. And yes, avocados are loaded with healthy fats, so go ahead and decorate some avocado toast or dive into a bowl of guacamole.

We know very well that if you’re a brand that’s offering complete nutrition wrapped up in a sippable, bottled beverage, you better have lots of healthy fats in your formula. 

All our Soylent Drink flavors include mono and polyunsaturated fats, a tiny addition of saturated fats, and of course, absolutely zero trans fats. 

Remembering the difference

Ready for a mnemonic lesson? If you find it difficult to distinguish the fats apart, you can think of saturated fats as “sad”-turated, and eating too many of them will make you sad. In this scenario, eating unsaturated fats will make you “unsad” or happy, so you should consume “unsad”-turated fats. 

You will still need to remember that trans fats are not good for you at all. The word “ran” is in the word “trans,” so you could imagine running away from these fats when you see them.

Monounsaturated fats

Image of olive oil being pooured

Lots of wonderful cooking oils are good sources of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. Avocados and certain nuts are also high in monounsaturated fats. 

The idea that monounsaturated fats support a healthy body can be traced back to Greece and the Mediterranean, where people eating a diet rich in monounsaturated fats had lower levels of heart disease, despite consuming a fat-rich diet. The difference was that their fats were mono and polyunsaturated fats, not saturated fats.

It is now understood that monounsaturated fats promote healthy heart function by helping to lower bad cholesterol, which keeps your arteries and blood vessels clear and allows for more seamless blood flow throughout the body.

Polyunsaturated fats

Image of oil being poured into a pan

There are plenty of popular oils that are polyunsaturated fats, such as corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. 

Polyunsaturated fats are called essential fats, meaning that your body can’t produce them on its own, but needs them to do things like build cell membranes, move muscles, and manage inflammation.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that fall into the category of polyunsaturated fats. These two fatty acids make up a significant component of cell membranes and lay the groundwork for other substances in the body that regulate blood pressure and reduce inflammation.

Further, there is surmounting evidence omega-3 fatty acids prevent heart disease and act as a building block for the brain, guarding against cognitive decline, and even potentially sharpening memory and improving your moods.

Why Are Bad Fats Bad?

Person looking up in a thinking gesture

We covered why good fats are good, and in a typical healthy diet, you should be consuming regular amounts of healthy fats. 

So, what makes bad fats bad? There may very well be bad fats in some of our favorite foods, and while we can’t avoid them altogether, we can understand why they might not always be beneficial to the body and make conscious choices accordingly.

Trans fats

Image of fatty burgers and fries

Earlier, we said we’d come back around to trans fats. Here’s what you need to know. 

In recent years, trans fats, the worst of the bunch, have been banned in the United States, Canada, and other countries. The byproduct of a process called hydrogenation, trans fats are created by converting healthy oils into solids to preserve them longer. 

Trans fats were heavily relied on by fast food and commercial food manufacturers to keep french fries pristine, keep store-bought cookies perfectly crunchy or chewy, and to generally preserve food long after any healthy food should be preserved.

Quite opposite to good fats, trans fats work to create inflammation in the body, which can increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, and lead to a slew of destructive diagnoses like heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic issues. 

Saturated fats

Image of meat slabs on a cutting board

Saturated fats fall somewhere between trans fats and mono and polyunsaturated fats and are solid at room temperature.

Saturated fats are added to commercially produced goods you would find lining the shelves of grocery stores, but they are also present in red meats, cured meats, bacon, sausages, cheese, whole milk, and other dairy products.

Consuming too many saturated fats can elevate your total cholesterol levels and could skew your cholesterol levels toward having more of harmful LDL cholesterol. To avoid this, some experts advise lowering saturated fats consumption to a slim 10% of your daily calories intake.

That’s a Wrap on Fats

Fats get a bad wrap, don’t they? If you’re willing to read nutrition labels and thoughtfully select your foods, you can infuse your diet with healthy fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats and avoid bad fats like trans fats.

When it comes to saturated fats, enjoy them in moderation to keep your cholesterol levels in check.

Of course, if you want a meal replacement packed with complete nutrition, including all the healthy fats your body needs, then look no further, we got your bases covered.