Fat: Friend or Foe?

By: Rebecca Heming, ’18, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
Photo Credit: Rebecca Heming

Photo Credit: Rebecca Heming

In the past few years, fats have gotten a bad reputation and have been blamed for causing America’s obesity epidemic. The logic seems to make sense, right? Eat fat, get fat. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), it’s not nearly as simple as that – in fact, eating fat can actually help keep you from overeating and gaining weight! Surprised? Read on below!

Before we go too much further, though, it might be helpful to briefly cover cholesterol, which is heavily influenced by our diets and the fat we consume.

  • There are two forms of cholesterol – low density lipoproteins (LDL) & high density lipoprotein (HDL).
  • LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol to your body’s cells, including your arteries.
  • High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.
  • HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol back to the liver for disposal.

There are several types of fats, some of which are healthier than others.

Less Healthy Fats

  • Saturated Fat
    • Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol, which is why it’s important we try to limit them.
    • Examples of foods with saturated fat include butter, bacon, cheese, and ice cream.
  • Trans Fat
    • The worst of the fats by far, trans fat, packs a double whammy – raising your LDL levels and total cholesterol while simultaneously decreasing your HDL levels.
    • Trans fats are formed by a process called hydrogenation, which can convert oils to solids.
    • Trans fat can be lurking in many different types of foods – frosting, cereal, crackers, cookies, microwaveable popcorn, and more.
    • Look for words such as hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or “shortening” in the ingredient list to determine if a product contains trans fats.

Healthier Fats

  • Unsaturated Fat
    • There are 2 types of unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
    • Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 & omega-6 essential fatty acids, which are important for brain function and can help improve your mood.
    • Examples of unsaturated fats include avocados, nuts, seeds, canola oil, olive oil, fish, and tofu.

Five Reasons Fat is Fabulous

The Myth: Fat will make you gain weight.

The Fact: Fat won’t make you fat unless you consume too much fat – it actually helps you eat less by making you feel full and satisfied.

  1. Needed to absorb fat soluble vitamins
  2. Used in construction of cell membranes.
  3. Essential for brain development – brains are 60% fat
  4. Helps with blood clot formation and blood pressure regulation
  5. Makes food taste good

Ten Tips for Terps

  1. Try using vinaigrettes on salads
  2. Snack on nuts & seeds – find them at the food co-op and convenience stores on campus
  3. Use nut butters as dips or in sandwiches
  4. Eat more fish!
  5. Limit fried foods
  6. Watch your labels for trans fat – check ingredient lists for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil
  7. Choose fat free or reduced fat dairy products
  8. Buy lean meats – ideally those that are at least 90% lean
  9. Instead of red meat, try adding more skinless chicken, fish, eggs, or vegetarian sources of protein like lentils to your diet
  10. Reconsider buying fat-free items – often the fat is replaced with sugar and sometimes the fat-free version can be higher in calories than the regular version!

What are your favorite healthy fats? Tell us in the comments below!

To learn more about fats, reserve your session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or emailing nutritioncoach@umd.edu


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5 Responses to Fat: Friend or Foe?

  1. Avital says:

    What a great post! My favorite healthy fats are definitely from avocado, fish, and oil–I use those all the time! It’s always good to be reassured that what you are eating really can have positive effects on your body!

  2. Thea B says:

    Wow, this post has a lot of great information. I like how you broke down the different types of fats, which is great for someone that might be confused on which types of fats are out there. I love healthy fats too. Like you said, they make me feel more satisfied when eating and they just taste yummy!

  3. Selena Shanahan says:

    Thank you for highlighting some reasons that we all need fat in our diets and that fat in our diets does not equal fat on our bodies!

  4. eslattery96 says:

    LOVE THIS!! Great tips!!

  5. This is a very informative blog! It is challenging to separate in our minds the fat on our body and the essential nutrient fat in our diet. This post puts the nutrient fat into its deserved spot light! Thanks Rebecca!

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