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How do you discern between good, bad, and ugly fats? A simple way is to check their origin. Are they plant- or animal-based? And how processed are they?

Know Your Fats

The bad and the ugly fats come from animal products and highly processed vegetable oils. We call these the saturated and trans fat brothers! They hide in refined and fast foods, such as donuts, chicken nuggets, fries, potato chips, cookies, and pastries, as well as butter and some brands of margarine.

The best fats are the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kind that exist naturally in plant foods with an army of antioxidants by their side. Think nuts, seeds, and avocados. You can also get good fats by using some minimally refined oils in your cooking.

While many people eat too much fat (particularly the wrong type), some fat is required for optimal health.

Oils for Health

  • Flaxseed and chia seed oils. Add these to smoothies for a boost of omega-3. Due to their delicate nature, always store these oils in the fridge and never heat them.
  • Peanut and sesame seed oils. These sturdy oils add authentic flavors for Asian cuisine. I use peanut oil for stir frys and drizzle in sesame oil near the end of the cooking process when making whole-grain fried rice.
  • Olive and avocado oils. Delicious on salads and roasted vegetables. The extra virgin varieties supply an abundance of antioxidants. For example, oleocanthal from olive oil, which provides a stinging/burning sensation in the back of the throat, reduces inflammation in the body like the anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen. Don’t heat avocado oil, as a bitter flavor will develop.
  • Macadamia and rice bran oils. Along with olive oil, which is highly versatile, you can use these oils for sautéing, baking, and general cooking purposes.. Rice bran naturally contains vitamin E and plant sterols that help lower blood cholesterol.

Nutritionist Sue Radd is the award-winning author of The Breakfast Book and coauthor of Eat To Live, internationally acclaimed for showing how savvy eating can combat cancer and heart disease and improve wellbeing. See for more nutrition information.

Food Matters: Fats—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Sue Radd
From the December 2010 Signs