People are confused about fats, and it’s pretty understandable on some level. After all, a few years ago, they were seen as the worst thing ever, and now we’re told that fats are an important part of a healthy diet.
At some point, you’ve probably heard some myths and misconceptions about fats, and they may have stuck with you. (Again, understandable.) That’s why we connected with several top dieticians to help clear up misunderstandings about fats. Here are the biggest you’ve probably heard—and the actual truth.
Eating any amount of fat will make you gain weight
Sure, if you eat a lot of high-fat foods all the time, you’re probably going to see the number creep up on the scale. But if you watch your fat intake, you should be just fine. “Because fat has nine calories per gram (compared to four calories per gram of protein or fat), it's true that a little goes a long way,” says says New York-based R.D. Jessica Cording. “To prevent weight gain, make sure you're consuming it in an amount that fits within the context of your daily calorie needs.” According to Australian guidelines, fat should make up 30% of your total energy intake each day, but your consumption of saturated fat should be less than 10%.
Fat has no purpose
Nope—you need adequate amounts of dietary fat to support normal brain and body functions, says Cording. Among other things, your body needs fats for hormone production, cell signaling, and body temperature regulation. They’re also key for supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails, Cording says.
Fat is bad for you
Like carbs, there are high-quality fats and low quality fats, says Julie Upton, R.D., and co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health. “Low-quality fats, just like low-quality carbs, are not beneficial for your health,” she says, calling out saturated fats, which typically show up in processed foods. According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, foods with good fats include foods like salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds while the not-so-good fats can be found in things like butter, beef fats, or any partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
High fat foods will raise your cholesterol
While saturated fats are linked to an increase in cholesterol, other types of fat, like poly-unsaturated fatty acids—found in sunflowers, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, salmon, tuna, and walnuts—have shown to significantly decrease cholesterol levels, says Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.
There's only one type of fat
Fat tends to be lumped together, but there are actually several different types. “They are very different,” says Upton. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy and are burned readily by the body, while saturated fats and trans fats are more easily stored as body fat, she explains. Saturated fats "are found in the greatest amounts in coconut and palm kernel oils, in butter and beef fats," according to the USDA. They can also be found in pork and chicken fats. Meanwhile, trans fats are "found primarily in partially hydrogenated-vegetable oils" in processed foods and in animal fats, the USDA says.