Good Fats vs. Bad Fats and the Effect on Your Body

Fat: You're surrounded by fat. It's in you, in your fridge, in your pantry and in your foods.

While small amounts are essential for health, large sums are detrimental. The wrong kind of fat can promote inflammation and reduce healthful anti-inflammatory hormone production. As chronic inflammation builds, it has negative effects on your health, athletic performance and recovery. Its sources may surprise you.

As if dietary fats aren't confusing enough, did you know that in the world of unsaturated fats (the ones primarily from plant sources), there are healthy ones and unhealthy ones? Like saturated fats, some types are beneficial, and some are harmful to health. What makes it confusing is that omega-6 fats, which are necessary in our diets for health in small amounts become harmful to health in large amounts. And worse, for decades it's these very fats we've been told to consume in abundance.

More: Understanding Fat in Your Diet

The Issue: Fats with the double bond at the sixth carbon of their carbon chain, or omega-6 fats, compete with omega-3 fats to steer the body's production of hormones toward more chronic inflammation and away from reduced inflammation. Omega-6s are primarily found in plant oils, especially grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, corn oil and soybean oil.

They're also found in whole grains, whole-grain products and the meats of animals that are fed grains instead of grazing on grass. These fats are widely used in the body and readily absorbed. The experts who have studied the effects of high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio warn that it increases the risk of many diseases, including heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, inflammation, mood disorders, obesity and cancer, especially breast and prostate cancer. In the athlete, chronic inflammation can also cause ongoing fatigue, slow recovery and joint pain.

Omega-6 fats are extremely abundant in our food supply; you don't need to go out of your way to get them. While concentrating on getting as many omega-3 fats as possible, you'll likely get plenty omega-6 fats since they're found in varying amounts in the same foods. These healthful high-omega-3 foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are great. It's the processed foods that will skyrocket your omega-6 intake and it takes considerable effort to make sure you don't consume too much.

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How can you reduce omega-6 fats in your diet and improve your intake ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s? You could count every milligram you eat, but it's not necessary. Instead, the best and easiest three strategies, or the "Big 3", will keep you healthy.

  • Minimize your intake of soybean oil, cottonseed and other omega-6s oils in commercial condiments.
  • Stop cooking with the high-omega-6 oils listed above.
  • Don't use an omega supplement that includes omega-6s (such as omega-3/omega-6/omega-9). Use an Omega-3 supplement instead.

Condiments: Most commercial salad dressings are primarily composed of soybean oil. Go ahead, take a look at the ingredients list. In order to avoid soybean oil, you'll have to be picky and spend a little more money on dressings made with olive oil (most Amy's Dressings and Braggs Dressings, for example, are made without soybean oil). Or you can make your own using a recipe like the one below.

Cooking: There are only a handful of oils that are recommended for cooking. These oils, which all have 2 grams of omega-6s fats or less per tablespoon, include organic coconut oil (0.4 grams/Tbsp), avocado oil (1.8 grams/Tbsp), high-oleic sunflower (0.5 grams/Tbsp) or safflower oils (2.0 grams/Tbsp).

These are specifically "bred" and grown to produce more omega-9s and less omega-6s and will be labeled as high-oleic. If you're cooking at a lower temperature, try extra virgin olive oil (1.3 grams/Tbsp).

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About the Author

Kelli Jennings

Kelli Jennings, RD and sports nutritionist, is the owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC. Kelli helps athletes reach their weight goals and build strength, endurance and stamina. She teaches clients to eat for reduced inflammation, the best recovery and ongoing fueling needs as they push themselves to new levels. Like Kelli on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Kelli Jennings, RD and sports nutritionist, is the owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC. Kelli helps athletes reach their weight goals and build strength, endurance and stamina. She teaches clients to eat for reduced inflammation, the best recovery and ongoing fueling needs as they push themselves to new levels. Like Kelli on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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