Fats occur naturally in some foods, and are necessary nutrients in our diet. Fats help our nerves work and deliver nutrients throughout our body. However, fats are high in calories which can lead to weight gain. Also, some types of fat are not heart-healthy. There are four different kinds of fats:


Monounsaturated fats are found in plant-based foods, such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados. These are healthy fats that can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.


Polyunsaturated fats are also found in plant-based foods. Soybean and corn oils, as well as many seeds, like flax, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, are high in polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are also part of the polyunsaturated fat group. When used in moderation, polyunsaturated fats can also help reduce the risk of heart disease.


Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products such as meat and butter, as well as some tropical plant oils like coconut and palm oil. Fried foods and some baked goods can be high in saturated fats. Too much saturated fat in our diet can lead to increased cholesterol levels.


Trans fats are created artificially from unsaturated fats, and can be found in margarine and many processed foods and snacks. Trans fats are often identified in food labels with the words “partially hydrogenated.” Like saturated fats, trans fats are linked to increased cholesterol levels.


To prevent excess weight gain and reduce heart disease risk, most people should limit their total daily fat consumption. A good rule is to aim for less than 60 grams of total fat per day. Of these 60 grams, no more than 20 grams should be from saturated fat, and trans fat should be limited to less than 2 grams per day. Keep in mind that some foods are high in total fat but low in saturated fat; while some are high in both. For example, butter is high in both: one tablespoon of butter has 12 grams of total fat and 7 grams of saturated fat. On the other hand, olive oil is high in fat but low in saturated fat: one tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams of fat, but only 2 grams of saturated fat. Fat grams, and types of fat, are listed on food labels, and sometimes also listed in the menus of restaurants.