Are You Consuming the Right Balance of Fats?

Any of us striving to become healthy are faced with decisions regarding food intake. For some, this may be simply maintaining a balanced diet, while for others, this may be to choose foods for weight loss. Yet, regardless of which group you belong to, we seem to have a subconscious avoidance for fatty foods, and this may be especially true for dieters. However, did you know that there’s a large difference between the effects of different fats? Consuming the right balance of different fats may not only lower our risk of heart disease, but also assist in weight loss.

Nowadays it’s common for people use words like LDL and HDL, but many have little understanding behind what they mean. LDL and HDL both refer to lipoproteins, which are protein and lipid assemblies that function to move fats through our body. LDLs are what people commonly refer to as “unhealthy” fats and stands for low-density lipoprotein. These fats carry higher levels of cholesterol compared to other lipoproteins and deliver cholesterol throughout the body; it’s for this reason that they’ve become known as “bad.” Too many LDLs in our body leads to excess cholesterol, which can accumulate and clog arteries. However, it’s a misconception to believe that LDLs are “harmful,” as the function of LDLs are meant to help our body tissues acquire the cholesterol needed to synthesize vitamin D and various steroid hormones.

HDLs are what people refer to as “healthy” fats and stands for high-density lipoprotein. These fats contain a higher composition of proteins than fats and collect cholesterol throughout the body to either recycle in the liver, break down other fats, or excrete from the body. By collecting cholesterol throughout the body, HDLs are believed to be good because they lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

In reality, we can’t simply consume HDLs and avoid LDLs because our bodies require cholesterol as building blocks for important compounds used in our body. As such, what really matters is maintaining a balanced ratio of the two fats. The ideal ratio of HDL to LDL varies between individuals, but a general recommendation is to maintain a 0.4 to 1 ratio. For details regarding your specific case, consult a physician.

Managing this balance between HDLs and LDLs depends on one’s intake of the various kinds of fats. Some of these large categories include saturated, unsaturated and trans fats, but there are differences even amongst these groups. In the past, it was believed that saturated fats are best avoided because they promote higher levels of LDL and clog arteries more easily. Trans fats were believed to not only increase LDLs but also lower HDL levels. Unsaturated fats on the other hand were said to increase HDLs and considered beneficial, but recent research studies have shown that many of these beliefs are overgeneralizations. Not all saturated fats are the same. For instance, research conducted by Dr Nita G Forouhi found that consuming very long chain fatty acids – with 22 carbons or more – was associated with decreased type 2 diabetes risk and the same was true for saturated fats with an odd number of carbons. Even the source of fat makes a difference, as people eat foods that come with a multitude of nutrients. The interaction between these nutrients also has different effects on the body. Avocado contains the same amount of saturated fat as three slices of bacon, but consuming avocados reduces LDL levels while bacon increases them. Likewise, eating a serving of fatty nuts everyday could reduce weight loss rather than eating a chocolate chip cookie because not all the fats in nuts are digested, rather they get excreted without being absorbed.

Perhaps next time when you go shopping for groceries, you could do some more research beforehand on what “fatty” foods would be more beneficial than harmful for you. Remember that many fats are good for us and play important roles in managing our everyday health. When consumed in proper amounts and balanced with the rest of our diet, fats can not only reduce our risk for disease, but also help assist in weight loss.


Sherry Chow