Dietary fat. Few issues in the world of healthy eating spark as much debate. While some

stay away from it, others put tablespoons of butter in coffee. Over the past few decades, we, as a culture, have been on and off with fat more times than most of us were with our high school sweethearts.

So what’s the correct answer?

The truth is, it’s complicated. There are many different types of fat, and not all are created equal.

Fat is essential for health. Some fat is good for the heart, is required for vitamin absorption, is important for brain development and mental wellness, is good for the skin, and protect against cancer.

Other fats are inflamatory and contribute to heart disease.

These days, scientists study which fats are healthy and which contribute to chronic diseases.

Saturated fats: bad boys, or misunderstood?

After years of being labeled the heart disease villain, it turns out that there are more sides to the story behind saturated fats.

The connection between heart health and saturated fat is in the impact the fat has on some blood cholesterol. Recent research, however, is suggesting that the link isn’t black and white.

There are dozens of types of saturated fats, which can be categorized by the number of carbon atoms one has linked in its chain. Some, most notably the shorter of the medium-chained saturated fats, have some positive health benefits — the body absorbs them quickly and easily, and they are converted to useful energy.

On the other hand, longer chain saturated fats, such as those found in pork, beef, and processed baked goods, can increase LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and total cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats: the healthier option

Eating a diet rich in plantbased foods and cold water fish can provide you with the healthy fats your body and brain need to thrive.

With walnuts, hemp seeds, flax, chia and cold water fish on your plate, you will be getting the essential polyunsaturated omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that protect against heart disease and cancer, keeping your brain in good shape, and reducing inflammation in the body.

Adding avocados, almonds, and olives will help you get your fill of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat made famous by the Mediterranean Diet movement.

Of course, like all healthy eating, there is a need for balance. A diet high in omega 6 fatty acids, especially arachidonic acid found almost entirely in animal products, and low in omega 3 fatty acids, can result in chronic inflammation.

Eat no more than four times as many omega 6 as omega 3 fatty acids to take full advantage of all the health benefits these fats have to offer.

The Bottom Line

While the research around fats is ongoing and decidedly complex, the guidelines for including this essential nutrient in your diet are simple.

Limit your intake of saturated fats, especially from meats and processed baked goods. Replace these with healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates.

As omega 6 fatty acids are available in higher amounts from dietary sources, take care to balance them with foods rich in omega 3.