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Choosing the right fats for good health

Fat is an important nutrient that is essential for the body. It is part of all body cells and we could not function without it. The idea that all fat is bad is simply incorrect. In fact, including the right type and amount of fat in the diet is important for cardiovascular health.1 Fat serves many roles in the body such as: supplying essential fatty acids that are part of brain function, helping the body absorb necessary fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, providing insultation for the body, building hormones and maintaining healthy skin and hair.

Choose Healthy Fats More Often

However, not all fats are created equal. According to the Canadian Dietary Guidelines the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount of fat consumed.2

Unsaturated fats or ‘healthy’ fats are divided into two groups: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. There is convincing evidence that lowering the intake of saturated fat by replacing it with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat decreases total and LDL-cholesterol.3 This is important as we know LDL-cholesterol is a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease.4 Here are some examples of food sources to recommend to your clients:

  • Monounsaturated fat: found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, avocado oil, and nuts (such as almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, and hazelnuts). A good source of monounsaturated fats (and polyunsaturated fats) are non-hydrogenated soft margarines that contain these oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: found in vegetable oils, such as safflower, canola and corn oil, and non-hydrogenated soft margarines made from these oils. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fat: omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 has linoleic acid (LA) widely present in plant oils (such as rapeseed, sunflower and linseed oil) and foods made with plant oils like soft spreads and liquid margarine. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat is further split into three different types:

- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in flax, walnuts, soy, canola oil and non-hydrogenated soft margarines. ALA cannot be produced by the body and therefore must come from the diet; that’s why it is called an “essential” fat.  

- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout. EPA and DHA play a role in helping to maintain heart health. However, DHA is also important for proper brain, nerve and eye health for individuals less than two years old.

Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods, such as cream, butter, cheeses, fatty meats, tropical oils and highly processed foods.2 Saturated fat increases LDL-cholesterol.5 Health Canada recommends that saturated fats should make up less than 10 per cent of total daily calories.2 

Trans fats are found in processed foods that contain shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as hard margarines, baked goods and deep-fried foods. They are also found in dairy and animal fat. Trans fats not only raise LDL-cholesterol, but they also lower HDL-cholesterol.6

As a means to increase ‘healthy’ fats in the diet, Canada’s Dietary Guidelines encourage a shift to include more plant-based foods in Canadians’ diets.2

Fats and Heart Health

There is a benefit from getting the balance right. Dietary fats are important to heart health – with the type of fat being the most important aspect. As the Canadian Dietary Guidelines recommend, foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat should replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat to promote cardiovascular health.2 In addition, evidence suggests that lowering the intake of saturated fat by replacing it with unsaturated fat (that is, poly- or mono-unsaturated fat) decreases total and LDL-cholesterol.2

Bottom line, fat is an important part of our diet, but important to remind your clients that not all fat is created equal. Empowering them to choose foods with unsaturated fat more often and limiting the amount of foods with saturated and trans-fat is key for their heart health.

Get heart healthy tips to provide your clients.


  1. Heart and Stroke Foundation. Dietary fats, oils and cholesterol. 2020. Sourced Jun 12, 2020.
  2. Health Canada. Canada’s dietary guidelines for health professionals and policy makers. 2019. Sourced Jun 12, 2020.
  3. World Health Organization. Effects of saturated fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins: a systematic review and regression analysis. 2016. Sourced Jun 12, 2020.
  4. National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel (NCEP) on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Final report. Circulation 2002;106(25):3143–421.
  5. World Health Organization. Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition. 2010. Sourced Oct 7, 2020.
  6. Health Canada. Fats. 2020. Sourced Jun 16, 2020.