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The Difference between Monounsaturated Fat and Trans Fat

It can be confusing trying to figure out which fats to eat and which kind of fats to avoid; monounsaturated fat and trans fat are two fats you should get to know. Monounsaturated fat is also known as a "good fat" and trans fat is sometimes referred to as "bad fat." 

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are fatty acids which have one double bond in the fatty acid chain. Monounsaturated fats occur naturally in many foods and can provide a healthy alternative to saturated and trans fats. Additionally, monounsaturated fat can help to protect your heart. Monounsaturated fat lowers your total blood cholesterol by decreasing plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing your HDL (the "good cholesterol).

Sources of Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fat is found in many great tasting foods and oils. This includes:

  • fish (particularly salmon and trout)
  • nuts (such as almonds and walnuts)
  • flax seeds
  • avocados
  • olive oil
  • other liquid vegetable oils

Trans Fat

When food is processed, hydrogen is often added for preservation. This process, known as "hydrogenation," changes the structure of the carbon chain, causing the fatty acids to become trans fat. Adding hydrogen to food increases shelf life, which is the main reason trans fat is found in so many packaged foods.  Trans fat has an especially bad reputation because it not only raises your LDL (the "bad cholesterol"), but  it also decreases HDL (the "good cholesterol). Increasing LDL increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Sources of Trans Fat

The largest source of trans fat is found in processed food and fast food. The most common source of fat to be processed is vegetable oil. Specifically, trans fat is found in french fries, margarine, white bread and in most processed snack foods. Trans fat can also be found in some cheeses, beef and pork (though in smaller amounts). In 2006, the FDA required food manufactures to start including the trans fat content in their nutrition facts, so now it is easier to determine whether or not a food contains trans fat. Also, if the ingredients say "partially hydrogenated oil" or "hydrogenated oil," the food probably contains trans fat.

Moderation Is Key

While you don't have to completely eliminate trans fat from your diet in order to be healthy, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your intake for trans fat to less than one percent of your total calories. And, like everything else, there can be "too much of a good thing." Monounsaturated fat should be part of a healthy, balanced diet, but don't go overboard. Fat is still fat, and if you're not burning it off, fat can still lead to weight gain and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your total fat intake total fat to 25 or 35 percent of your total calories.

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