If you stroll through the aisles of a grocery store, you’ll come across many products with labels reading ‘light,’ ‘low-fat,’ or ‘fat-free.’ That’s because, over the last two decades the messaging has promoted that foods high in fat are bad for your health.

This message has become twisted, leading people to believe that body fat is a direct result of a diet that is high in fat. The fact is, that’s not necessarily true.

Body fat and dietary fat are two different things. Body fat is a collection of adipose tissue, which stores fat as energy. A lack of adipose tissue can hurt the body’s ability to store energy and can have a significant impact on the body’s hormones. An increase in body fat occurs when you have a caloric surplus, meaning that you consume more calories than you burn through any combination of exercise, normal daily movements and activities and processes like digestion.

Dietary fat — what we consume through our food — is a macronutrient, much like carbohydrates and proteins. Each macronutrient provides the body energy through calories.

While fats have more calories than other macronutrients, they are also necessary to stay healthy. Your body uses fat to obtain linoleic and linolenic acids, which the body is unable to produce on its own. These essential acids are necessary for brain development, reducing inflammation and assist with blood clotting.

Despite being necessary for a healthy body, not all dietary fats are created equal. There are a few different types of fats and some are good and some are bad.

‘Bad fats’ are saturated and trans fats. A diet that is high in saturated and trans fats can increase your cholesterol, and, over time, increase your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

However, recent research has also shown that saturated fats (in lower quantities) can be included in a healthy diet. Saturated fats are most commonly eaten through animal sources like meats and dairy, but are also found in baked goods and fried foods. The largest source of trans fats are primarily deep-fried foods.

‘Good fats’ are unsaturated fats. They are labeled as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated based on the number of carbon bonds they have within their molecules. 

When consumed in moderation, these unsaturated fats can actually benefit your heart. Polyunsaturated fats also provide essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6, which your body can only obtain through food. Although too much Omega 6 can lead to inflammation of your joints.

Unsaturated fats are most commonly found in seeds and nuts, oily fish like salmon, and vegetable oil-based products.

If you are looking to lose weight and burn body fat, focus on reducing your calorie intake and use a variety of regular exercises to burn calories. Try to maintain a diet that prioritizes unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats and focuses on lower-calorie carbs and proteins where possible.