We’ve been trained to stay away from high-fat foods for the last several decades in favor of low-fat, fat-free and low-calorie foods that now fill grocery stores. You can find a low-fat or fat-free versions of just about any snack food, dairy product or condiment. Many people fill their diet with frozen meals that are low in fat and calories in hope they’ll lose weight.  

But research increasingly shows that those low fat options really aren’t that good for you, and diets that include a good helping of “healthy” fat might be the healthier way to go.

“Sometimes when fat is removed to make something ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free,’ it’s replaced with sugar, salt or other high-calorie ingredients that make the food less healthy than if you would’ve just eaten the full fat version,” said Gina McArdle RDN, LDN, a clinical dietician at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton.

For many people, there is some confusion around fats, likely because there are different types.

Saturated fats are found in coconut oil, palm oil, butter, beef, lamb, pork and often in the snacks you might find in a grocery or convenience store. Too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels, which could lead to health problems like heart disease or stroke. The new Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting foods with saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your daily diet, while the American Heart Association recommends the limit on saturated fats be under 7 percent.

Unsaturated fats are considered “healthy” fats, and are found in fish, avocado, nuts and olive oil. Eating foods with unsaturated fats may lower your cholesterol. Some unsaturated fats can lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol.

You may have also heard of trans fats, which are found in snacks like potato chips, cookies, crackers, fried foods, salad dressings and other processed foods. “While most fats are OK in moderation, you should really avoid trans fats in your diet,” said McArdle.

Many people who focus on low-fat diets might steer clear of healthy unsaturated fats, which can make you feel full and help lower your cholesterol. Instead, they focus more on refined carbohydrates and don’t watch their sugar intake, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Eating foods that include healthy unsaturated fats, along with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, and limiting saturated fat can help you create a balanced, heart-healthy diet.

“Like many things, it’s all about moderation,” said McArdle. “Focus on fruits and veggies, as well as foods like fish and nuts that have healthy fats, and try to limit saturated fats.”