8 New Fat Facts That’ll Boost Your Weight Loss Efforts

One minute, you’re drenching everything you eat in olive oil, the next you’re filling your pantry with nothing but “fat-free” goodies. Figuring out fat is beyond confusing…and annoying. The great news: these 9 new fat facts are all you need to know to about choosing the right fats and navigating around the sketchy ones.

1. Limiting your fat intake is totally passé.

After a number of studies confirmed the heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean diet—which includes several sources of unsaturated fats—top academics are calling for change to the USDA recommendation to limit daily calories from fat. “The amount of total fat is irrelevant, and we shouldn’t be using any numerical rule,” says Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. “But the type of fat is still relevant.” Aim to get the majority of your fats from whole foods such as nuts, fish, avocado, high-fiber grains, and olive oil, à la the Mediterranean diet (rather than 100-calorie snack packs).

2. There are worse things than saturated fat.

Namely, refined carbs and sugar. While you may want to limit certain saturated fats, it’s no better to replace them with refined starch or sugar—for example, dropping butter in favor of jelly on your toast. It is helpful, on the other hand, to cut saturated fat if you replace it with unsaturated fat—for example, swapping butter with almond or peanut butter.

3. There is one type of fat you should never eat.

While saturated fat in moderate amounts is part of many healthy foods, such as olive oil and fish, trans fats should be avoided completely, Willett says. These artificial fats have no nutritional value and have been shown to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol, as well as increase risks of heart disease and diabetes. 

4. The best way to cut cravings is to crowd them out.

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole foods, especially vegetables, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, and whole grains, and low in processed foods, meats, and dairy, will cut your cravings for the bad stuff—saturated fat, refined starches, and sugar.

5. You can tell if you have dangerous visceral fat in 30 seconds.

Okay, if you want to know for sure, you’ll have to have an abdominal MRI, which can cost several hundred dollars. The next best thing: This quick test, courtesy of Pamela Peeke, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fight Fat After 40:

  • Lie flat on the floor and press your index fingers right above one side of your pelvic bone.
  • As you push down, tighten up your abdominal muscles.
  • Walk your index fingers across your abdominal muscle wall to your belly button: “it should feel nice and flat, like a stretched out piece of plastic,” says Peeke. If it sticks up, you’ve got visceral fat, which is pushing your ab muscles up.

6. It’s the size of your fat cells that matters.

White fat produces a hormone called adiponectin, which helps regulate insulin production. Thin people have small fat cells, which release more insulin-regulating adiponectin than the large fat cells that heavier people have. This is one of the reasons why being overweight can be bad for health. “When you gain weight and fat cells increase in size, they produce less adiponectin, which in turn raises risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” explains Louis Aronne, MD, director of the Obesity Clinic at Cornell.

7. White fat—the type of fat you have most of—does burn calories.

But, only 2 calories a day per pound of fat. Far preferable: muscle, which burns 6 calories a day per pound.

8. There’s one fat you need more of.

Most people need more brown fat, finds recent research. Like muscle, this stuff burns calories even when you’re at rest. And you can create additional stores of brown fat by exercising: Long bouts of aerobic exercise release the hormone iris in, which helps convert white fat into brown, according to one recent study.