“The abdomen is the reason why man does not easily take himself for a god.” – Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, 1886)

Although many health experts are telling us that we have too much fat in our diet, the truth is that that most people are actually deficient in essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially omega-3 fatty acids.

By increasing your consumption of these vitamin-type fats, you can lower your chance of getting heart disease, reduce inflammation in your joints, enhance your immune response against cancer, and promote healthy brain function.

The point is that the types of fat you eat make a big difference in your risk of developing or dying of heart disease. Despite what you’ve probably been led to believe, it’s not necessary to reduce fat consumption in order to reduce your risks. It is important, however, to change the KINDS of fats you eat.

In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers concluded that replacing unhealthy fats like margarine and shortening with healthy sources of fats — such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and cold-water fish — was more effective in preventing coronary disease than reducing total fat intake.

Here’s an easy way to remember which fats are good and which are bad, plus the best way to get the important fats you need.

* Saturated fatsare those that are solid at room temperature. They are found in meat, dairy products, palm and palm-kernel oils, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. Numerous epidemiological analyses have observed that increased consumption of saturated fat is linked to increased incidences of heart disease and cancer. While some scientists (including Dr. Robert Atkins) have argued that saturated fats have been unfairly maligned for their role in the development of heart disease, most nutritionists advise that saturated fat be kept to 10 percent or less of your total daily calories.

* Monounsaturated oilsare those that are liquid at room temperature but become cloudy or solid when refrigerated. They include olive oil and canola oil and are present in avocados. Studies have shown that cultures that get the majority of their fat calories from monounsaturated fats have a lower incidence of all types of cardiovascular disease and many kinds of cancer. Health and nutrition experts now recommend that the majority of your dietary fat intake should be from monounsaturated oils.

* Polyunsaturated oilsremain liquid even when chilled. They are important because they supply the essential fatty acids. The most commonly used vegetable oils, such as those made from corn, peanuts, and soybeans, are high in omega-6 EFAs. Sources of omega-3 fats include deep-sea (cold-water) fish like salmon, herring, cod, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseed (also known as linseed).

Most of us get adequate omega-6 from our diet. But unless you are eating cold-water fish four or five times a week or chewing a tablespoon of raw flaxseed daily, you will most likely benefit from an additional omega-3 EFA supplement.

In the past, most people took fish-oil and flaxseed-oil supplements. Unfortunately, both of these can have digestive side effects, ranging from an unpleasant taste to noxious burping, nausea, and diarrhea. The Health Sciences Institute has recently reported, however, on a better alternative: perilla oil. We’ve found that perilla oil appears to be the most inexpensive and best-tolerated source of these valuable compounds. It delivers all of the benefits of omega-3 EFAs and in some cases appears to be even more powerful than fish or flaxseed oil. Most importantly, it’s free of the digestive side effects that many people suffer with the traditional sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

* the most dangerous fat of all. Modern food processing has created unnatural kinds of fats called “trans” fats, which are made when unsaturated oils are artificially hydrogenated in order to increase stability and shelf life. Virtually all packaged foods, including cake mixes, crackers, breakfast cereals, and mayonnaise, are made with artificially hydrogenated fats. Trans fats are also created when unsaturated fats are heated to high temperatures, as in deep-fat frying.

Although they are technically unsaturated fats, trans fats behave like saturated fats by clogging arteries and increasing the susceptibility of cholesterol to oxidize. When the American Heart Association advised Americans to give up butter in favor of “heart-healthy” margarine, it was sadly guiding people out of the frying pan right into the fire. The hydrogenated fats in most margarines have now been shown to be far more damaging to the heart and arteries than the naturally saturated fats in butter.

Your best bet? Read labels closely. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated,” you can be sure the product contains trans fats.