Fats and Oils to Avoid

Learn which fats to limit in an anti-inflammatory diet.

Not too many years ago, people were told to avoid all fat. Today, fat is no longer the “bad guy.” In fact, certain fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are essential to a healthy eating plan. But others may increase your inflammation and harm your overall health. Learn which fats you should limit and which to avoid in an arthritis-friendly diet. 

Fats to Limit

  • Saturated Fat
    Found in meat, butter and cheese, saturated fats stay solid at room temperature. Saturated fats can raise your total cholesterol and your LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels. “People with arthritis are more at risk for heart disease, so they need to be watching [their cholesterol levels],” says Christine McKinney, RD, a clinical dietitian at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. 

    Small amounts of saturated fats can be incorporated into a healthy diet but should be limited to less than 10% of your total calorie intake. That would be no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day for a person consuming 2000 calories.
  • Saturated Fat from Coconut Oil 
    There might be one exception in the saturated fat category – coconut oil. This plant-based form of saturated fat has gained popularity in recent years, and animal studies published in 2014 and 2015 have suggested it has anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike other saturated fats, coconut oil is made mostly of medium-chain fatty acids, and your body processes those differently. While you don’t want to overdo it on coconut oil, small quantities might be ok. “I think including a little saturated fat from a healthy source like coconut oil is fine, but that shouldn’t be your main fat,” says McKinney.
  • Omega 6 Fatty Acids
    Polyunsaturated oils contain two types of essential fatty acids (ones the body can’t produce itself): omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s are found in oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts and are known to be anti-inflammatory. Omega-6s are found in oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and vegetable and products made with those oils. Excess consumption of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals, and the American diet tends to be very high in omega-6s. They aren’t especially bad and shouldn’t be avoided, but you don’t want them to dominate your intake.

Fats to Avoid

  • Trans Fats
    Although they are found in very small amounts naturally in beef and dairy products, manufacturers create most trans fats when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. This process keeps the oil solid at room temperature and extends its shelf life. You’ll find trans fats in commercial baked goods, fried foods and margarine. Ideally, you should consume no added trans fats at all. “Both trans fats and saturated fats raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, but trans fats are a little more villainous, because they also reduce HDL, or good cholesterol. That dual effect raises the risk of heart disease.,” says Cindy Moore, a dietitian and nutrition therapy director at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.