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Good Fat, Bad Fat

The right fat can actually improve your heart health.

WebMD Feature Americans have become downright fat-phobic.

And with good reason: Scientists have pointed to fat as a possible cause for diseases ranging from heart disease to obesity to some cancers. In response, store shelves are now lined with fat-free potato chips, luncheon meats, and cookies, all concocted so people can literally have their cake and eat it too.

But being fat-healthy isn't just about avoiding the saturated fats found in meat and tropical oils. It's about making sure you're eating a good balance of the right kinds of fats. "It's not about good fats/bad fats, but consuming fats in the right amounts that counts," says dietitian Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of The Nutrition Desk Reference.

Scientists have found that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, and even ease arthritis pain. On the other hand, people who have diets that are low in omega-3s and high in another fatty acid, omega-6 -- the typical American diet -- have higher rates of heart disease. "It's not so much that omega-6s are bad for us, it's just that the ratio is out of whack," Somer says.