What’s the Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fat?
What are dietary fats?
Dietary fat may have a bad reputation, but fat is vital for your health. The body actually needs fat for energy and for many critical processes such as the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, added sugars and refined carbohydrates are often used to replace fat in processed foods. That adds up to a lot of extra calories with little to no nutritional value.
There’s one bad fat that you should avoid, though: trans fat. They have no nutritional value and are harmful to your health.
They’re often found in:
- fried foods
- processed snacks
- baked goods
Two other types of dietary fat are saturated and unsaturated fat. Rather than trying to cut fat, learning more about these two types of fat and how they affect your body is more helpful.
What is saturated fat?
Fats that are tightly packed with no double bonds between the fatty acids are called saturated fats. There are some exceptions, but most are solid at room temperature.
Sources of saturated fat include:
- fatty pieces of meat such as beef and lamb
- some pork and chicken products
- dairy products including cream, whole milk, butter, shortening, and cheese
- coconut and palm oils
The debate over whether consumption of saturated fat is bad for heart health has been ongoing for decades. Research studies offer conflicting findings regarding the impact of saturated fat on heart health, making this topic particularly confusing for consumers.
While it’s clear that saturated fats raised blood lipids, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and certain other heart disease risk factors, such as inflammation, it’s unclear whether saturated fats increase the risk for heart disease.
While research on this subject is ongoing, it’s important to keep in mind that saturated fat is just one piece of your dietary intake. What matters most for maintaining your health and reducing your disease risk is the overall quality of your dietary intake and lifestyle.
A diet high in saturated fat may raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which will raise your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What is unsaturated fat?
Unsaturated fats are loosely packed. They tend to be liquid at room temperature.
There are two main types of unsaturated fat:
Research shows that consumption of plant-based monounsaturated fats may help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.
Foods that are highest in monounsaturated fats include:
- olive oil
- peanut oil
- most nuts
- most seeds
Your body needs polyunsaturated fats to function. Polyunsaturated fats help with muscle movement and blood clotting. Since your body doesn’t make this type of fat, you have to get it through your diet.
Polyunsaturated fats can be further divided into two types: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- fatty fish, such as sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring
- ground flax and flaxseed oil
- sunflower seeds
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
Consuming too many foods rich in omega-6 fats may increase inflammation in your body and raise your risk for certain health conditions, including obesity.
Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in:
- canola oil
- safflower oil
- soybean oil
- sunflower oil
- walnut oil
- corn oil
The bottom line
Healthy eating starts with a diet rich in whole foods, including sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs, and olive oil.
Just as overconsuming any macronutrient can cause weight gain, eating too many fat-rich foods can cause you to gain weight if the calories aren’t accounted for elsewhere in your diet.
Having overweight or obesity can raise your risk for heart disease and other chronic health conditions like diabetes.
However, fats are an essential part of the diet. Try to choose the right types of fats and to enjoy them in moderation as part of a healthful eating plan.
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