Types of Fats

Topic Overview

Fats are nutrients that give you energy. Fats are either saturated or unsaturated, and most foods with fat have both types. But usually there is more of one kind of fat than the other.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. It is mostly in animal foods, such as milk, cheese, and meat. Poultry and fish have less saturated fat than red meat. Saturated fat is also in tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter. You'll find tropical oils in many snacks and in nondairy foods, such as coffee creamers and whipped toppings. Saturated fat can raise your cholesterol.

Trans fat

This is a fat that has been changed by a process called hydrogenation. This process increases the shelf life of fat and makes the fat harder at room temperature. Harder fat makes crispier crackers and flakier pie crusts. Trans fat can raise your cholesterol, so eat as little trans fat as possible. You'll find it in:

  • Processed foods.
  • Snack foods, such as chips and crackers.
  • Cookies.
  • Some margarines and salad dressings.
  • Foods made with shortening and partially hydrogenated oils.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature. It is mostly in oils from plants. If you eat unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat, it may help improve your cholesterol levels. Try to eat mostly unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are both types of unsaturated fat.

  • Monounsaturated fat: This fat is in vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats may help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats may also keep "good" HDL cholesterol levels high. This may lower your risk of heart disease. But eating more unsaturated fat without cutting back on saturated fat may not lower your cholesterol.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: This type of fat is mainly in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. Polyunsaturated fat is also the main fat found in seafood. Eating polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat may lower LDL cholesterol.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that may reduce the risk of heart disease. To get the health benefits of omega-3s, eat a 3 oz (85 g) serving of fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel twice a week. Taking fish oil supplements is not necessary. Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, nuts, and seeds also have omega-3 fatty acids.

Total fat

Experts recommend that 20% to 35% of your total calories each day come from fat. This includes:

  • No trans fat.
  • Up to 10% polyunsaturated fat.
  • Up to 10% saturated fat.
  • 10% to 15% monounsaturated fat.

Credits

Author Debby Golonka, MPH
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Ruth Schneider, MPH, RD - Diet and Nutrition
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Updated February 6, 2009

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