While some dietary fat is a necessary, not all fats are created equal. Just like there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there are good fats and bad fats. Understanding the key differences between saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats can be a key part of a happy, healthy lifestyle.
These fats differ in their chemical properties as well as their physical properties. In general, unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) will be liquid at room temperature. One common example of this is vegetable oil used in cooking. Saturated fats and trans fats, on the other hand, tend to be solid at room temperature. The most popular example of this would be a tub of butter.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are usually considered “good” fats. Consuming these types of fats can help to lower your cholesterol levels, improving your overall health. “Bad” fats usually include saturated fats and trans fats, both of which can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood stream.
In general, is a good idea to limit dietary fat, but in addition to limiting the bad fats, you should also try to incorporate good fats into your diet. Healthy fats can help to keep you full for longer, curbing cravings and helping you snack less throughout the day. Many people underestimate the number of calories they consume while snacking, so it is important to be aware of what you are eating and take steps to eliminate mindless eating and constant snacking.
Type of Dietary Fat #1: Saturated Fats
By definition, a saturated fat is a fat molecule that does not have any double bonds between its carbon molecules. This is because it is “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. This saturated structure means that this type of fat is usually a solid when it is at room temperature.
Saturated fat is one of the “bad” types of fat. This type of fat is most commonly found in fried foods. Over time, a diet high in saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels, increasing your long term risk of a heart attack or stroke. Because of this, most experts recommend that health conscious individuals try to switch out any foods that are high in saturated with another, healthier alternative.
While many processed or fried foods are high in saturated fat, there are also naturally occurring foods that are high in saturated fat. These include rich meats such as lamb and pork, fatty cuts of beef, chicken and turkey with the skin left on, butter, and other high fat dairy products. While it is not necessary to completely eliminate these foods, it is advisable to limit your intake in order to increase your long term health.
Type of Dietary Fat #2: Trans Fats
Like saturated fats, there are both natural and artificial examples of trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats can be found in some animal products. However, the trans fat levels in meat and dairy products are miniscule compared to some artificially occurring sources. You will frequently find trans fats in processed foods, the most common example being “partially hydrogenated” oils. While there is no dietary benefit to consuming trans fats, they are popular with many manufacturers because they are cheap to make, have a long shelf life, and are easy to incorporate into many recipes.
Type of Dietary Fat #3 and #4: Monounsaturated Fats and Polyunsaturated Fats
Unlike saturated fats and trans fats, unsaturated fats can positively affect your cholesterol levels, lowering your bad cholesterol levels and increasing your good cholesterol levels. Over time, this can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke, helping you to live a long and healthy life.
These two types of fats have a different chemical composition. Monounsaturated fats gain their name from their lone double bond, or the one section that is not saturated with hydrogen molecules. By the same logic, polyunsaturated fats are those that have more than one unsaturated bond.
From a weight loss standpoint, all fats are created equal. Each type of fat has 9 calories per gram. However, this does not tell the whole story.
It is common to try to implement a low fat diet in an attempt to lose weight and get healthy, but it is important to know exactly which fats you should eat and which you should avoid. Learning to differentiate between the four different types of fat can help to encourage healthy eating and make you more mindful of your snack choices. Learn more about making healthy choices by joining us at the bottom of the page or reading our FAQ.