Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

There is a huge difference between saturated and unsaturated fats. However, over the years they have become one in the same, this is why many believe that fats are bad and are what make you fat. This is not true! You actually do need some fats in your diet to keep your body healthy. The trick is in the understanding of which type of fat is healthier than the other; saturated fats are the fats which will clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart diseases while unsaturated fats are the fats which help keep your body functioning properly.

Facts on Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Before we get to the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, it's important to understand some basic facts on the two fats separately.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are the unhealthier of the two types of fats in discussion; however your body still needs a slight amount each day. Unfortunately most people eat more than the recommended amounts. The average people should consume 11% of their daily calories from saturated fats; however, the average person is at 12.6%, slightly above the recommended amount.

  • ŸAverage male: less than 30g of saturated fats a day
  • ŸAverage woman: less than 20g of saturated fats a day
  • ŸChildren should consume even less.

Sources of saturated fats:

Many foods contain saturated fats, whether they are savory or sweet. Saturated fats mainly come from animal sources such as meat and dairy; however, there are some plant oils (such as palm oil) that contain saturated fats.

Other sources that contain saturated fats include your favorite fatty cuts of meat or meat products such as sausage, Ghee, butter, and lard, hard cheeses, sour cream, ice cream and cream, chocolates, baked goods, and Coconut oil.

Unsaturated Fats

One step that you can take toward reducing your risk of heart disease is swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats, and lowering the amount of fat that you consume on a daily basis. There are several studies that have proved making the swap will help lower your cholesterol levels as well.

Most of the time, the average person will get their unsaturated fats from plant oils. Unsaturated fats come in two types – polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

  • ŸMonounsaturated fats aid in heart health by maintaining appropriate HDL levels while lowering your LDL cholesterol levels. These can be found in olive and rapeseed oils, avocados, almonds, Brazil nuts, and peanuts.
  • ŸThe polyunsaturated fats help lower your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These are your omega-3 and omega-6 oils which can be found in vegetable oils and oily fish. Most of the time it is easy to get omega-6 by using cooking oils; however, you have to be more persistent to get your omega-3 by ensuring you are including the proper types of foods in your diet.

What Is the Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats?

Fats are not all created equal. Although saturated and unsaturated fats can both be found in many foods, unsaturated fats are good for your heart while saturated fats may actually be detrimental to your heart.

The easiest way to visually tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is by looking at them in their natural form. The saturated fats will be solid at room temperatures and the unsaturated fats will be liquid. There is one caveat to this though; some unsaturated fats such as coconut oil may become a solid if the room is at a cooler temperature than normal.

The reason this happens is because of their different chemical structures. Saturated fats are called saturated fats because their molecules are not double bonded so they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Switching to the unsaturated fats, they are double bonded molecules so the hydrogen molecules have air gaps which allow for more fluidity.

What About Trans-Fat?

There are a few foods that contain small amounts of natural trans-fats; however, most trans-fats are created through chemical processing. This process makes vegetable oils harden at room temperature because hydrogen molecules have been added.

Vegetable oils have been processed this way to help maintain its shelf life. Once it has become partially hydrogenated, it will not spoil as easily and it works better in deep fryers.

Sources of trans-fats: There are a variety of foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils such as baked goods (the cakes, cookies, and frostings), snacks (such as potato chips, prepackaged popcorn, and candy bars), fried foods, refrigerator dough, and creamers and margarine.

Recommendations for Fat Intake

Since some dietary fats aid in your overall health while others are detrimental to your health, it is important to understand which ones you are eating so that you meet proper national dietary recommendations.

Below is a chart that contains recommendations for the most common types of dietary fats. It is vital that you pay attention to the foods that you eat because each will contain different amounts, types, and combinations. As an example, butter contains healthier unsaturated fat but most of the total fat comes from saturated fat.

Type of Fat


Total fat

Your overall fat intake needs to only contribute to about 20%-35% of your total daily calorie intake. Using the 2,000 calorie diet, this is 44-78 grams of fat.

Saturated fat

Keep saturated fat at less than 10% of your total daily calorie intake. In order to reduce the risk of heart disease even more, keep it below 7%. Overall you should remain between 22 and 15 grams on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Unsaturated fat

There are not any specific recommendations for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; however you should try to keep them at moderate levels and within your total fat range.

Trans fat

It is important that you avoid most trans-fats; however, there is not a specific amount that the guidelines recommend. Remember that the total amount of all fats should remain between 20% and 35% of your total daily calorie intake.

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