Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats – Are They Good or Bad?

For decades, the relationship between dietary fats has been at the center of our attention. We try to understand how saturated, unsaturated and trans fats affect our health. Are they harmful for me? And if so, which one – saturated or unsaturated? Are they the cause of obesity epidemic?

Did you notice eating has gotten very complicated and stressful? The debates over nutrition are literally everywhere. Should we worry about fat, or should we worry about carbohydrates, is the problem lack of fiber?

All these are attempts to understand what’s the problem in the western diet – that is the culprit. People like to figure out that one thing that’s the cause of all evil. Because then we can just adjust that one little thing and go on our merry way, but there is no magic food or pill to fix our problems.

And there’s no right or wrong food – it’s just about good or bad diet.

We’re all still figuring out how our bodies work on a macro and micro level – so we make things complicated.

 

Fats and Our Body


Despite the important roles that fats play in our bodies, this entire category of food was rejected for much of the 20th century.

This led to an enormous increase in the availability of fat free and reduced fat foods. But in spite of this, obesity rates continue to rise.

Low-fat Products

Today, we want to know where our food comes from and how it’s made. This is why the rising awareness about good fats and bad fats have allowed this important part of our food supply – fats, to make a comeback.

 

What’s the Difference Between Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats?


Dietary fats can be divided into two families, the saturated and the unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats get their name from the fact that their fatty acids are saturated with hydrogen molecules. This means that they can lie flat and pack together densely. This is why saturated fats tend to be solids at room temperature.

Saturated Fats

Animal fats, like lard and butter, are good examples.

On the other hand, the fatty acids that make up unsaturated fats are kinked in places where double bonds between the carbon atoms cause the chains to be less saturated with hydrogen.

Meaning that these fatty acids don’t pack together as tightly. Therefore, most unsaturated fats in the liquid state at room temperature.

Unsaturated Fats

Omega 3 fatty acids are a special kind of unsaturated fatty acid, with double bonds in specific positions of the hydrocarbon chain. They’re found in high concentrations in fish oil, and also to some degree in nuts, flax seeds, and other vegetable oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the only kind of fatty acid that the human body can’t make. They’re essential for our health and they need to be consumed via the food we eat.

 

Man-made Unsaturated Fats – Trans Fats


Unsaturated fats can be naturally occurring like the fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados. Or they can be man made or chemically manipulated to become unsaturated.

These are the fats found in some margarines and in refined oils that are often used for repeated cooling and reheating in deep frying machines like the ones used in many fast food restaurants.

The problem with chemically engineered unsaturated fats is that the chemical bonds between the carbon atoms are less stable, so they easily flip into a trans orientation, rather than a cis orientation.

man-made unsaturated fats

And this is where we get the name trans fats.

Trans fats are problematic for our health because they increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood and they lower the amount of HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol in the blood.

In other words, trans fats promote to formation of arterial plaques, blockages and increase the risk of heart disease.

trans fats health problems

Saturated fats have also been shown to contribute to increases in LDL cholesterol, but they haven’t been shown to lower HDL cholesterol or to contribute to the development of arterial plaques as significantly as trans fats.

 

So, What’s the Bottom Line When It Comes to Foods That Contain Fat?


Fats have a very important roles in our bodies and health. They play part in brain development, energy storage, they protect us from cold and protect out internal organs. Don’t avoid eating fats, however pay attention to what kind of fats you’re consuming.

Probably the most sensible food recommendation is this.

Enjoy reasonable amounts of foods that contain mostly naturally occurring unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, nuts and avocados.

Avoid all foods containing trans fats.

And limit your intake of foods like red meats that are high in saturated fats.

Fat intake recommendation

Did you find the information you were looking for? If you have questions, want to share your experience and chat on the topic, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

10 thoughts on “Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats – Are They Good or Bad?”

  1. Yes, fat is great for your body, if it’s the right kind of fat!  I get most of mine from things like avocado.  Plant based diets are the way to go, but I have to admit I do love meat.  I try very hard to limit my meat intake to fish like salmon, tuna, sardines with a little chicken now and again, sometimes turkey.  Don’t get me wrong, I love things like prime rib and pork ribs, but I rarely ever consume them now that I know how bad they are.  I want to live a full life, and what we put in our mouths truly matters to quality of life.  Great article breaking it all down.

    Reply
    • Hi Babsie, thanks for your comment. You have great eating habits and are well informed about fats.  As long as you eat meat or pretty much anything in moderate amounts, there’s no need to worry about it – no extremes are good for you, and a wide variety of natural, whole foods is the best way to go. It looks like your’re doing the right thing 🙂

      Reply
  2. I have been eating healthy fats for years now. Which means I rarely cook woth my virgin olive oil, I eat avocado or coconut oil. If I can I try not to cook with any vegetables oil pf any kind since it will then turn into a trans fat because of heat. I do not ise margarine and avoid trans fat or hydrogenated like crazy. When I cook steak, I do not grease the pan with oil, I use it’s own fat lol it’s not that healthy but I do not add the evil to my skillet. But it is so hard to give up fried food!!! Well one thing at a time right. Great post!

    Reply
    • Hi Nuttanee, I do the same when preparing steak – I don’t add grease because I don’t think it’s necessary. So for fried food, if you eat it occasionally and not on a daily basis it’s all good. As long as you avoid man-made, manipulated fats and don’t binge on food and keep it in moderate amounts, you’re doing the right thing.

      Reply
  3. So between the  saturated and unsaturated fats which one of those should we  take Abit more oven without any major health issues.and how oven to be taken in our food because  I know people who love avocados as mainstream fruit  what  should be told to those people regarding their favorite fruits .

    Reply
    • Hi Charles, for a long term health you should consume more unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, fish and virgin vegetable oils, etc.

      When cooking you should use those fats on a daily basis – if you use for example, refined canola oil in your kitchen switch it with virgin olive oil instead. 

      As for fruit preferences: fruits in general aren’t a source of fats and therefore don’t influence your fat intake. However, avocado is an exception – as long as avocado lovers eat avocado in reasonable amounts it’s all good.

      I hope this helps and answers your question. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

      Katya

      Reply
  4. Hello Katya,

    I have often wondered about all the different fats!

    You have a very great explanation and it was really easy to understand.

    If I am correct in my understanding, unsaturated fats are the best for us, followed by saturated fats.

    Trans fats are something to avoid…

    Would it be possible for you to give a lst of some of the recommended food that contains unsaturated fats?

    That would be really helpful.

    I think you did an excellent job of explaining a very complex topic in a very easy way.

    Great job

    Tim

    Reply
    • Hi Tim, yes, you’re correct – unsaturated fats are best for you, followed by saturated fats. And trans fats are to be avoided. Some examples of foods high in saturated fats are: 

      seeds, for example: flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, etc.

      nuts, for example: almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.

      fish

      vegetable oils that are not man manipulated – virgin oils such as olive oil

      avocado, etc.

      Best,

      Katya

      Reply
  5. My knowledge about cholesterol is very rusty so this piece of information is a good revision for me. Looking at the diagram, it’s clear that my family takes more saturated fat on a daily basis. Dairy products has become a staple diet out of habit and consumerism and we’ve totally neglected the healthier alternatives. 

    I remember loving the taste of avocados and it’s certainly been a while since I had any. It’s time to revamp the family’s diet so thanks for reminding me about that through this educational post.   

    Reply
    • Hi Cathy, Preparing salads with virgin olive oil is also a good way to implement unsaturated fats in diet. OR snacking on nuts and seeds.

      There’s nothing wrong with eating some amounts of saturated fats like butter (I personally, cannot say no to butter). Saturated fats contribute to cholesterol, which is not evil and bad as long as you keep it in check. In fact, research show cholesterol improves cognitive function.

        

      Reply

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