Unsaturated Fats vs Saturated Fats: What’s the Difference?

unsaturated vs saturated fats

It’s easy to read the word “fat” on a nutrition facts label and assume that it will be a hazard to our health. However, not all types of fat are as bad as you may think. In moderation, unsaturated fats are a part of a balanced diet.

What are unsaturated fats?

There are multiple types of unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat. These are most commonly found in nuts, seeds, and oils.

Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, which is why they are most commonly associated with oils in cooking – such as olive oil. However, they are prominently found in avocados, nuts, and seeds of numerous varieties.

Monounsaturated fats have been connected to a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, while polyunsaturated fats are crucial to proper body function – like muscle movement and blood clotting.

Arguably the monounsaturated fat with the most “buzz” is omega 3 fatty acids. This comes from fatty fish and was highlighted in Dr. Milbauer’s supplements he highlighted for improving your immune system.

Omega 6 fatty acids are another in this category, but most Americans already eat a lot of these because they are found in canola oil, walnut oil, corn oil, and more common oils. Omega 6 is known to cause inflammation, so you have to exercise caution to not eat too much of these.

What are saturated fats and trans fats?

These are the ones that give all fats a bad reputation. Saturated fats are found in fatty pieces of meat, particularly processed meats.

The American Heart Association recommends keeping your saturated fat below 6% of your daily calorie intake (for a 2000 calorie diet, this is about 12 grams).  This is important because saturated fats raise your LDL cholesterol levels in your blood. Those that monitor their cholesterol levels already know this increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The most common form of saturated fats you encounter in processed foods is trans fat. These can occur naturally, but most are artificially made as they are placed in processed foods to extend their shelf life.

By consuming trans fats you experience an increase in LDL cholesterol without any positive increase in “good” cholesterol (your HDL). Overall, this means trans fats likely increases your risk of heart disease.

What’s the verdict?

The American Heart Association has a great article on each type of fat and its overall role in your diet.

To summarize the American Heart Association:
Saturated Fat: 6% or less of your total daily calories (about 12 grams for a 2000 calorie diet)
Trans Fat: As minimal as possible, if not outright eliminate if you need to lower your LDL cholesterol
Unsaturated Fats: While these are the “healthier” options, maintain that no more than 25% of your daily calories are fat. That includes Saturated fats, so a safe estimate may be to maintain about 19% or less of your daily calories from unsaturated fats.