The Difference Between Saturated Fat, Unsaturated Fat, and Trans Fat

The Difference Between Saturated Fat, Unsaturated Fat, and Trans Fat

Learn what Saturated Fats, Unsaturated Fats, and Trans Fats are, along with which fats are actually healthy for you.

Are you a fat-o-phobe?? Lots of people are - and understandably so – with food labels screaming “low-fat” at you, food manufacturers don't make understanding labels easy.

So here’s the deal: Fat has more calories by weight than do protein or carbs (9cals per gram vs 4cals per gram). The thing is, you probably eat a lot less of it. Fats are responsible for making food have flavor and texture. They are not typically the basis of meals, as protein (meat, poultry, fish and dairy) and carbs (pasta, bread, rice, beans) are.

Fats are really essential to your body from a cellular level to helping you digest the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K), to making you have healthy skin and hair. If you overeat any macronutrient (Carbohydrates, Protein, or Fat) it will turn into adipose tissue (body fat). So fat is not the only guy to blame for that little bit of pudge-- it's a general over-consumption of calories. Okay, next stop, label deciphering!

There are 4 types of fat you may see on a label. Two are good, two are bad.

First the good, which will raise your good cholesterol (HDL- we want it higher) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL- we want it lower).

  • Monounsaturated fat: found in Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats: found in vegetable oils (such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils), nuts and seeds, Fatty, cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel and herring), flaxseeds, flax oil and walnuts

Then the bad: Too much of this will raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL), increasing your risk for heart disease.

  • Saturated fat: Found in meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, lard, butter, and coconut and palm oils

And now the EVIL-Y bad:

  • Trans-fat: A man-made fat found in processed foods to prolong shelf-life. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, commercial baked goods like crackers, cookies and cakes, fried foods like doughnuts and french fries, shortening and margarine.

Lets review:

  • Unsaturated, GOOD.
  • Saturated, SUCKY.
  • Trans, TOTALLY EVIL.

Get it? Got it? Good!

This doesn't mean you should be eating unlimited amounts of "good" fats because excess calories are excess and will end up on those glutes. And we are all aware that summer is too soon for that. It also doesn't mean you have to cut things with saturated fat like meat, butter or eggs out of your life. I am going to tell you something, and then be an Indian-giver immediately:

Everything in moderation!!! Er, everything in moderation, EXCEPT trans fats. Avoid, avoid, avoid those suckers like you’d avoid making eye contact on the subway.

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About the Author

Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.