Different Types of Dietary Fat – Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, Trans-Fat

types-of-fatThere are several different types of fat in the foods we eat. Some fats are better than other when it comes to their impact on our health. Some fats are even good for you! What type of fat makes up the majority in your diet?

Saturated Fat

While some saturated fat is good for you and helps maintain proper hormone levels, too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels, which can increase your chances of having heart disease. Foods containing saturated fat include:

  • High-fat dairy products such as full-fat cheese, cream, ice cream, whole milk, 2% milk and sour cream.
  • High-fat meats like regular ground beef, bologna, hot dogs, sausage, bacon and spareribs
  • Lard
  • Butter
  • Fatback and salt pork
  • Cream sauces
  • Gravy made with meat drippings
  • Chocolate
  • Palm oil and palm kernel oil
  • Coconut and coconut oil
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey) skin

Try to limit saturated for to no more than 7-10% of your total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, this means around 16 – 22 grams of saturated fat per day. If you have issues with your cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, you might even want to eat slightly less.

Saturated fat grams are listed on the label under total fat. As a general rule, compare foods with less saturated fat. Foods with 1 gram or less saturated fat per serving are considered low in saturated fat.


Trans-fats aren’t a natural fat: trans-fats are produced when liquid oil is made into a solid fat using a process called hydrogenation. Trans-fats are like like saturated fats in that they can raise your cholesterol level. Trans fats are listed on the label, making it easier to identify these foods. Unless there is at least 0.5 grams or more of trans fat in a food, the label can claim 0 grams. To avoid trans, look for words like hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil. Choose foods that either do not contain hydrogenated oil or where a liquid oil is listed first in the ingredient list. Sources of trans fat include:

  • Processed foods like snacks (crackers and chips) and baked goods (muffins, cookies and cakes) with hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil
  • Stick margarine
  • Shortening
  • Some fast food items such as french fries

There’s been a big push over the last several years to reduce trans-fats, so finding foods that don’t contain them is much easier now.


Cholesterol is not a fat, but rather a component found in fats that come from animal sources. Your body makes some of the cholesterol found in your blood (levels produced are dependent on diet and exercise), the rest comes from food. Foods from animals are sources of dietary cholesterol and consuming too much may increase your blood cholesterol.

As a target, you should aim to eat less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day. Cholesterol is required on the label if the food contains it. Sources of cholesterol include:

  • High-fat dairy products (whole or 2% milk, cream, ice cream, full-fat cheese)
  • Egg yolks
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • High-fat meat and poultry skin

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are termed “good” or “healthy” fats because they can lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol. Sources of monounsaturated fat include:

  • Avocado
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil
  • Sesame seeds

You should try eat more monounsaturated fats than saturated or trans-fats. To include more monounsaturated fats, try using olive or canola oil instead of butter, margarine or shortening when cooking. Sprinkling a few nuts or sesame seeds on a salad is an easy way to eat more monounsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats are not required on the label. Some foods do list them — particularly if they are a good source.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats are also “healthy” fats. Dietary guidelines recommend you include these in your diet as well as monounsaturated fats. Sources of polyunsaturated fats are:

  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Soft (tub) margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salad dressings

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent clogging of the arteries. Some types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. You should include non-fried fish 2 or 3 times a week to get enough Omega-3 fatty acid on your diet. Sources include:

  • Albacore tuna
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Rainbow trout
  • Sardines
  • Salmon

Some plant foods are also sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Sources include:

  • Tofu and other soybean products
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • Canola oil

Too much of the “bad” types of fat have been implemented in a variety of heath issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiac disease and more. Knowing what fats to look for on the labels of the foods you eat can help make more healthful choices.


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