Saturated fats and unsaturated fats…bad fat versus good fat. We hear about good and bad fats all of the time, what we should have and what we shouldn’t, but how many really know the differences between unsaturated and saturated fats…and why does it matter?
Difference 1: One Fat is Good for Your Cholesterol
A lot of people ask which fat is good: saturated or unsaturated. It’s kind of like trying to remember which kind of college loans are the best to get…it can be hard to remember! Saturated fats are the fats you should eat less of. They are known to increase your cholesterol as well as your risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, and other health issues if consumed in too high a quantity.
Unsaturated fats, meanwhile, are notable because they reduce your cholesterol and actually lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, and other issues.
Importantly, just because one is “good” doesn’t mean one is “bad”; in other words, you shouldn’t eliminate saturated fats altogether. Plenty of foods that have saturated fat also have other health benefits. Such foods include:
- Animal protein.
- Plant oils.
- Full-fat dairy.
- Processed meats.
- Baked goods.
The only fat you really want to avoid is trans fats. Trans fats have absolutely no nutritional value and do you nothing but harm. These foods include processed snacks, some baked goods, and fried foods.
Difference 2: Saturated Fats Have More Hydrogen & Stay Solid at Room Temperature
Fats are composed of carbons and hydrogens. Saturated fat foods are “saturated” with as many hydrogen atoms as possible. They thus are firmer and remain solid (or more solid) at room temperature. Consider the list and the solidity of the items listed above.
On the flip side, unsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature. These include oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish, etc.
Difference 3: Unsaturated Fats Break Down into Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated
There are two kinds of bonds in unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
- Monounsaturated are plant-based. Avocados, nuts, and seeds are high in monounsaturated fats.
- Polyunsaturated fats are seen in omega-3 rich fatty foods like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flax seeds.examphealthy.
Both of these are considered healthy and are known to help lower “bad” cholesterol. It has been shown that polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest of the unsaturated fats.
Difference 4: You Should Eat More Unsaturated than Saturated Fats
While saturated fats are associated with higher cholesterol, it’s only if the foods that contain them are eaten in excess. Studies show that roughly 20-35% should come from fat intake. Only 6% of that intake should be saturated fat.
So, you do need some saturated fat foods, but it’s important to keep that intake to a minimum and to choose wisely. Foods with saturated fat that are okay to consume include things like coconut oil, cheese, ghee, milk, a portion of pork or red meat.
Foods that are high in saturated fat are things like chocolate, cakes, and pastries. They’re okay once in a while, but if you’re trying to lose weight or lower your cholesterol, then you’ll want to stick to leaner and lighter foods for your necessary saturated fat consumption.
Difference 5: Saturated Fats Can Have Some Health Benefits
As noted, you need saturated fats in an appropriate balance and while too many saturated fats can contribute to increased cholesterol, it’s also been shown that consuming dairy products can potentially lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, so don’t dodge the dairy or all of the saturated fats; just consume them in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Further studies of fats and our bodies may yield more information, but at the moment, we know that the main differences between unsaturated and saturated fats pertain to their chemical compounds, their roles in our bodies, and which are best and healthiest to eat most of the time.
Aim for a diet where the majority of your fat calories come from unsaturated fats. When you do consume saturated fats, look for sources that are healthier. Eat yogurt or coconut oil, for example. At the end of the day your health, just like your fat consumption, is all about balance.
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