Nutrition 201: Unsaturated Fat vs Saturated Fat

Structure of cholesterol and triglycerides, eps8Bad fat. Good fat. No fat. Low fat. It’s all too much.

On the nutrition label you see fat broken down between unsaturated and saturated fat. It’s becoming more and more confusing to understand what types of fat we should have and limit. As per usual I’ll break this down to the simplest level. Are you ready? This refers to dietary fat which is not the same as the fat your body produces.

The easiest way to think of unsaturated versus saturated is that unsaturated are liquid at room temperature while saturated fats are solid. It has to do with how it is composed at the molecular level. I won’t get into that.

The primary source of saturated fats are animals such as beef, pork, chicken. It is widely believed that this type of fat raises cholesterol in the blood and can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes if consumed in excess. This is the type of fat you want to limit, but can be okay in moderation and in combination with an overall healthy lifestyle and diet.

The unsaturated fats break down into monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA). MUFAs are thought to have the opposite effect of saturated fats. They may lower cholesterol and thus your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. PUFAs are found mostly in plant-based foods. The most well known foods in each category include:

MUFA: olives, olive oil, avocados, peanuts, almonds

PUFA: these are the omegas, -3, -6, -9, and can be found in fish, flax seeds, hemp seeds, almond butter

There are some who are of the opinion that PUFAs may actually contribute to fat gain, while MUFAs contribute to fat burn especially around the belly. Again, it’s probably all about moderation. If you have a diet skewed too much toward any type of fat, you will likely suffer ill effects. A completely balanced diet will include plant-based nutrients as well.

And what about trans fat? It’s bad. All bad. The FDA is gearing up to have this substance banned. In the meantime, be on the lookout for food manufacturers that slip it in. If any ingredient listed is partially hydrogenated, that’s trans fat. I’ll post more on this in the future. It comes down to making the right choices. If you have a saturated (meat) at every meal consider cutting down. When I was growing up we always had a meat with dinner. I forgo including meat with dinner 3-4 times a week. I rarely include a meat with breakfast and lunch is pretty random.


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