Saturated Fat vs. Trans Fat vs. Monounsaturated Fat vs. Polyunsaturated Fat

What is the difference between saturated fat vs. trans fat vs. monounsaturated fat? If you’ve ever read a food label you are probably well aware that you can find the fat grams in the food you are reviewing.  Often, people will concentrate on the fat grams and the total percentage of calories from fat, but there is a more important detail on the food label to watch out for.  Right below that, you’ve probably noticed that this fat content is further broken down by terms like saturated fat, unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, or polyunsaturated fat, but what does it mean and is one better than the other?

Before we answer that, know this.  Fat is not bad.  Your body needs fat.  It is one of the ways your body gets energy.  What you need to know is which type of fat is better than others. The difference between the various fats is important to understand.  Here is a quick summary of the various types of fat you may find on that food label:

Saturated Fat 

Saturated fat is generally considered to be a bad fat. It can raise LDL (the bad) cholesterol, increase risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Saturated fat is common in meat and dairy items like cream, cheese, butter, or fatty animal meat.

Trans Fats

Like saturated fat, trans fat is generally considered to be a bad fat. It can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your risk or cardiovascular disease. Trans fat is common in processed foods, especially where terms like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated are used on the label.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fat is generally considered to be a good fat. It can improve cholesterol levels, reduce risk of heart disease and prevent diabetes. Monounsaturated fat is found in things like olive oil, avocados, and nuts.

Polyunsaturated Fat 

Polyunsaturated fat is generally considered to be a good fat. It can improve cholesterol levels, reduce risk of heart disease, prevent diabetes, and even lower blood pressure. Polyunsaturated fat is found in things like nuts, seeds, and fish (the omega-3 fatty acids you hear about in fish oil are polyunsaturated fats).

Does That Help?

Hopefully this helps to clear it up. This does not mean that you should have no saturated or trans fats and get all of your fat calories from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. That would be difficult to do. Instead, a healthy diet would be one that limits the bad fats and includes the good fats.

Remember, the total grams of fat on a food label are not the entire story – know the breakdown. Saturated fat and trans fats should be limited in your diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have health benefits and should be included in your diet.

Now you know the difference between saturated fat vs. trans fat vs. monounsaturated fat vs. polyunsaturated fat, so eat well.

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