Differences Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats
When it comes to balancing your body health by consuming the right kinds of foods and nutrients, fats are an essential part of our daily diets. You may be accustomed to associating fats with unhealthy habits and bad health, but experts agree that our bodies need a specific intake of fat for energy and other purposes. According to Harvard Medical School, not only do fats provide a vital energy source for the human body, but they help us to absorb minerals and vitamins, build cell membranes, support nerve health, aid muscle movement, make blood clotting possible and contribute to the process of inflammation to protect the body from contaminants. Fats come in multiple forms — both detrimental and beneficial — but the most common categorization of fats are unsaturated and saturated fats. To support long-term health and make the best dietary choices, it is recommended that you understand the differences between saturated and unsaturated fats and what foods contain each.
What Is Saturated Fat?Tightly-packed fats that are solid at room temperature because they contain no double bonds in their chemical structures are known as saturated fats — because their structures contain as many hydrogen atoms as possible and they are "saturated" with hydrogen. Saturated fats are typically found in the following foods:
- Meats, especially red meats like beef, but sometimes pork and poultry, as well
- Whole-milk and full-fat dairy products like cheese, milk and butter
- Plant oils like coconut and palm kernel oil
- Processed meats like sausage, bacon, hot dogs and bologna
- Packaged and processed foods like crackers, cookies, pastries and chips
What Is Unsaturated Fat?Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are different from saturated fats because they contain one or more double bonds and fewer hydrogen atoms on their carbon chains. Unsaturated fats come from plants and occur in the following kinds of foods:
- Olive oils
- Vegetable oils, canola oils and plant oils
- Fish like salmon, anchovies, tuna and others containing omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts and seeds
- Monounsaturated Fats: Consisting of one carbon-to-carbon double bond, monounsaturated fats can help control blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as lower your cholesterol levels to decrease your risk of cardiovascular conditions. Doctors recommend replacing as many saturated fats as possible with monounsaturated fats, which can be found in foods like peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Containing two or more double bonds in their chemical structures, polyunsaturated fats are essential to regular body functions such as covering nerves, building cell membranes, blood clotting, inflammation and muscle movement — but your body cannot make these fats itself, so it is recommended that you obtain your polyunsaturated fats from your diet. In addition to helping your body perform vital functions, these types of unsaturated fats lower harmful triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and increase the right kind of cholesterol. They also prevent heart conditions and lessen the effect of other health conditions like dementia and rheumatoid arthritis. You can find polyunsaturated fats in foods like fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, chia and hemp seeds and walnut oil.