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What Types Of Dietary Fat Exist? (From a Nutritionist) 

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 5, 2023

Ever wondered what kind of dietary fats you should be taking for healthy living?

If you’ve heard about the common misconception that all fats are bad, we’re here to tell you that’s simply not true. Just like how not all fats are created equally, not all fats are out to harm you either.

To help you know which fats to add to your diet and which ones to stay away from, we’ve spent hours researching their effects and how they affect the human body. Read on to learn more.

Quick Summary

  • The two types of dietary fat are namely saturated fat, and unsaturated fat.
  • Saturated fats are the bad fats, whereas unsaturated fats are the good fats.
  • Avocados, olive oil, sesame seeds, nuts, and canola oil are rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the good fats.

What Are the Different Types of Fat?

fresh meat, dairy products, avocadoes, fish meat, olives and corn on a table

The main types of dietary fats include unsaturated fats (good fats) and saturated fat (bad fats).

As we consume foods, fats get introduced into our bodies, classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on their impact on our cholesterol level.

Our liver produces cholesterol to keep our cell membranes healthy, and it gets transported around our body via lipoproteins.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. This type of cholesterol builds up on the walls of our blood vessels and makes them narrower.

Over long periods, saturated fat can create clogs and clots, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as ‘good’ cholesterol.

This type of cholesterol picks up any excess cholesterol (usually bad) and transports it back to the liver, where it gets broken down and flushed out.

As a result, HDL is beneficial to our bodies and promotes cardiovascular health.

Below are all the classified types of fats.

Healthy Fats

Polyunsaturated Fats

close up image of flax seeds and a plate of cooked sardines

The first of the unsaturated fats is polyunsaturated fat. It is a simple fat that exists as a liquid at room temperature.

Eating polyunsaturated fat provides many health benefits and essential fatty acids that our bodies do not naturally produce.

As a result, the only way to obtain these fatty acids is to consume foods that are rich in them.

Omega 3 and omega 6 are two types of fatty acids that increase HDL cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and promote heart health.

A healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids helps reduce cardiovascular complications and inflammation, as well as promote brain function. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include vegetable oil, corn oils, cod liver oil, sardines, flax seeds, and walnuts.

Compared to omega 3, there is less emphasis on omega 6 as the typical American diet is abundant in omega 6 rich foods. These include liquid vegetable oils, eggs, and corn.

Monounsaturated Fats

olives in a bowl and a glass of oil beside, and a play of sliced avocadoes

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and may start to solidify upon refrigeration.

Like polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats help reduce bad cholesterol in the blood and come with many benefits towards a healthy circulatory system.

They also contain several other micronutrients that help with the strengthening and maintenance of bodily cells.

According to researchers, “high-monounsaturated-fat diets improve lipoprotein profiles as well as glycemic control,” which greatly benefits patients that are suffering from diabetes [1]. - A. Garg, Medical Researcher

Oils rich in monounsaturated fat also contain vitamin E, which enhances the nutritional value of our diets. Examples include:

  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts such as macadamias, peanuts, almonds, and cashews
  • Sesame seeds

While they are good for you, monounsaturated fat, like all other types of fat, is high in calories and should be taken in moderation to avoid weight gain.

Bad Fats

Saturated Fats

different dairy food on a table and different types of red meat in a tray

Saturated fat is also known as solid fat due to its physical state at room temperature.

Along with trans fats, saturated fat is unhealthy and should be used only in small amounts.

High levels of saturated fat intake will raise LDL blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Foods high in saturated fats include red meat and animal foods like:

  • Meats: Beef, lamb, pork, and skinless poultry
  • Dairy products: Cheese, lard, cream, and butter
  • Deep-fried foods and baked foods (contain high levels of saturated fat)
  • Plant sources such as palm oil and coconut oil (smaller amounts of saturated fat)

While saturated and trans fats should be avoided, there are healthy fats that give important nutrients and advantages.

Avocados, nuts, and seeds have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Including these healthy fats in your diet will assist support your heart health and general well-being.

Remember, balance is key in fat intake, focusing on reducing unhealthy fats while including healthier options in moderation.

The American Heart Association recommends getting a maximum of 6% calories from eating food containing unhealthy fat, meaning that if your daily calorie intake is around 2,000 calories, only 120 calories should consist of saturated fat.

Trans Fats

close up images of a heavy burger and french fries

Also known as partially hydrogenated oils, trans fat is a type of artificially manufactured dietary fat created through a process called hydrogenation.

While they may taste good, they are very unhealthy and pose a significant health risk.

Trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels as well as your heart disease risk by great amounts.

Manufacturers in the food industry often mix hydrogen with vegetable oils to create a substance solid at room temperature.

This solid fat is then used in processed food to improve its shelf life, texture, and taste.

Additionally, trans fat is the most common fats found in food as they are cheap and last for long periods of time.

They can be used repeatedly to deep-fry foods like french fries without ever running out, making them a staple in restaurants and commercial fryers.

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What Happens if You Eat No Fat?

Fat provides a moisture barrier in our skin, and its deficiency could lead to inflammation.

If your body is fat deficient, you may notice side effects such as skin inflammation (dermatitis), hair loss, wounds healing slowly, and a weakened immune system.

Do Good Fats Make You Fat?

While good fats are high in daily calories, they are unlikely to make you fat.

On the contrary, eating foods rich in good fats may help you lose weight as your body needs them to keep systems running properly.

They can also provide you with a boost of energy to help you shred workouts and lose fat.

Get More Unsaturated Fat in Your Diet Today

Knowing the difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat could save your life.

Saturated fat types like trans fat are often found in snack foods and processed foods.

Saturated fat can clog up your blood vessels, causing an increased risk of heart disease symptoms like stroke, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and even cancer.

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fat types like polyunsaturated fat offers a ton of health benefits and should be done on a regular basis.

When possible, opt for unsaturated fat from healthy foods that are trans-fat-free, like plant foods, fatty fish, coconut oils, and peanut oils, to reduce your risk of heart disease and stay healthy.

Let us know where you’re getting your good fats from.


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