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What Is Fat? (Definition & Types)

Donald Christman
Published by Donald Christman | Medical Student and Professional Journalist
Last updated: August 22, 2023

I don’t think any other substance causes more heated debates than fat. But it always amuses me how many people end up in discussions with a complete misunderstanding of what fat is and how it’s important for our health.

And I totally understand this confusion when you have to deal with trans fats, unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, visceral fat, brown fat, and many other types.

So, I teamed up with my dietitian to see if we could shed some light and help my clients and readers get a better grasp of this broad topic.

Quick Summary

  • It’s important to understand that both dietary fat and body fat play a key role in your health and wellbeing.
  • There are certain types of fat that you need to avoid to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • A healthy diet should contain a good proportion of fat, but too much fat, even the healthy kind, can make you sick.

How Does Science Define Fat?

Squeezing a person's fat

Science defines fat as a subgroup of a substance called lipids.

Apart from having a very similar molecular structure, both dietary and body fat have a common characteristic that they are not soluble in water, and they will float at the top.

You’ll also find fats defined as triglycerides, which is a type of fat found in your bloodstream, and it’s named that way because the substance is made up of one glycerol molecule and three fatty acids [1].

Fat is a vital component of your diet and body, but as with everything that’s good for you, too much of a good thing can be bad.

For example, there’s a minimum safe amount of body fat, which for men is about 5% and for women, 15% [2].

And in the world of dietary fat, you should aim to get at least 20% of your calorie intake from healthier fats [3].

What Are The Different Types?

White and brown are the two types of body fat [4]. And when it comes to dietary fats, the main types are saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats [5].

Let’s start with brown fat. This type of body fat is generally classed as a good type of fat as it burns energy and is readily available for the body to use [6].

White fat, on the other hand, is the visceral and subcutaneous type of fat that surrounds organs and your belly.

This is what makes people overweight and unhealthy. From a dietary perspective, saturated fat and trans fats are the evil ones to look out for [7].

Although the scientific literature is slowly shifting our perspective on saturated fats, trans fat still remains the biggest villain.

These are partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids, and they can lead to coronary artery disease and, ultimately, heart attacks.

Poly and monounsaturated fats have either one or more unsaturated carbon bonds in the molecule, and that simple difference makes them healthy in the right amounts [8].

Healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in avocados, nuts, and fatty fish, have been shown to promote cardiovascular health and overall well-being.

The saturated fats found in animal products and certain oils have long been linked to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. However, emerging research suggests a more nuanced understanding of their impact.

On the other hand, trans fats, which are artificially created through hydrogenation processes, are unequivocally harmful. They have been linked to a higher risk of coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Choosing healthy fats over trans fats and excessive saturated fats can support our health and well-being.

“Consuming monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving your risk factors. For instance, MUFAs may lower your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level.“

- Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D at

Related Article: Dietary Fat Types

Focusing On Healthy Ones For Your Diet

Compressing her belly using measuring tape

The American Heart Association recommends that for saturated fat you keep your daily fat intake to 5% or less of all your calorie intake [9]. That number also includes your intake of trans fats.

Anything above that number could potentially have a negative impact on your cholesterol and heart health.

With unsaturated fat, you have a lot more scope, and if your goal is to achieve 20% of calories from dietary fats, then unsaturated fats should be about 15% of your meal plan.

That means adding fatty fish and vegetables, as well as cold-pressed oils like olive or avocado oil that also deliver essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation [10].


Are All Fats Bad For You?

No, not all fats are bad for you. Saturated fats and trans fats are the main ones that can have an impact on your heart health, though the general position on saturated fats is slowly changing.

However, unsaturated fats, and especially monounsaturated ones, should be part of every diet.

Should You Eat Fat Every Day?

Yes, you should eat unsaturated fats every day. These are essential for your overall health, but you have to limit your intake of saturated fats, and avoid the trans ones altogether.

Also, avoid lowering your calorie intake to less than 20% from fat sources.

Know Your Fats And How To Deal With Them

With this simple guide, you should have all the information you need to better deal with discussions about both body and dietary fat.

It’s important that you analyze your food intake for saturated and unsaturated fats to avoid all sorts of health issues and obesity.

And if you want some additional help with losing some white belly fat, then consider adding the next fat burners to your stack:

With the right combination of thermogenic ingredients, you can burn off extra calories throughout the day. And those calories will add up over the months ahead.


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