Understanding Different Types of Fats in Your Diet

Understanding Different Types of Fats in Your Diet

Understanding Different Types of Fats in Your Diet

Fats are an essential part of human diet.1 Fatty acids are an crucial component of the cell and are precursors to important biomolecules.2 Additionally, they provide a rich source of energy and promote the absorption of other nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins. Dietary fats are categorized into four types based on the number and configuration of double bonds in the fatty acid chain: monosaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fat.1

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats contain a single double bond and are considered to be a healthy type of fat.1 Various trials have shown that increased intake of monounsaturated fat may be associated with lowered risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.1,3

Sources of monounsaturated fat include:4–6

  • Canola oil, olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil
  • Nuts and seeds (eg, almonds, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans)
  • Avocado

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats contain more than one double bond.1 Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are the two most commonly known polyunsaturated fats associated with health benefits. The consumption of polyunsaturated fats has been linked to improved cardiovascular health and decreased risk of other chronic diseases (eg, inflammatory-related diseases, dementia, cancer). Various studies that replaced saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats saw reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease.6–8 Additionally, biomarker studies have shown that the intake of polyunsaturated fats is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence.3 

Sources of polyunsaturated fat include:4–6

  • Canola oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, peanut oil
  • Nuts and seeds (eg, walnuts, sunflower seeds)
  • Oily fish (eg, tuna, salmon, sardines)
  • Eggs
  • Tofu 

Saturated Fat 

Saturated fats contain no double bonds.1 They are linked to negative effects on cardiovascular health. Studies have demonstrated that increased intake of saturated fatty acids is associated with increased LDL cholesterol levels and an increased risk of CHD. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends limiting the intake of saturated fats to <10% of daily calories by replacing them with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats.5 Guidelines by the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology recommend that only 5-6% of daily calories to come from saturated fat intake in individuals with elevated LDL cholesterol levels.6 

Sources of saturated fat include:5

  • High-fat meat
  • Full-fat dairy products (eg, whole milk, full-fat cheese, ice cream)
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Dishes such as burgers, burritos, hot dogs, casseroles, and various desserts

Trans Fat 

Trans fats contain double bonds that exist in a trans configuration, where two hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the carbon-carbon double bond.1 Most trans fats are artificially manufactured via the hydrogenation process so that liquid forms of fat can be converted to semi-solid or solid forms to be incorporated into commercial foods with increased shelf life.

Studies have shown that increased intake of trans fats is associated with increased LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Observational studies have shown that reducing trans fat consumption is associated with decreased risk of CHD. The 2020-2025 DGA recommends minimal consumption of trans fat.5

Sources of trans fat:1,4

  • Processed foods (eg, cookies, chips, cakes)
  • Fast foods (eg, french fries)
  • Margarines and shortening


1. White B. Dietary Fatty Acids. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80(4):345-350
2. Field CJ, Robinson L. Dietary Fats. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(4):722-724. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz052
3. Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G, Willett W. Dietary Fat and Cardiometabolic Health: Evidence, Controversies, and Consensus for Guidance. Br Med J. 2018;361:k2139. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2139
4. Fats | ADA. Accessed March 16, 2023. https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/fats
5. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
6. Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JHY, et al. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;136(3):e1-e23. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510
7. Jakobsen MU, O’Reilly EJ, Heitmann BL, et al. Major Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Cohort Studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1425-1432. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27124
8. Li Y, Hruby A, Bernstein AM, et al. Saturated Fats Compared With Unsaturated Fats and Sources of Carbohydrates in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(14):1538-1548. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.055



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