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What are the Different Types of Fats?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The type of fats you consume can influence your overall health. However, with the many different varieties, it may be difficult to determine the types that are best to consume. In general, fats are differentiated through molecular structure, but really, all one needs to know is the key terms that will help one determine the best to use in one’s diet.

Fats can be broken into the following categories: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and fatty acids. Fatty acids are further broken down into essential fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids. The second grouping incorporates the types of fats from saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources.

Essential fatty acids are the type the body most needs. These include fat from several sources, and are often called Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids. They are considered essential, since the body needs them to function properly, but they must be obtained through consumption.

The fatty acids that are considered essential can be derived from certain vegetable oils, oils made from grains like flax seed oil, and fish oil. One can also get some through eating things like fish, vegetables and grains.

The worst types of fats are hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. These are most likely to boost cholesterol levels if regularly consumed. The chemical process that causes hydrogenation has been linked to heart disease and to other illnesses. The best is monounsaturated fat, like canola or olive oil. These have been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated fats are also indicated in lowering bad cholesterol, but they may also slightly lower good cholesterol as well. Fats that are considered polyunsaturated include sunflower and safflower oil, and most other nut oils. Corn oil is also typically polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats usually are derived from meat or dairy sources. They are often considered a better choice than partially hydrogenated fats. For example, butter is considered better for one’s health than most margarines.

Health experts suggest that the type of fats consumed should fit the following profile:

  • Monounsaturated fats should make up most of the fats one eats.
  • Polyunsaturated fats should be used in moderation.
  • Saturated fats should be least used.
  • Partially hydrogenated fats and chemically produced trans-fatty acids should be avoided.
  • Foods containing essential fatty acids are encouraged.
WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By apple101888 — On Jan 04, 2016

Half of a menu at a local fast food place is at least more than 100 calories, some making it up to 700, to 1000 or more. And don't trust their "healthy" salads. Sometimes their burgers have fewer calories.

By anon158983 — On Mar 09, 2011

Whole milk in a supermarket is 4% milkfat, not 50%.

By anon135841 — On Dec 20, 2010

Most supermarket whole milk contains around 1 percent fat not 50 percent.

By oasis11 — On Oct 14, 2010

Latte31-Coconut oil fats and milk fats should be used sparingly and should be substituted for lower fat combinations.

For example, when consuming milk, instead of drinking whole milk which has about 50% fat, it is better to drink 2% milk or even skim milk.

Although skim milk is much lighter and you may take some time getting used to the taste, after a while your taste buds will adjust and you won’t miss the higher fat milk.

You can also use skim milk in place of creamer. Creamer is very high in fat and again after a while your taste buds will adjust to the skim milk and the regular creamy will seem too rich.

By latte31 — On Oct 14, 2010

Sunshine31-There really is a fats list that you should keep in mind. Plant and vegetable based fats are actually healthy and should be consumed in small dosages daily.

Most of the Mediterranean diet consists of using olive oil daily which is a healthy type of lipids.

About two tablespoons is all that you need. They say that olive oil offers its best results when it is served at room temperature like in a salad. Once the olive oil is heated it loses is healthful value.

Eating antioxidants foods helps the heart by clearing out the arteries. Foods like salmon and colorful vegetables are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids which are great for the heart.

In addition, these foods not only give you more energy, but they also enhance your skin and leave it feeling suppler.

By sunshine31 — On Oct 14, 2010

Foods rich in saturated fat develop a higher level of triglyceride fats in the blood stream. Fat in the blood essentially can lead to the development of atherosclerosis which is the blockage of arteries that eventually leads to heart disease.

This is why it is important to eat foods low in fats. Most lipid fats have about 9 calories for every gram. When you look at the calorie content along with the fat grams of a type of food keep this in mind.

If the product has 100 calories per serving and it has five grams of fat, this particular food consists of almost 50% fat because nine multiplied by five equals forty five. This food would be high in fat because anything beyond 30% fat content is not recommended.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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