Difference Between Saturated And Unsaturated Fats


Fat is an essential nutrient that the body needs to function fully. Fats in the diet help the body absorb vitamins and minerals and serve other vital roles. Fat stored in body tissues is critical for:

  • energy storage and metabolism
  • body temperature regulation
  • insulation of the vital organs

There are three main categories of fats: saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. All fats are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. This article, provides an in-depth overview of Saturated and unsaturated fats, their characteristics and importance.

What are saturated fats?

These fats have single bonds between their molecules and are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. They tend to be solid at room temperature.

Examples of foods with saturated fat are:

  • beef
  • lamb
  • pork
  • poultry, especially with skin
  • beef fat (tallow)
  • lard and cream
  • butter
  • cheese
  • ice cream
  • coconut
  • palm oil
  • palm kernel oil
  • some baked and fried foods

What are Unsaturated Fats?

Unsaturated fats contain one or more double or triple bonds between the molecules. These fats are liquid at room temperature in oil form. They also occur in solid foods.

There are two types of unsaturated fats in the food that you eat: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). The difference between “mono” and “poly” unsaturated fats involves the number of double bonds.

Dietary sources of unsaturated fats include:

  • avocados and avocado oil
  • olives and olive oil
  • peanut butter and peanut oil
  • vegetable oils, such as sunflower, corn, or canola
  • fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel
  • nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, and sesame seeds

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats: Key Differences

BasisSaturated FatsUnsaturated Fats
Chemical StructureAll carbon atoms are bonded to hydrogen atoms with single bonds.Contain one or more double bonds between carbon atoms, creating kinks in the chain.
State at Room TemperatureSolid at room temperature (e.g., butter, lard).Liquid at room temperature (e.g., olive oil, vegetable oil).
SourcesMainly found in animal products such as meat, butter, and dairy.Primarily found in plant-based oils (e.g., olive, avocado, and canola oil) and fatty fish (e.g., salmon, trout).
Health EffectsOften associated with raising LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease.Tend to lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease when used to replace saturated fats in the diet.
Trans FatsSome saturated fats can be converted into trans fats during food processing, which are unhealthy.Unsaturated fats, when hydrogenated, can produce artificial trans fats, also unhealthy.
Melting PointSaturated fats have a higher melting point due to their straight chains.Unsaturated fats have a lower melting point due to the kinks in their chains.
Dietary RecommendationsTypically recommended to limit saturated fat intake.Encouraged as a healthier option to replace saturated fats.
Cooking PropertiesSaturated fats are more stable at high temperatures and are suitable for frying and baking.Unsaturated fats are less stable and can break down at high temperatures, so they are better for low to medium heat cooking.
Shelf LifeSaturated fats have a longer shelf life due to their stability.Unsaturated fats may have a shorter shelf life and can go rancid if not stored properly.
FlavorOften contribute a rich and full flavor to foods.Tend to have a milder flavor profile.
DensitySaturated fats are denser and heavier.Unsaturated fats are less dense and lighter.
Health BenefitsLimited consumption of saturated fats may be necessary for certain bodily functions, but excess intake can be harmful.Unsaturated fats are essential for various bodily functions and can support heart and overall health when consumed in appropriate amounts.

Key Takeaways

  • A saturated fat is a type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have all single bonds.
  • Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods like beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy products and eggs and tropical oils like coconut.
  • Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature whereas saturated fats are solids at room temperature.
  • Mostly found in oils from plants and fish, unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
  • Most animal fats are saturated. The fats of plants and fish are generally unsaturated. Various foods contain different proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat.
  • All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat, whether it’s saturated or unsaturated, provides 9kcal (37kJ) of energy compared with 4kcal (17kJ) for carbohydrate and protein.
  • There are two types of unsaturated fats in the food that you eat: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). The difference between “mono” and “poly” unsaturated fats involves the number of double bonds