What’s the Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fat? 

Which is better saturated fat or unsaturated fat? Have you ever looked at a Nutrition Facts label and thought “wow, there are a lot of different kinds of fats!” The word “fat” itself deters a lot of people and all of the different kinds can be overwhelming while shopping for something.

Here are some of the basics you need to know about the different types of fats.

Saturated fat

A saturated fat is a fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. That is, the chain of carbon atoms is fully “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats can be found in meat and dairy products as well at butter and cheese.

Saturated fats are generally known to raise the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. It is recommended to incorporate saturated fats as less than 10% of your daily calories. However, saturated fats should not prevent you from incorporating fun foods into your diet in moderation.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fats are also an important part of your diet. They are heart healthy fats that can improve blood cholesterol, which decreases your risk of heart disease. Good sources of unsaturated fats are nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, such as canola or olive oil, fish, avocado, olives, and peanut butter. Some great ways to incorporate unsaturated fats is by having fish for dinner 1-2 times per week. Other ideas are adding nuts to your salad!

There are many simple snacks you can incorporate as well, such as a banana and peanut butter, avocado on whole-wheat toast, and nuts, such as almonds or pistachios.

Here are some of my favorite foods high in unsaturated fat:

baked fish

Oven-Baked Fish

I use fresh or frozen salmon, tilapia, or halibut (any fish works great but remember to adjust baking times). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add olive oil and a lemon on top. Bake in the oven at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, depending on type of fish.

strawberry salad

Summer Strawberry Salad

For this salad, I use spinach as the base and add in fresh strawberries, cucumbers, seared chicken, candied walnuts or pecans, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!

avocado toast

Avocado Toast

For an easy snack, I make whole-wheat toast and top with mashed avocado, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Sometimes I add a fried egg on top of the avocado toast and have it for breakfast!

And here are some of my favorite recipes high in unsaturated fat

Fish tacos with mango salsa

unsaturated fat

Salmon avocado lettuce wraps

unsaturated fat

More heart healthy food inspiration


unsaturated fat


Do you have any great recipes high in unsaturated fats? Let us know!

Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients.  Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and  Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.