Healthy Fats vs. Unhealthy Fats: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022
Healthy Fats vs. Unhealthy Fats: What You Need to Know
Fat is a crucial source of energy, and not all fats are created equal

When it comes to healthy eating, fat gets a bad rap. However, fat is a crucial source of energy, and not all fats are created equal. 

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20%-35% of your calories should come from fat. 

Learn about healthy fats vs. unhealthy fats and what you need to know to choose which to avoid and which to eat in moderation.

What are healthy fats?

Healthy fats are typically those that are unsaturated—these help lower your bad cholesterol levels in your body and protect you against heart disease. Although healthy fats are good for you, they are high in calories and should be consumed in moderation.

Monounsaturated fats

  • Monounsaturated fats are vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature. 
  • Olive, avocado, canola, and peanut oils are rich in monounsaturated fats.
  • Substituting monounsaturated fats for saturated fats can help lower bad (low-density lipoprotein [LDL]) cholesterol without lowering good (high-density lipoprotein [HDL]) cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats

  • Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature.
  • Examples include safflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, and sunflower oils, although polyunsaturated fats can also be found in margarine, mayonnaise, and salad dressings. 
  • Replacing saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fats with polyunsaturated fats can also enhance your ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce triglycerides (or fats) and cholesterol levels as well as prevent unwanted blood clotting. 
  • Fatty fish, particularly salmon, halibut, mackerel, tuna, sardines, sea bass, herring, and lake trout are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. It is recommended to have a serving of fatty fish 2-3 times a week. 
  • Flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, soybeans, and soy products are plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

What are unhealthy fats?

Saturated and trans fats are considered less healthy fats. Saturated fats should account for no more than 7% of your total daily calories. Trans fats should account for less than 1% of your total calories, which is less than 15 grams of saturated fat and less than 2 grams of trans fat in a 2,000-calorie diet.

Saturated fats

  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are known to raise total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Red meat and full-fat dairy are animal sources of saturated fats. 
  • Tropical oils such as coconut and palm oils are plant sources of saturated fats.

Trans fats

  • The majority of trans fats come from partly hydrogenated oils. 
  • Trans fats have been shown to increase dangerous LDL cholesterol levels while decreasing beneficial high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  • Trans fats should be avoided as much as possible.

How to incorporate healthy fats in your diet

You can incorporate healthy fats into your diet in the following ways:

  • Read food labels and avoid products that contain trans fats.
  • Avoid store-bought salad dressings, as they are usually high in unhealthy fats. Make your own healthy dressings with olive, flaxseed, and sesame oils.
  • Limit your consumption of commercially baked products.
  • Reduce your saturated fat intake by substituting some red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish and transitioning to low-fat dairy.
  • Include a variety of seafood and plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and soybean oil.
  • Eat more avocados, as they are high in healthy fats that are good for your brain and heart.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022
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