Saturated fat or unsaturated fat?

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Fat can be confusing as it pertains to diet. If asked to describe fat in a single word, many people might be inclined to say, "Bad." However, fat is more complicated than that and is actually an essential component of a healthy diet.

According to the American Heart Association, between 25 and 35 percent of a person's daily calories should consist of fat. Not all fats are the same, and food typically contains both saturated and unsaturated fat. Understanding the distinction between the two can help people make sound dietary decisions.

What is saturated fat?

According to the online medical resource Verywell Health, saturated fats have no double bonds in their chemical structure. It's because of that structure that saturated fats have a solid consistency at room temperature. Saturated fat can be found in various foods, including animal meat, coconut oil, cheese, butter, milk, and processed meats, such as bologna and sausage. Prepackaged snacks such as cookies and crackers also may contain saturated fats.

What is unsaturated fat?

Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds in their chemical structure and are typically liquid at room temperature. Not all unsaturated fats are the same. Some are monounsaturated fats, which contain only one doubled in their structure. Examples of monounsaturated fats include canola oil and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are those that contain two or more double bonds in their structure. Safflower oil, sunflower oil and corn oil are some examples of polyunsaturated fats.

Is one type of fat worse than another?

Part of the difficulty surrounding dietary fat is conflicting studies regarding its effects on overall health. Saturated fat has long been considered unhealthy, and the AHA recommends that less than 6 percent of daily caloric intake consist of saturated fat. Some studies have indicated that high amounts of saturated fats are linked to an increased risk for heart disease, while other studies refute such claims.

Is one type of fat better than another?

Unsaturated fats are generally considered more beneficial to overall health than saturated fats. The AHA recommends that people should get most of their daily fat intake from unsaturated fats, which can be found in foods such as nuts, olives and avocados. Fish such as tuna and salmon also are good sources of unsaturated fats.

Fats and how they fit into a healthy diet can be difficult to understand. Adults can consult with their physicians to determine which foods and fat sources are right for them.

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