Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Saturated and unsaturated fats are terms that I hear every day, but what does that actually mean?

All fats are made up of long chains of atoms and every carbon to carbon bond contains energy that our bodies use for metabolic processes. Fats such as cheese and butter have the most energy of all nutrients. This is attractive to the body as our love of this valuable energy source ensures that we will devour it whenever we can. Unfortunately, fat is available everywhere these days and this valuable energy source had become an unhealthy treat. So what is the difference between unsaturated and saturated fat?

Every carbon atom can form four bonds. Within a fat chain, every carbon atom is bonded to two other carbon atoms, meaning it still has two bonds available. If you add two hydrogen atoms to each carbon in the chain, you get a saturated fat or fatty acid - i.e. it is 'saturated' with hydrogen. In unsaturated fats, such as olive oil or vegetable oil, each carbon forms a double bond with another carbon, so there's only one hydrogen atom attached to every carbon, making it 'unsaturated'. As the double bonds make unsaturated fatty acids more rigid, their structure is usually 'kinked', which alters how it is broken down.

That's why unsaturated fats tend to produce liquid fats, while saturated fatty acids tend to produce solid fats, When unsaturated fats aren't kinked, they are called 'trans fats' - the most dangerous type of fat that we should limit in our diets.  Trans fats can be found in many foods – including fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines and other spreads.  

Saturated fats are most often found in animal products such as beef, pork, and chicken. Leaner animal products, such as chicken breast or pork loin, often have less saturated fat. Foods that contain more saturated fat are usually solid at room temperature, such as butter and cheese, and are sometimes called “solid” fat.

Unsaturated fat typically comes from plant sources such as olives, nuts, or seeds – but unsaturated fat is also present in fish. Unsaturated fat are usually called oils.


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