Saturated And Unsaturated Fats – Different Types and Uses

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Saturated And Unsaturated Fats

There are 4 different types saturated And unsaturated fats. Understanding the differences and the sources of each, will assist you in making healthy, educated choices.

Monounsaturated fat – olive or canola oil

Polyunsaturated fat – sunflower or soybean oil

Saturated fat – butter, coconut, or palm oil

Trans-fat – hydrogenated fat used in cookies and commercial French fries.

Olive Oil – The Best of the Bunch

Saturated and unsaturated fats and olive oilsOlive oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acid. It belongs to a class of fat called monounsaturated fat which is the best kind for your heart.

Many studies have validated the use of olive oil, especially virgin ones. In one study, researchers confirmed that adults who consumed 25 ml or 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil a day for one week showed less oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in their blood.

Antioxidants help to prevent oxidative damage. The latter is caused by free radicals, by products of our bodies, which can damage body tissues. Oxidation of LDL Cholesterol causes arteries to harden and can lead to heart diseases.

In the Mediterranean countries, where the nation’s diet is rich in olive oils, fruits, vegetables, and grains and low in saturated fat from meat, these countries have reported lower rates of heart diseases. In Italy and Spain, where their diet contains more than one third of their daily calories from fats high in monounsaturated fatty acids, they also have a lower rate of heart diseases. Monounsaturated fats is said to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol of the body. But while all types of olive oil are sources of monounsaturated fat, virgin olive oil contains higher levels of antioxidants, particularly phenols and vitamin E, because it is less processed. Please note that olive oil should not be used to deep fry food as the heat will change the structure of the oil. Olive oil is best used uncooked.

In another study researching saturated and unsaturated fats, 16 healthy adults were asked to avoid phenol-containing foods such as coffee, tea, wine and vegetables for four days. On the fifth day of the study, the adults were asked to take 50 ml of virgin olive oil alone or with bread. During the study, they were to abstain from food with phenols for 24 hours. Subsequently, they ate their regular meals, supplemented by 25 ml of olive oil per day for one week. They were also told to avoid food high in fat content such as butter, margarine, cooking oil, nuts, baked foods and eggs.

Blood samples, which were taken from these adults before and during the study showed that after taking the olive oil supplements, the level of antioxidant compounds, including vitamin E and phenols was higher after one week. Levels of oleic acid, the predominant type of fat in olive oil, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids was also higher. These changes were associated with a slower LDL oxidation rate.

In this study, it was showed that including 25ml of virgin olive oil in our daily diet reduced the risk of high cholesterol. This was because virgin olive oil not only lowered cholesterol level; it also increased the resistance of LDL to oxidation because of its richness in oleic acid and antioxidants.

Different Oil for Different Purpose

It is important to know the differences of saturated and unsaturated fats to understand when to use which oil.
For deep frying, use saturated oil is best. Coconut and palm oil fall into this category.

Saturated and unsaturated fats and foodCorn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and peanut oil are high in poly-unsaturated fat with a higher omega-6 than omega-3. These should be used uncooked as a salad dressing. But the better oil for salad dressing is olive oil, because of the high omega-6 contents in other type of vegetable oils. The overabundance of omega-6 fats in the diet can cause an imbalance of the omega-6 and omega-3 ratio, and leads to many health concerns.

Canola oil has gone through a long road of genetically modifying, purifying and processing to get to the consumable state it is today. It is perfectly safe for consumption today and it does offer many health benefits. For the general public, canola oil is more affordable than olive oil for the health benefits it offer. Due to its high smoking point, it is great to use for high heat cooking.

For stir frying, rice bran oil, grape seed oil, or canola oil.

For medium heat, use light olive oil, almond oil, walnut oil or sesame oil.

For salad dressing, use extra virgin olive oil.

For stir frying, use olive or canola oil.

Avoid trans-fat at all circumstances such as margarine and hydrogentated fat present in cookies and frech fries. These are carcinogenic.

Saturated and unsaturated fats
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  • Amanda says:

    I’ve heard that coconut oil is actually not that healthy for consumption. Is this true or would you say that the benefits outweigh the negatives?

    • Dr. Lam says:

      That was the case 5-10 years ago, because coconut oil is high in saturated fats, the assumption is that consumption will raise cholesterol level. But recent researches have shown that it is not the consumption of coconut oil or cholesterol that affects the body’s cholesterol level, but sugar and stress are the culprit.

      Coconut oil has been shown to help a person lose weight, prevent infection, helps the brains, reduce hunger, help epileptic children, lowers blood cholesterol.

      Dr Lam

  • Larry says:

    I can use canola oil and get close to the same benefits as olive oil?

    • Newsletter says:

      Olive oil is much better, but more expansive. Its worth it if you are focused on healthy eating. Different types of oil are designed for different use. Even Olive oil, as healthy as it is, can be harmful to you if you dont use it properly. Here is an article I wrote on proper oil usage for your study.

      Dr Lam