Difference between Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids

Updated on June 14, 2018

Nutrition is becoming increasingly important to people. It’s not just about how much you eat, but about the quality of the chosen products. Far from simply going by the low-fat labels and missing out on great nutrients, people have started gathering important information on nutrition and on how each type of food can benefit their bodies. This is one reason people are trying to understand the difference between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

Summary Table

Saturated FatsUnsaturated Fats
Have only single bonds between themHave one double bond between them
Have a higher melting pointHave a lower melting point
Are solid at room temperatureAre liquid at room temperature

Found in baked goods, certain plant foods, fried foods, meat, and dairy products

Found in some liquid vegetable oils, oily fish, plant foods, and nuts

Should not account for more than 10% of the daily caloric intakeShould not account for more than 30% of the daily caloric intake
Causes the production of bad cholesterol (LDL) and leads to heart disease and atherosclerosisCauses the production of good cholesterol (HDL) which improves the general health of the body

Definitions

Foods with saturated fats
Foods with saturated fats

Saturated fats are known as the “bad fats” people are constantly being told to limit or to avoid completely. These are the processed fats that cause bad cholesterol (LDL). Chemically speaking, saturated fats consist of a single bond. Medically, excess consumption leads to heart diseases and atherosclerosis. They are found in foods such as butter, coconut oil, vegetable oil, fried foods, microwave dinners, cheese, whole milk, and peanuts.

Foods with unsaturated fats
Foods with unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” people should not try to exclude from their diets because they are healthy and very high in nutrients. From a chemical point of view, they have at least one double bond. Since they are rich in antioxidants, their consumption is recommended to people who are trying to lower their cholesterol levels and who wish to live a healthy life.

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fatty Acids

Learning to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids is important for anyone looking to change their diet for the better. However, knowing which foods to avoid and which foods to insist on is not all. You also need to know why you should make these changes.

Chemical differences between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids

Saturated fatty acids have only single bonds between them. This means that, without hydrogens between them, they are solid at room temperature and they have a higher melting point, requiring more energy to break the bond.

Unsaturated fatty acids, however, have a double bond between one or more of the carbon atoms. Depending on where a hydrogen molecule can be added, the fatty acid becomes monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. With double bonds, these fatty acids are more fluid at room temperature and have a lower melting point, as they are more easily divided.

Where are they found?

Saturated fat is found in:

  • Baked goods
  • Certain plant foods such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
  • Fried foods
  • Meat and dairy products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, ice cream, chicken with skin, fatty beef, lamb, and pork

Unsaturated fat is found in:

  • Some liquid vegetable oils like canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil
  • Oily fish such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and tuna
  • Plant foods such as avocado and olives
  • Nuts such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, and peanuts

Dietary recommendations

Saturated fats should not account for more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can make up 30% of your daily caloric intake.

Relationship with cholesterol

The discovery of a difference between good and bad cholesterol was actually the moment when the name of good fats was cleared. Consumption of saturated fats led to an increase of LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins), or bad cholesterol. They harden the artery walls and start a process called atherosclerosis.

However, unsaturated fats increase HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein), or good cholesterol. One of the most popular sources of good cholesterol comes from Omega-3 fatty acids.

Shelf life

One of the main reasons saturated fats sell so well is their availability in stores. These products keep well on the shelf and are good for personal stocks as well. This accounts for a better price when purchased in higher quantities.

Products with unsaturated fats, on the other hand, spoil quickly, and therefore are more expensive and need to be moved sooner. This deters sellers from making stocks and buyers from purchasing them except for with the intention of immediate consumption.

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