Fats: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Compare Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated and Trans Fatty Acids

Oils and fats
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Nutritionists often talk in terms of "good" fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and "bad" fats, like saturated and trans fats. Here's a summary of the different categories of fats, broken down into the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

The Good

Monounsaturated Fat:
  • A "good" fat
  • Reduces overall cholesterol levels, and specifically LDL or "bad" cholesterol, while increasing levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol
  • Found in nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil and canola oil
Polyunsaturated Fat:
  • Another "good" fat
  • Reduces overall cholesterol levels, and specifically LDL or "bad" cholesterol
  • Found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, and also in corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils

The Bad

Saturated Fat:
  • A "bad" fat
  • Increases overall cholesterol levels, specifically LDL or "bad" cholesterol
  • Found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry and eggs, and also in butter, cream and other dairy products
  • Also found in plant-based products such as coconut, so-called "tropical oils" like coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter

The Ugly

Trans Fat:
  • Another "bad" fat
  • Increases levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lowers levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol
  • Found in hydrogenated fat products such as margarines and vegetable shortenings
  • Used in packaged snack foods such as cookies, crackers and chips, and in fried foods from fast-food and other restaurants
    The following table shows, in grams, how much saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats are contained in 1 tablespoon of various commonly used oils and fats.


    Fat Comparison Chart


    Fat (1 Tbsp)

    unsaturated (grams)
    unsaturated (grams)

    Trans-fat (grams)
    Safflower Oil0.810.22.00.0
    Canola Oil0.
    Flaxseed Oil1.32.510.20.0
    Sunflower Oil1.
    Margarine (stick)
    Corn Oil1.
    Olive Oil1.810.01.20.0
    Sesame Oil1.
    Soybean Oil2.
    Margarine (tub)
    Peanut Oil2.
    Cottonseed Oil3.
    Vegetable Shortening3.
    Chicken Fat3.
    Lard (pork fat)
    Beef Tallow6.
    Palm Oil6.
    Cocoa Butter8.
    Palm Kernel Oil11.
    Coconut Oil11.

    Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21