A healthy diet consists of a balanced consumption of proteins, carbs, and fats. Yet, the different types of fats (unsaturated, saturated, and trans) affect your body and health in distinct ways.
What exactly are saturated and trans fats, and why are they unhealthy? Which foods are rich in these? How much of them can you consume? How to offset the negative health effects of those fats?
This article will guide you through the answers of all of those questions!
And while the healthy fats (called unsaturated fats), are associated with positive health effects, the American Centre of Disease Control and Prevention raises awareness about the increased risk of chronic disease development and overall mortality, due to high consumption of saturated and trans fats, along with overconsumption of sugar and sodium. 
That being said, most Americans exceed the dietary recommendations for saturated fat consumption on a daily basis. 
Let’s dive in!
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are basically fat molecules that are saturated with hydrogen molecules. And while that is confusing for most people, you can easily recognize saturated fats by looking at their physical properties. They are usually solid both at room temperature and when refrigerated. 
Foods high in saturated fat
Saturated fats can be derived both from animal and plant sources:
- Butter and ghee
- Animal fat
- Fatty meat
- Processed meat
- Full-fat dairy foods
- Chicken skin
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil
- Cocoa butter
Avoid saturated fats
According to a 2020 review paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, eating high amounts of saturated fats could be related to increased risk of developing various health conditions, including :
- Increased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) buildup in arteries
- Heart disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
That being said, the same sources looked into the results of numerous systematic studies that have found no association between saturated fatty acids consumption and increased risk of heart disease. In fact, some of those studies suggest a positive link between saturated fat consumption and a lower risk of stroke (when consumed in limited amounts).
Taking those findings into account, it’s important to consider the quantity and quality of consumed saturated fats when evaluating their health effects.
In that sense, the American Heart Association recommends the following dietary guideline:
Consumed saturated fats should not exceed 6% of your daily calorie intake to prevent increased risk of heart disease and obesity.
All foods and fats are fine in moderation, but the more you can displace saturated and trans fats from the diet, the better off you’ll be. Consume more plant based fats and seafood instead of fatty meats and full-fat dairy products in order to decrease the amount of saturated and trans fats in the diet.
What are trans fats?
Trans fats can be either natural or synthetic. The natural form of those fats is present in minimal quantities in animal products.
However, the type of trans fats everybody is talking about is the synthetic, artificially created one. It is made from vegetable oils and additional hydrogen molecules to make those oils more stable, solid, and with long shelf life. On the food labels, these fats are often indicated as “(partially) hydrogenated oils.”
Foods high in trans fat?
Trans fats occur mainly in processed and packaged foods, including  :
- Cakes, cookies, and pastries
- Packaged snack foods
- Packaged sauces and dressings
- Flavored popcorn
- Fast foods
Trans fats are unhealthy
Similar to saturated fats, the health effects of trans fats are mainly related to coronary damage and weight gain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the consumption of foods with hydrogenated fats may lead to the development of the following diseases, and health risks  :
- Unbalanced cholesterol. Trans fats increase the LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower the HDL (good cholesterol).
- Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
- Artery buildup
- Increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
How much trans fats per day?
The American Heart Association suggests that trans fats have no beneficial effect on your health and body. In that sense, the association recommends cutting back on foods that contain hydrogenated fats. 
So the less you eat, the better!
How to eat more healthy fats?
Eating more healthy fats, or reducing the consumption of unhealthy ones can be easy when you make the right dietary choices. Below you can find some suggestions about substituting saturated- and trans fats- rich foods:
- Use olive oil for cooking instead of butter, margarine, or coconut oil
Cook/prepare your food at home from scratch instead of eating out or using precooked packaged meals.
- Include more fish and seafood in your meals to substitute red meat
If you go for red meat, choose lean, non-fatty cuts
- Instead of full-fat dairy foods, choose their skimmed or low-fat version
- Go (partially) plant-based. This can help you cut down saturated and trans fats from animal products.
- Include more nuts and seeds in your diet (as a snack or a part of your meals)
- Instead of frying your foods, use other cooking methods like baking, boiling, or air-frying.
Find out the best way to choose cooking oil in our dietitian approved article!