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Classifications of Fats & Oil in Nutrition

author image Stan Mack
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.
Classifications of Fats & Oil in Nutrition
Olive oil on a table. Photo Credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Fats are part of a healthy diet, along with carbohydrates and protein. Each type of nutrient supplies energy and assists in various body processes. For example, fats aid in the absorption and transportation of vitamins. When your body digests fat, it creates fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, which help regulate blood clotting, inflammation and brain development. Fat supplies 9 calories per gram, making it the nutrient highest in calories.

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Classification of Fats

Nutrition science classifies fats as good or bad, based on their effect on human health. Specifically, saturated fats increase bad cholesterol, which can clog your blood vessels. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, which helps keep your blood vessels clear. Consequently, diets high in saturated and trans fats increase your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, lower your risk of heart disease, because they help improve your cholesterol levels.

Classification of Oils

Oils, which are mixtures of fats, are classified according to the types of fats they contain. For example, vegetable oils that come from coconut, palm and palm kernel are high in saturated fats, so they are unhealthy. Other vegetable oils, such as olive and canola, contain unsaturated fats, so they are relatively healthy, though they still have many calories.

Unhealthy Fat Sources

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Generally, dietary sources of saturated fats come from animal products, such as fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, cream and whole milk. Trans fat sources include margarine, commercial baked goods and fried foods. If you see partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list, the food contains trans fats and is unhealthy. The term hydrogenated oil refers to a manufacturing process that hardens vegetable oils.

Healthy Fat Sources

Unsaturated fats fall into two classifications, based on their chemical structure. Monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils. Polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, fish, safflower, corn and soybean oils. Both types of unsaturated fats are healthy, especially if you use them to replace saturated and trans fats in your diet.


Besides improving your blood cholesterol and lowering your risk of heart disease, unsaturated fats might offer other health benefits. Monounsaturated fats might help you control blood sugar and regulate insulin levels, an important benefit for people with type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Polyunsaturated fats might lower your risk of developing diabetes. Fatty fish have omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that might improve your cardiovascular system by protecting against irregular heartbeat and coronary artery disease, as well as lowering your blood pressure, according to the clinic.

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