Fats: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Chopping board, oil bottles and different types of cooking fat
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images

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 margarine 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)


Saturated
(grams)
Mono-
unsaturated (grams)
Poly-
unsaturated (grams)

Trans-fat (grams)
Safflower Oil 0.8 10.2 2.0 0.0
Canola Oil 0.9 8.2 4.1 0.0
Flaxseed Oil 1.3 2.5 10.2 0.0
Sunflower Oil 1.4 2.7 8.9 0.0
Margarine (stick) 1.6 4.2 2.4 3.0
Corn Oil 1.7 3.3 8.0 0.0
Olive Oil 1.8 10.0 1.2 0.0
Sesame Oil 1.9 5.4 5.6 0.0
Soybean Oil 2.0 3.2 7.8 0.0
Margarine (tub) 2.0 5.2 3.8 0.5
Peanut Oil 2.3 6.2 4.3 0.0
Cottonseed Oil 3.5 2.4 7.0 0.0
Vegetable Shortening 3.2 5.7 3.3 1.7
Chicken Fat 3.8 5.7 2.6 0.0
Lard (pork fat) 5.0 5.8 1.4 0.0
Beef Tallow 6.4 5.4 0.5 0.0
Palm Oil 6.7 5.0 1.2 0.0
Butter 7.2 3.3 0.5 0.0
Cocoa Butter 8.1 4.5 0.4 0.0
Palm Kernel Oil 11.1 1.6 0.2 0.0
Coconut Oil 11.8 0.8 0.2 0.0