Fat Types & Sources

This will be a quick-reference guide to the different types of fats, some of their characteristics, and a few recommendations when considering your sources and amounts of fat intake.

There are two main categories of fatty acids, saturated and unsaturated. Each category contains sub-categories based on the characteristics of the fatty acid. All of these types of fatty acids play important roles in the health and function of your body, except for one which will be covered below.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are not evil. They are essential for healthy hormone levels. Specifically cholesterol which is integral in the body’s natural production of steroid hormones such as testosterone.

These should generally not make up the majority of your fat intake, but it is important not to exclude them either. A reasonable baseline would be anywhere between .06-.14 grams per pound of lean body mass, or 15-35% of your daily fat intake.  This of course can vary based on the training and how much of your calories are coming from fats.

One way to identify this type of fat, is that it is solid or semi-solid at room temperature.  Due to their structure, they are more stable when heated than unsaturated fats and can be used for cooking at moderate temperatures.

Some examples of healthy sources of saturated fats include; grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, and eggs.

Unsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats should generally make up a higher percentage of your total fat intake.  Unsaturated fats are helpful in keeping your cell membranes healthy and able to transport nutrients efficiently.

Unsaturated fats are mostly found in plant-based sources, but there are some that are found in animal sources too.

Due to their structure, they can easily become unstable at elevated temperatures. So it is not recommended to cook with them (olive oil for example) as this can make them go rancid and become highly inflammatory while losing many of their benefits in most cases.

One of the most important groups of fatty acids in this category are referred to as essential fatty acids (EFAs).  This includes omega 3s, 6s, and 9s. These EFAs play a role in maintaining your cells’ regulation of inflammatory signals, which influences both recovery and the cells’ ability to partition nutrients.  This means you’ll more easily take up glucose to muscle tissue for repair instead of storing it in fat tissue. This is one of the reasons that having adequate amounts of EFAs are imperative to optimize body composition.

Omega 3s

Omega 3s have almost become synonymous with fish oil due to the higher percentage it contains relative to other sources.  They are one of the lowest occurring fats in the typical western diet which is why supplementation is a recommendation for everyone from a basic health perspective. There are two main omega 3 fatty acids that we need to consider.

  • EPA is more highly correlated with improved glucose sensitivity and cellular health of muscle tissue. It is also one of the fatty acids that assists in improving inflammatory regulation.  Specifically in promoting the cells’ ability to turn inflammatory signaling “off” when necessary.
  • DHA is utilized more by the brain for function and development. Both are important, but if your goal for taking omega 3s and fish oil is improving body composition, a higher proportion of EPA will likely be more beneficial.

Omega 6s

Omega 6s are abundant in the modern western diet and are found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.  Some sources report as high as 15x the amount of omega 3s or more.

They play an important part of your cells’ ability to turn inflammatory signalling “on” when needed. While they are necessary for healthy cellular function, an excessive amount of them in the diet relative to omega 3s can be a potential issue. It is about balancing the ratio between the two.  Closer to a 1:1 ratio seems to be most desirable for health benefits (1).

Read more about omega 3s and omega 6s in this article.

Omega 9s

Omega 9s are not technically “essential” as far as dietary consumption is concerned because the body is capable of synthesizing them.  This means that getting too few omega 9 fats in the diet is not really a concern. They also naturally occur in foods containing other unsaturated fats too (avocados, olives, nuts) so if you’re eating other sources of fats, you’ll likely be getting sufficient omega 9s as well.

Trans Fats

This is the only type of fat you should try to limit as much as possible.  It is typically created during a manufacturing process called “hydrogenation”. If “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” appears on a label, you’re better off steering clear of it.

While they do occur naturally in nature, it is in VERY small amounts. Higher consumption of trans fats has been linked to a host of health issues and has the effect of elevating LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (“good” cholesterol).

Consuming trans fats also inhibits the metabolization of EFAs, which in turn can have a negative impact on inflammatory signaling, cell membrane health, and nutrient transport (2).

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