Fat facts

Identifying the big three: saturated, unsaturated and Trans fats.

Understanding the big three fats (saturated, unsaturated and Trans fats) and how these fats affect your health is one of the most important dietary considerations you can make. 

For heart health and stroke prevention it’s important to know which fats raise LDL cholesterol ( known as the bad cholesterol) and which ones don't. According to the American Heart Association, some dietary fats are potentially helpful and others are potentially harmful to your health.

Michigan State University Extension indicates that the big three fats include:


  • Saturated fat may negatively affect blood cholesterol levels.
  • The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, lamb and pork poultry with skin, butter, cream, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or two percent milk.
  • Foods from plants that contain saturated fat include coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils) and cocoa butter.
  • For people who need to lower their cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than five to six percent of total daily calories.


Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when you use them in place of saturated and Trans fats.

  • Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats.
  • They're mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.


  • Trans fat may negatively affect blood cholesterol levels.
  • Trans fats (or Trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Another name for Trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils."
  • Trans fats are found in many fried foods and baked goods such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers.

Talk with your health care team to learn more about cholesterol, stroke prevention and heart health. To learn more about chronic health, prevention and nutrition visit www.msue.msu.edu.

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