Sometimes healthy and unhealthy choices are easy to spot. That doughnut dripping with icing? Unhealthy. A green salad with brightly colored carrots and tomatoes? Healthy. But when it comes to fat sources, it can be hard to distinguish between saturated fat options from unsaturated ones. A method you can use is the fat’s texture. Since saturated fats, which are less healthy than unsaturated fats, tend to be solid at room temperature, this knowledge can help you tell the difference.
Saturated, unsaturated and trans -- several types of fats exist, and what they all have in common is that some portion of their chemical structure repels water instead of attracts it. This is why oil and water don’t mix when poured together. Fats are chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms linked together with a tail that has oxygen molecules attached to it.
Packing Them Together
Which stacks up better? Long, thin pieces of wood or jagged, uneven pieces? This example explains why saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Saturated fats have long, thin chains with lots of hydrogen atoms that stay in a straight line. But saturated fat sources can have different kinds of bonds that make the chains twisty and turn-y. Saturated fats can be packed in tightly together, which makes them more solid in structure than unsaturated fat sources.
Saturated Fat Examples
The higher the percentage of saturated fat a fat has, the more likely it is to be solid at room temperature, according to MayoClinic.com. Some examples in your daily diet may include beef fat, pork fat, shortening, stick margarine and butter. Compare these solid fats to unsaturated fat sources, which include olive oil, peanut oil and cornflower oil, which are liquid at room temperature. Exceptions exist to every rule, and this is true of saturated fat sources such as milk and palm and coconut oils, which are liquid at room temperature but are still high in saturated fats.
Saturated Fat Intakes
Saturated fats such as lard tend to be high in calories and low in nutritional value. That’s why saturated fats aren’t the preferred fat source when you’re trying to follow a healthy diet. The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to 15 to 22 grams of saturated fat per day -- or less if you are feeling really ambitious. Saturated fat intake should not exceed 10 percent of your total daily calorie allowance. Instead of solid, saturated fat sources, try healthier fat sources such as salmon, mackerel, walnuts, flax oil, olive oil, seeds, avocados and nuts. With so many healthy unsaturated fat sources to choose from, you won’t even miss the saturated fats in your diet.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.