SFI Health
What are Fatty Acids?

What are Fatty Acids?

Why do I need fatty acids? Learn more about the types of fatty acids and how much you should be consuming in your diet.

Lifestyle insight

Although we tend to hate fat on our hips, we need some fat to support our bodies. Plus the advice we get about fat intake can be confusing – we hear about different types of fats, and so-called fatty acids, and sometimes these terms get mixed up. So let’s break it down, and get the fat facts straight.

When nutritionists say “to cut fat”, it doesn’t necessarily mean all fats, because some fats are actually good for you. Fats are made up of different components. The most important of these are the fatty acids which are either saturated or unsaturated.


What makes a fat saturated or unsaturated?

Key differences

Saturated Fatty Acid

Unsaturated Fatty Acids1

  • Solid at room temperature
  • Mainly found in meat or butter1
  • Other sources are in “guilty pleasure foods” (i.e. pizza, ice cream, cookies, fast food, etc.)1
  • Liquid at room temperature
  • Mainly found in fish
  • Other sources include vegetables and seeds
  • Consumption of high amounts of saturated fats is linked to heart disease2
  • Consumption may be beneficial to cholesterol levels, inflammation, a healthy heart, and supporting cognitive functioning


Unsaturated fats can be further divided into two additional types:

  • Monounsaturated (MUFAs), which have one double bond
  • Polyunsaturated (PUFAs) which contain more than one double bond, among which there are the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) Learn more about essential fatty acids.

Many of the benefits of unsaturated fats are from essential fatty acids, unfortunately, more people may not get enough of these in their diet alone.



How much of each type should I have?

Fats should be a part of our diet as they do provide benefits to our body and mind—at the right amount and type. Based on the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association no more than 30% of your daily calories should come from fat, and of that 30%, less than7% should come from saturated fats. So, when choosing to consume fat, try for unsaturated!


  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/. Accessed October 2018.
  2. White B. American Family Physician. 2009. 8(4):345-350. 

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