What Are Unsaturated Fats?

"Good" Fats That Help Lower Cholesterol and More

Unsaturated fat is part of a heart-healthy diet and may lower your "bad" cholesterol. Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish
  • Some oils
  • Dark chocolate

This article looks at the differences between unsaturated fats and saturated fats, how they affect your health, and what foods you should be eating.

Mixed olives and oil in a wooden dish with rosemary
luigi giordano / Getty Images

What Is Unsaturated Fat?

Unsaturated fats are liquid (oil) at room temperature. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature.

The Benefits of Unsaturated Fat

Fat often gets a bad rap. Saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy and deserve their reputation—they can raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad cholesterol"), which can clog your arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, don't deserve guilt by association. Known as “good fats,” they can—among other things—improve levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, "good cholesterol"). HDL carries bad cholesterol to your liver so it can be flushed out of your body.

There are two types of unsaturated fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Some polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), such as omega-3 fatty acids, can also help lower your triglyceride levels. (Triglycerides are a type of fat that increases your risk of stroke.)

Beyond that, unsaturated fats play an essential role in:

  • Fueling your body
  • Supporting cell growth
  • Protecting your organs
  • Promote nutrient absorption
  • Producing important hormones

Consuming healthy levels of unsaturated fats helps lower your risk of vascular (blood vessel) disease, heart disease, and stroke.

Foods Higher in Unsaturated Fats

As you work to incorporate these and other sources of unsaturated fat into your diet, make sure you are also swapping out foods that are high in saturated fat. Otherwise, you risk increasing your overall lipid levels and gaining weight.


Avocados are a delicious fruit that's chock-full of monounsaturated fats. You can easily add avocado to many recipes:

  • Mash one up on a sandwich or slice of toast
  • Add slices to your favorite soup, salad, or entrée
  • Put them in fruit smoothies


Olives are high in monounsaturated fats. Whether you slice, dice, or use them whole, it's simple to add olives to your cholesterol-friendly diet.

  • Work them into a tomato sauce
  • Add them to salads and sandwiches
  • Create a tapenade
  • Add them to relish trays or charcuterie boards
  • Eat them as a snack

Sample different varieties—Kalamata, Manzanilla, Castelvetrano, and many, many more⁠—to experience the array of flavors.


These delicious foods come in a wide variety of types and most people like at least a few varieties. Nuts are high in both PUFAs and monounsaturated fats.

Walnuts are typically higher in PUFAs in comparison to other nuts, whereas pistachios, almonds, and pecans are higher in monounsaturated fats.

Nuts are also high in other healthy ingredients, such as:

  • Fiber
  • Phytosterols
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Protein

Nuts are versatile and can be included in your diet in a number of ways. A handful of nuts can make a satisfying snack, or they can be added to a salad or dessert.

Fatty Fish

Fish are generally lean and good to include in your lipid-lowering diet. Some fish are high in omega-3 fats, a type of PUFA. Fish in this category include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Anchovies

If you include this type of fish in your diet, you can keep it heart-healthy by grilling, baking, or poaching. Avoid frying the fish, as this can introduce calories and unhealthy trans fats into your diet.

Certain Oils

If you’re following a lipid-lowering diet, you can switch out butter or margarine for oils high in unsaturated fat. These oils include:

  • Olive
  • Canola
  • Vegetable
  • Safflower
  • Corn
  • Soybean

Oils can be added to dips and dressings, and they can also be used to prepare your favorite sautéed or baked goods.


Like nuts, seeds can make a good go-to snack that is high in filling fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat.

Sesame seeds are higher in monounsaturated fats, whereas pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia seeds are higher in polyunsaturated fats.

Seeds can be included in your sides, in your cereal, or as a topper for yogurt or salads. Choose unsalted varieties, or be mindful of salt content so you don't consume too much sodium.

Eggs Too? Really?

Eggs contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. However, when they're not fried, they're considered a healthy addition to your diet.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains a small portion of monounsaturated fats, and, in low to moderate amounts, is considered healthy.

However, eating a lot of heavily sweetened chocolate can be high in calories and unhealthy fats, so moderation (and label reading) is key.

Are Supplements Just As Good?

Eating foods high in healthy dietary fat is the best way to get it.

Dietary supplements like cod liver oil and fish oil can help ensure you get the right amount of unsaturated fats, but they should be used in conjunction with a heart-healthy diet—not as a substitute for one.

Dietary guidelines recommend that 25% to 35% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat, ideally from mostly unsaturated fats.


Unsaturated fats are part of a heart-healthy diet. Foods to eat include avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, dark chocolate, and oils such as olive, canola, and soybean.

Saturated and trans fats may raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

It's fine to supplement with something like fish oil or flax oil, but you should take them along with a heart-healthy diet, not instead of.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Dietary fats.

  2. Maki KC, Eren F, Cassens ME, Dicklin MR, Davidson MH. ω-6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiometabolic health: Current evidence, controversies, and research gaps. Adv Nutr. 2018 Sep 4. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy038.

  3. Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Types of fat.

  4. Schwingshackl L, Bogensberger B, Benčič A, Knüppel S, Boeing H4, Hoffmann G3. Effects of oils and solid fats on blood lipids: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. J Lipid Res. 2018 Sep;59(9):1771-1782. doi: 10.1194/jlr.P085522.

  5.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.