For many years consumption of dietary fat was blamed for obesity and heart disease, but different types of fat have been shown to have different effects on health.
Saturated fat in the diet has been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease and the American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption to about 13 grams per day. Chemically, saturated fats contain more hydrogen atoms attached to carbon atoms, instead of having double bonds between the carbon atoms. The differences in chemical structures of fats affect how they are absorbed, metabolized and stored in the body.
Saturated fats are found in meat, lard, cheese, butter, cream and other animal products. Some plant oils contain saturated fat also, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats are considered a healthier alternative to saturated fats. Chemically these fats contain more carbon double bonds and fewer hydrogen atoms. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, nuts, and avocados. A review of several studies showed that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduced the risk of heart attacks and strokes. That same review did not find any benefits from replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates.
Coconut oil has become popular recently and although it contains saturated fat, it does not appear to be as problematic as animal fats. Coconut oil has been shown to increase total cholesterol, but also increase HDL, or good cholesterol, making it a healthier choice than butter or lard.
More information about healthy fats