What to Know About Polyunsaturated Fat

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 24, 2021
3 min read

Polyunsaturated fats, also called polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA, are good fats. They are a type of fat that is good for your heart health. Including PUFA foods like olive and canola oil in your diet can reduce your risk of developing health problems. 

Your body can’t make this type of fat. You must include it in your diet by eating foods with polyunsaturated fats. 

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Along with carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fat is an important part of a balanced diet. Fat is important for your body for these reasons:

  • Fat is a source of fatty acids, which your body can’t produce by itself.
  • It helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, which dissolve in fat. These include vitamins A, D, and E. 
  • Fat is a great source of energy. It provides 9 kilocalories of energy, whereas carbohydrates and protein give only 4 kilocalories. 

There are two types of fat — good or healthy fat, which includes mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and bad or unhealthy fat, which includes saturated fat and trans fat.

Unsaturated Fat. Unsaturated or healthy fat is liquid at room temperature and becomes solid when it is cooled. It’s good for your health. It improves blood cholesterol levels and reduces your risk of developing heart problems and stroke. Unsaturated fat is found in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. 

There are two types of unsaturated fat: 

  1. Monounsaturated fat or MUFA
  2. Polyunsaturated fat or PUFA, which is further divided into omega-3 and omega-6 fats

Saturated Fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Animal foods like meat and cheese contain high levels of saturated fat. It is also present in plant foods like coconut oil and palm oil. 

Saturated fat is bad for health because it can increase the level of bad cholesterol in your body. Higher levels of bad cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart problems and stroke. 

In the U.S., foods high in saturated fat are:

  • Pizza 
  • Cheese
  • Whole fat milk, butter, and dairy-based sweets
  • Meat products like beef, sausages, and bacon
  • Cookies and grain-based sweets

Trans Fat. Trans fat is the most unhealthy type of fat. It is made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fat is found in hydrogenated oils and in meat and dairy products. 

Trans fat can increase your bad cholesterol, lower your good cholesterol, and cause inflammation. It also increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes

Some examples of polyunsaturated fats include plant-based, vegetable oils used for cooking and some fish oils. Add omega-3 and omega-6 PUFA foods to your diet to maintain good health.

For Omega-3 PUFA foods, try:

  • Fish oil from fatty fish like herring, trout, sardines, salmon, and mackerel
  • Seafood like scallops and mussels
  • Nuts like walnuts
  • Seeds like flax, chia, and sunflower seeds
  • Tofu
  • Plant-based oils like canola and olive oil
  • Eggs

For Omega-6 PUFA foods, try:

  • Plant-based oils like canola, olive, rapeseed, corn, sunflower, and soybean oil
  • Nuts like walnuts, pine nuts, and peanuts
  • Seeds like flax, chia, and sesame seeds 
  • Sesame paste or tahini
  • Soybean and tofu
  • Eggs
  • Meat and poultry

Polyunsaturated fats help your body in many ways:

  1. They improve your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E.
  2. They reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood.
  3. They decrease the chances of blockages in your blood vessels.
  4. They lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. 
  5. They help develop and maintain your body’s cells. 
  6. They help in brain development.
  7. They can reduce your blood pressure and improve your heart health.

The type of fat you eat is important. Doctors recommend one or two servings of 75 grams or 2.5 ounces of fatty fish per week. Also, include up to 3 tablespoons of unsaturated fats in your diet per day in the form of healthy, vegetable oils. 

Also, don’t forget to check the labels for MUFAs and PUFAs before buying snacks and food.