Solid fats and oils: What’s the difference?

April 29, 2019 | Jody Gatewood

chart on fats and oils

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog comparing the cost and nutrition of different vegetable oils. That blog was recently shared by a national outlet and it received a lot of attention. As a result, we got a lot of questions related to what type of fat or oil is best to use so we thought it was time to write another blog on that topic.

When talking about fats and oils, it helps to define each term. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature like butter or lard. Solid fats mainly come from animal foods. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like canola or olive oil. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. However, coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils (tropical oils) are solid at room temperature because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, they are classified as a solid fat rather than as an oil.

All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Here is a chart that shows the different amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different types of solid fats and oils.

*Information from the USDA FoodData Central 

There has been some research lately that has led some people to believe that saturated fats aren’t as harmful as once thought. Along with that, coconut oil is widely promoted as having many health benefits. However, in July 2017 the American Heart Association issued an advisory recommending against using coconut oil. Analysis of more than 100 published research studies reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. In addition, seven controlled trials showed that coconut oil raised LDL levels.

To learn how much oil is recommended for you, visit Currently, most Americans eat more solid fat than recommended while consuming fewer oils than recommended. Therefore, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend shifting from solid fats to oils. This includes using oils (except tropical oils like coconut oil) in place of solid fats when cooking. And to increase the intake of foods that naturally contain oils, such as seafood and nuts, in place of some meat and poultry. This week for an evening meal you might consider making the Broiled Salmon Justine shared at the beginning of the month!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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