What are Oils and Fats?

What are Oils and Fats?

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Therefore, oils are included in USDA food patterns.

Some common oils are:

  • canola oil
  • safflower oil
  • sunflower oil
What are Oils and Fats?

Some oils are used mainly as flavorings, such as walnut oil and sesame oil. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, including:

  • nuts
  • olives
  • some fish
  • avocados


Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine with no trans fats.

Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no plant foods contain cholesterol.

A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be considered to be solid fats.

What are Oils and Fats?

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Some common solid fats are:

  • butter
  • milk fat
  • pork fat (lard)
  • stick margarine
  • shortening
  • partially hydrogenated oil
What are Oils and Fats?

Can fats be part of a healthy diet?

Fats can definitely be part of a healthy diet. Choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and be sure to balance the number of calories you eat with the number of calories you burn. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains as well as low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts. Limit your intake of sodium (salt), sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. Following these dietary guidelines means that your diet will be low in both saturated fats and trans fats.