Fats. We have been told that saturated fats are unhealthy and harmful. They have a bad reputation since the early 60s. They are even dubbed as the “bad fats” for the effects they cause to human health. However, a new study calls into question the commotion that people should remove saturated fats from their diet.
To answer the question “is saturated fat good or bad for you?”, we browsed various books and online journals to analyze if they are bad at all. We also included basic information about saturated fats, including their meaning, classifications, health benefits, and sources.
What is Saturated Fat?
Saturated fats are substances that do not have double bonds between the carbon molecules because they are ‘saturated’ with molecules of hydrogen. But chemistry aside, saturated fat, simply defined, is a type of fat that usually becomes solid in room temperature.
Are There Other Types of Fats?
Polyunsaturated fat - From a scientific standpoint, these fats are generally in a liquid state at room temperature, but turns solid when chilled. It is usually found in plant or animal foods, like salmon, some nuts, vegetable oils, and seeds. They are considered beneficial fats since they may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fat - Along with polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fats may have a beneficial effect on the heart if eaten in moderation. They are found in canola oil, avocados, certain nuts, and olive oil. Aside from reducing the risk of heart disease, monounsaturated fats can help with weight loss and minimizing inflammation.
Trans fats - This is a type of unsaturated fat. There are two types of trans fats — artificial trans fats and the naturally formed trans fats.
How do Saturated Fats Affect our Health?
Eating foods that are high in saturated fats increases the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream. High levels of cholesterol, especially the type called Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL in the blood, raises the risk of stroke or heart attack and other heart diseases.
Should You Eat Foods with Saturated Fat?
Now that you know the bad effects of saturated fats, the question is, should you still take foods with saturated fats?
Well, the answer is yes, but you have to minimize your intake. The American Heart Association even suggested to limit the consumption of saturated fats found in cheese, red meat, butter, and other animal-based foods.
It is also essential that you keep in mind your overall dietary intake. Simply put, saturated fat is just one part of your diet. If you consume some fatty foods, then you should eat more fruits, vegetables, or whole grains that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutrients.
What are the Benefits of Saturated Fat?
So what exactly is the saturated fat importance in the diet?
The majority of our brain uses fat and cholesterol. You may find that weird, but it’s true. In a 2013 study led by the Mayo Clinic researchers, it was suggested that saturated fats have a role in brain health. They discovered that individuals who take food containing saturated fats reduced their risk of a disorder of the mental processes called dementia by thirty-six percent (36%). This means that If you are relying on a low saturated fat diet, your brain is missing out on an essential nutrients that your brain needs to stay healthy.
- Saturated fat helps the nervous system
Fat deposits also help to ‘insulate’ not just the nervous system, but other vital organs as well. If they do not have proper insulation, you’ll become more susceptible to stress (either external and internal). Certain types of saturated fats even function as a signal amongst themselves. And a very low saturated fat in your diet may cause poor communication between the different cells of your body.
- It maintains the health of the membranes in our body
The cell membranes in our bodies physically separate the contents (inside versus outside sections) of the cell. They also control the movement of substances like electrolytes (sodium, potassium, etc.) in and out of the cells. These membranes are mainly made of fats, including phospholipids, triglycerides, and cholesterol.
What are the Foods High in Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat is commonly found in animal-based food. Here are examples of foods that are have saturated fats:
- Fatty cuts of meat such as beef, lamb, or pork
- Butter, cream, lard, cheese
- Poultry with skin
- Other dairy products made from reduced-fat milk and whole milk
- Baked goods
- Fried foods
- Plant-based oils like palm oil, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil
Now, you know the basic info about saturated fats, including the pros and cons related to its consumption. While it poses a threat of having a stroke or heart attack, it can still be very beneficial. You can add some fat at least twice a week in your diet (unless discouraged by your physician) and enjoy its benefits. In line with this, we also recommend that you choose the source of your saturated fats wisely and consume them in moderation.
About the Authors:
Mike Zhang is the founder of the MZF Group. He graduated from the University of Toronto on the dean's list with a Masters Degree in science. Mike was a two time National Muay Thai Champion, and a strength and conditioning coach to several learned athletes. He has over 14 years of experience as a Muay Thai Coach.
Marijune Tiamzon, RN, MHPNP
With nearly 5 years of experience in the medical field, Marijune holds a registered nurse license and a certificate as a mental health nurse practitioner. She is an adventurous young professional, and her hobbies include diving, windsurfing, and saber fencing.
As an avid writer, she is most passionate about sharing acquired knowledge in the medical field and how to apply it to improve the quality of life of our readers.