Saturated fat is good for health. But you will find most of the dietitians and health gurus are condemning it as the number one culprit behind the rise in bad cholesterol and heart diseases.
Till a few years ago nobody would approve of saturated fat in your diet.
But the latest studies and research do not find any fault with it; some of the researchers are going on to say it must be compulsorily included in your daily diet plan.
In this article, we shall try to examine the pros and cons of saturated fats and ‘how much-saturated fat per day’ to be taken.
What is Saturated Fat?
The definition of saturated fats says, ‘A saturated fat is a fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. That is, the chain of carbon atoms is fully “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.’
Identifying Saturated Fats (SF) is easy. It remains typically solid at room temperature.
Every fat-rich food has a combination of Saturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat and Polyunsaturated Fat in them, but one of the three will be dominantly present, and the other two will be present in less amount.
The highest amount of SFs is found in fatty meats, dairy products, lard, coconut oil, and palm oils.
About nine calories are present in 1 gram SF.
Changing Approaches To Fats In Diet Plans
In the 80s and 90s of the twentieth century, the weight-loss gurus ardently propagated the idea of ‘Fat-Free Diet’ to shed kilos and to live healthily. It was expected that reducing as much ‘Fatty-Food’ as possible is the best way to keep obesity at bay.
As a result of this, the weight loss market was flooded with fat-free foods that were loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories. The result of this was very contradictory than expected. Obesity and diabetes issues were increased fivefold during these two decades.
Again in the first decade of the 21st century, the focus shifted from ‘Fat-Free Diet’ to “Eat The Right Fat.’ The best weight loss suggestion in that decade (2000-2010) was to eat only monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats and to avoid saturated fats and calories rich foods.
The healthy diet plan has changed again. From the last few years until now, new diet studies have shown that it is useful and necessary to have saturated fats in our daily diet.
This idea is getting wider acceptance now, and people are experiencing better weight loss results and improved health with a healthy intake of saturated fats.
Fat Is Not So Dangerous As You Think
For several decades and even now, the largest killer diseases in the world are cardiovascular ailments. The vast majority of peoples’ untimely deaths in the US and Europe occur mostly due to heart diseases.[2,3]
It is a proven fact that the increase of LDL Cholesterol in the bloodstream gives rise to heart diseases. Every health guru is promoting ideas on the importance of restricting the formation of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream for a healthy heart.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, almost all health
experts began to implicate saturated fats as the prime cause of heart diseases.
It was generally believed that saturated fats promote the development of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream. Even now some of the diet gurus and ‘heart-health’ researchers have the same idea.
The relation between SFs and heart disease was not founded on any actual experimental studies, but it is based on some observational studies and few tests conducted on animals.
Many of us mistake ‘cholesterol’ as a threat to our health. It is not true. Cholesterol is the organic lipid molecule that functions as an essential structural component of animal cell membranes. Cholesterol helps in maintains the cell membranes structural integrity and fluidity. We all have and need this wax-like substance in our bodies.[4,5]
The healthy function of our heart and body is very much dependent on the presence of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) that carries the cholesterol in the blood. That is to say, our heart and body will not be healthy without good cholesterol.
It is the development of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood that makes the transportation of cholesterol difficult, blocks the artery and creates a bump in the artery wall called the plague.[6,7,8]
It is the particular type of fats that we consume that mostly help in the development of both HDL and LDL Cholesterol. Fats are essential for better health and some fats more advantageous to bodily health.
Are All Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) Bad?
In the past, all the studies on cholesterol were merely concerned about the HDL and LDL in ‘Total Cholesterol’ and their consequences on health. All those studies concluded that HDL counters the high risks caused by LDL. Those studies were of the opinion LDL cholesterol development must be prevented, and bad cholesterol levels must be reduced to improve the health of the heart.[9,10,11]
The recent experimental study results on LDL Cholesterol are a path-breaking diversion from several study results published in the past decades.
The recent study findings say that not all LDL cholesterols are bad. The new studies were able to identify the different subtypes of LDL cholesterol and their particular effects on cardiovascular health.[12,13,14]
The density level of LDL is different. Only the small LDL particles can penetrate the arterials wall easily, whereas large LDL particles do not penetrate artery walls easily.
All LDL is not bad, and only the small LDL particles are dangerous. This is a very significant finding in preventing various heart ailments and for identifying the fat that develops low dense particle LDL.
Saturated Fats Are Not Bad For You
In the past, saturated fats were a taboo as it helps in abetting the development of LDL Cholesterol. This misconception does not hold water anymore!!
It is only the small LDL particles that are dangerous.
These new experimental study results on ‘bad cholesterol’ have flown into the air the old diet myths condemning saturated fats. On the other hand, SFs help in reducing the risks of heart diseases by converting small LDL particles into large particles.
The results of long-term observational studies also suggest that there is no relationship between levels of LDL and saturated fats.
There are also recent scientific studies that indicate heart disease risk is highly increased with a number of LDL-p particles floating in the bloodstream than the concentration and size of the LDL particles. (21)
This is another positive support for the healthiness of saturated fat as it can effectively lower the LDL-p in the bloodstream. It is also a proven fact that it is the low-fat diets that lead to the development and rise of LDL-p.[22,23]
The studies in the past decades only gave importance to the idea of LDL levels being raised by saturated fats. But those studies failed to identify the fact that SF also helps in the development of HDL cholesterol.
There is little relation between saturated fat and heart disease. Saturated fat foods only help in boosting healthy blood lipid profile by increasing the levels of HDL, large LDL particles and decreasing PDL-p.
Saturated Fat Myths Busted
Since decades dietitians and health, scientists had been bashing saturated fat as the mother of all health diseases. Serious health enthusiasts subscribed to this idea and began to avoid saturated fats, but this did not decrease the occurrences of heart diseases.
The medical community for a healthy heart was shocked to find the extensive study report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010. This report relinquished the relationship between saturated fats and heart diseases or stroke.
The analysis report of 2010 involves synthesized results from 21 individual studies that covered 350,000 people as samples. These mammoth observations and experimental research cannot be rejected simply; it found wide acceptance soon.
The researchers involved in the 2010 study report were able to conclude that cutting out saturated fats did not make any difference in preventions of heart diseases. It does not even help with weight loss either.
It was also found that people who had a low-carb diet, rich in saturated fats, lost more weight and healthy cholesterol ratio in comparison to people who followed a low-fat diet.
People who followed low-carb diets, which usually contain saturated fat, are also helped in keeping diabetes under control besides preventing heart diseases. Saturated fat is good for you.
Saturated Fat And Heart Disease
In the past decades, all heart diseases were simply related to the saturated fat-rich diet. Even these days several dietitians are (ill-informed or resisting changes) still keeping on recommending low-fat diet (with strict avoidance of saturated fats!!) for a healthy heart and weight loss.
Here is the stark reality… people who avoided saturated fat were not stopped from getting heart diseases and gaining weight.
No studies and researches conducted till today have established a clear link between saturated fats and heart diseases.
It is only some hypothetical conclusions based on animal studies or limited observational studies that had been raising an objection on saturated fats for long.
All recent studies, including the one conducted in 2014 which included 32 observational studies (512 420 participants) could not find any link between heart diseases and saturated fats.
The Cochrane collaboration in 2011 published their review study combining hundreds of previous researches heart diseases conclusively stated the inability to relate the reduction in saturated fat intake with any effect on stroke or death from heart diseases.
Interestingly, the same review study encouraged the use of saturated fats instead of unsaturated fats to lower the risk of getting heart diseases.
It is not wise to hold on to the ideas of the old school of dietitians anymore. It may be difficult for some of us to take a sudden shift from what we heard for the last several decades that ‘saturated fats are bad.’
Today’s diet mantra is another way around. Saturated fats are good for healthy hearts.
Saturated Fat Rich Foods
You can find many foods that are rich in saturated fats. The most commonly available rich sources of SF are meats and dairy products. You can find it in fatty beef, pork, chicken, lamb, beef fat, lard, butter, cheese, etc.
The plant sources rich in SFs are Palm-Oils, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil. All the other types of oils also have it but in less proportion to monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats found in them.
It should be kept in mind that sources from you get the saturated fats that must be from natural and organic. Just, for example, the beef you eat should be from cows or bulls reared in natural pastors than those fed on grains.
How Much Saturated Fat Per Day?
You might be wondering how much-saturated fat per day is healthy.
It is told that in a healthy diet rule, you should keep everything to a moderate level.
For best health reasons, it is better to limit the intake of saturated fat to not more than 8% of the total calories that you consume daily. If you need about 1800 calories per day, about 14o calories could be from saturated fats.
Who Should Avoid Saturated Fat?
As per the recent and credible studies on saturated fats and heart diseases, it is good to have SF as a compulsory part of our diet plan.
Here it must be noted, that every study result is based on the majority of instances; this does not refer to 100% instances of validity.
It gives a room of possibility that a few individuals may face an increased risk of heart diseases or other health hazards with SF, but the vast majority won’t face any issues with it.
Some individuals who are already on medications and restricted diet should not think of saturated fats. It is also not advisable to have SF rich diets for persons with a genetic disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolemia and who have a gene variant called ApoE4.
The Final Word On SF
All recent studies have come out with a clear indication that there is no proven link between saturated fats and heart diseases. These studies have also said that low-fat diets have not arrested cholesterol issues or helped in weight loss.
The erstwhile bad-guy reputation of the SFs does not hold good anymore. The most pressing dietary problems of today are high fructose juices, carbonated drinks, high-carb foods, artificial trans-fats, processed vegetable oils, etc.
You may be still firmly believing in and following the old scheme of low-fat diets entirely free of saturated fats because you want to be away from heart diseases. Carry on… But you are not going to be free from heart diseases with the trans-fats and high-carb diet you wish to follow.