The consumption of saturated fats and the effects it can have on overall health (specifically heart disease) has become a controversial topic. It was once labeled the worst type of fat, but trans fats have since inherited that role.
So what’s the problem with saturated fats? This is what we know:
- Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can provide health benefits.
- Current research supports that saturated fats are better for us than trans fats.
In the world of dietary fats, saturated fats get caught in the middle. So how does it fit into a healthy diet?
What is saturated fat?
With their single bonds and straight chains, saturated fat molecules can clump closely together, like bricks in a wall. This dense packing creates a strong internal structure, leading to a higher melting point and a solid state at room temperature.
“Saturated fats are saturated (filled) with hydrogen molecules and contain only single bonds between carbon molecules,” explains Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and associate professor of nutrition at New York University. “Unsaturated fats contain at least one double bond between carbon molecules. “Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, unlike unsaturated fats, like olive oil, which tend to be liquid at room temperature.”
Saturated fat is mainly found in foods of animal origin, such as beef, lamb, and pork, but it is also present in high-fat dairy products such as butter, cheese, and baked goods.
It’s back in the spotlight primarily because of the ketogenic diet, in which people limit their carbohydrate intake and increase their fat intake, hoping to train their bodies to burn fat instead of glucose (carbohydrates). ) as fuel and accelerate weight loss.
But not all fats are the enemy they were once thought to be. For example, olive oil and avocados are very good for you. Additionally, it is important to note that dietary fat does not No make you fat And although your body doesn’t need saturated fat, it does need some fat for many reasons, such as vitamin absorption and other metabolic processes.
Your body needs both essential fatty acids, which are the fats that your body can not produce alone:
- Linoleic acid
Both fats are found in unsaturated fats, also known as “healthy fats.”
Have positions on saturated fats changed?
For decades, it was believed that consuming saturated fats (again, imagine that beautiful image of something solid at room temperature) could clog arteries, potentially causing heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
There is a lot of controversy among scientists and doctors/nutritionists about how bad saturated fats really are for your health. However, that’s not a license to go crazy.
“It is currently controversial whether or not saturated fats increase the risk of disease,” says Young. “That said, a little is fine, but in my opinion, no more than the recommendation.”
She explains: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including the Dietary Advisory Committee’s most recent report for the 2020-2025 guidelines, suggest aiming for a dietary pattern in which no more than 10 percent of calories come from saturated fat. American Heart Association recommends even less.”
What that means:
- According to the Dietary Guidelines, if you eat a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, only 200 calories should come from saturated fat. It’s about 20 grams.
- If you need to lower your cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing your saturated fat intake to five to six percent of your daily caloric intake. That’s no more than 100 to 120 calories from saturated fat (or 13 grams at most).
Are saturated fats really harmful to your health?
According to Young, saturated fats are unhealthy and therefore it is suggested to limit them. “Eating foods high in saturated fat (red meat, butter, cheese) increases blood cholesterol levels,” she says. “High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
Should I include saturated fats in my diet?
You’ve probably heard a lot about adding “healthy fats” to your diet. Saturated fats are not that.
“Healthy fats” are unsaturated fats. They have been associated with a number of benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease. So skip the butter and cheese and instead eat fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
Whatever you do, don’t replace saturated fats with processed foods or simple carbohydrates. “Eliminating saturated fats and replacing them with refined carbohydrates is unhealthy,” says Young. “However, choosing unsaturated fats over saturated fats may (have the potential to) lead to better health outcomes.”
The bottom line
Despite some controversial studies, research tends to lean toward limiting dietary intake of saturated fat. This is because saturated fats may have the ability to potentially raise cholesterol levels.
You can enjoy saturated fats in moderation. As noted above, up to 10% of your total calories can come from saturated fat, but eat less if you have risk factors for heart disease. And keep in mind that your body does not need saturated fat, meaning you don’t need to add it to your diet.