Is Saturated Fat Bad for You?

Saturated fats have a bad reputation. Why is that? We’ll look at what saturated fat is, what kinds of foods have it and why you should keep your consumption to a minimum.

Saturated fats have long held the reputation of being the “bad fat”, but exactly how bad for you are they? The American Heart Association actually recommends aiming for a dietary pattern comprising 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.

You may try to keep all fatty foods down to a minimum, but the truth is that your body needs some fats from food to help absorb vitamins and minerals. Fat is a major source of energy and it also helps build cell membranes.

Saturated fat is a type of fat that is solid at room temperature. It is mainly found in animal products but can be found in some plant sources. Foods high in saturated fats mostly come from meats and dairy, primarily butter, cream, milk and cheese as well as fatty cuts of beef, pork, lamb, salami, sausages and chicken skin.

What is Saturated Fat?

Saturated fats differ molecularly from other forms of fat, but the main difference to know is that they are highly “saturated” with hydrogen atoms and contain singular bonds. Most animal fats are saturated while most fish and even plant fats are unsaturated.

Additionally, many baked and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats coming from plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil.

How Does Saturated Fat Affect Your Health?

According to the American Heart Association, eating foods that contain saturated fats can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, some recent reports have said that there is not enough evidence to state a conclusive link between saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease.

It is generally agreed understood that replacing saturated fat with healthier alternatives such as mono and polyunsaturated fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease. These types of fats are usually found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils like olive and canola.

This also doesn’t mean that you must avoid saturated fats entirely. In fact, while the American Heart Association recommends getting 5% to 6% of daily calories from saturated fat, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest capping saturated fat to 10% of total calories, or on average about 22 grams a day.

What Are Good Fats?

Healthy fats typically come from vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, or what are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Both types of fats are in liquid form at room temperature, for example, a monounsaturated fat like olive oil. Other examples include canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oils, and avocados.

The discovery of monounsaturated fats occurred during the 1960s, during which researchers found that people in the Mediterranean region had lower rates of heart disease despite having high-fat diets. The “Mediterranean diet” consists of eating your daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats such as fish, poultry, beans and eggs while limiting red meat.

Polyunsaturated fats are a type of fat vital for normal body functions, building cell membranes and covering nerves. Polyunsaturated fats also help your body with muscle movement and fighting blood clotting and inflammation. The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Studies show that omega 3 fatty acids can help prevent heart disease, reduce blood pressure and prevent lethal heart rhythms from occurring. Omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked to protection against heart disease.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • Seeds (such as pumpkin, flax and sesame seeds)
  • Soft Margarine
  • Vegetable oils (Canola, Olive, Peanut, and Safflower)
  • Avocado
  • Mayonnaise
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Olives

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • Fish (Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Trout, Tuna)
  • Nuts (Pine nuts, Walnuts)
  • Seeds (Flax, Pumpkin, Sesame, Sunflower)
  • Soft Margarine
  • Vegetable oils (Corn, Cottonseed, Soybean, Sunflower)

If you’d like to discuss more healthy living tips and strategies, contact Valleywise Health today. Our primary care clinicians are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to assist you.


About the Author

Dr. Michael White, MD - Chief Clinical Officer

Michael White, MD, joined Valleywise Health as Executive Vice President, Chief Clinical Officer (EVP, CCO) in August 2019. In his role, Dr. White works to advance the Mission, Vision and Values of Valleywise Health to improve clinical outcomes, enhance patient experience, and grow key programs. He also serves as a liaison with our partners at District Medical Group and the Creighton University Arizona Health Education Alliance.

Read more posts by Dr. Michael White, MD  Browse all topics

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