“Fats,” a class of lipids, are a macronutrient which equate to 9 kcal’s per gram.
A fat molecule is made of one glycerol molecule and three fatty acid ‘tails’ which can be either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Saturation refers to the the number of double bonds in the molecule.
Saturated fatty acids have no carbon-carbon double bonds, monounsaturated fatty acids have one c-c double bond and polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more c-c double bonds.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include fatty meats, lard, full-fat dairy products like butter and cream, coconuts, coconut oil, palm oil and dark chocolate.
But NO food is purely saturated fat, or pure mono- or polyunsaturated. Simply check out the nutritional label on any food.
Fats that are mostly saturated, like butter, tend to be solid at room temperature, while fats that are mostly unsaturated, like olive oil, are liquid at room temperature.
Is Saturated Fat Linked To Heart Disease?
Heart disease is always at the top of the leading causes of death but is this due to saturated fat? (1) Eating saturated fat seems to increase levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream and this is important because having high cholesterol can be linked to an increased risk of heart disease. This led to the everything assuming; saturated fat raises cholesterol; cholesterol causes heart disease; saturated fat causes heart disease.
However, no experimental evidence has ever directly linked. in humans, saturated fat to heart disease. This is just a hypothesis!
What Is “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol?
It’s important to realise that the word “cholesterol” is often used inaccurately. Low Density Lipoprotein, LDL, and High Density Lipoprotein, HDL, the “bad” and “good” cholesterols respectively, aren’t actually cholesterol. They are proteins that carry cholesterol around the body. HDLs carry cholesterol back to liver, where as LDLs transport cholesterol around body.
Measure someones “total” cholesterol is actually a highly flawed because it also includes HDL. So having a high levels of HDL actually contributes to a high “total” cholesterol.
Does Saturated Fat Cause Heart Disease?
The supposedly harmful effects of saturated fat are always a highlight of modern dietary guidelines, however, despite research scientists still haven’t been able to demonstrate a clear link.
This includes a review of 21 studies with a total of 347,747 participants, published in 2010. Their conclusion: there is absolutely no association between saturated fat and heart disease. (2)
Another review published in 2014 looked at data from 76 studies (both observational studies and controlled trials) with a total of 643,226 participants. They found no link between saturated fat and heart disease. (3)
What has been found though is that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduced the risk of heart disease by 14%. This does not imply that saturated fats are “bad,” just that certain types of unsaturated fats are protective, while saturated fats are neutral. (4)
Does a Diet Low in Saturated Fat Have Any Health Benefits, or Help You Live Longer?
The Women’s Health Initiative was the biggest nutrition study in history. It was a randomised controlled trial with 46,835 women, who were instructed to eat a low-fat diet.
After 7.5-8 years, there was only 0.4 kg difference in weight and there was zero difference in heart disease, cancer or death. (5)
It’s also interesting that in studies examining paleo, vegan and mediterranean diets showed no benefits to any other dieting approach. (6-8)
However, there is always the individual when it comes to nutrition so certain people may need to reduce levels of saturated fat, due to genetic disorders or tolerances.
For further info, I’d recommend researching familial hypercholesterolemia.
Saturated Fat Can Still Be Used For Cooking!
Saturated fat has some important beneficial aspects because they have no double bonds, they are highly resistant to heat-induced damage when cooking. For examaple, coconut oil, lard and butter are all excellent choices for cooking, especially for high-heat cooking methods like frying.
Coconut oil is common in a lot of protein baking recipes, as the fat content is believed to be ‘better’ than regular butters. Many recipes, such as this no-bake protein brownie, will also swap a traditional butter for something like a natural peanut butter, or even a high protein peanut or almond butter.
Saturated fat can also can be accompanied with many health benefits. These include high protein meats, high protein and calcium rich dairy, and antioxidant rich dark chocolate.
But how much fat should we consume?
With all this being said, and myself not being a doctor, I do not suggest you just go out and eat endless amounts of saturated fat as it is calorie rich, and can daily lead to weight gain. This may sound good for those who are looking to build muscle and gain weight, however it is important to establish a balanced macro intake. A high protein diet is required to build muscle, and is crucial for those trying to lose fat, whilst maintaining as musch lean muscle mass as possible.
“There is no definitive recommendation as to dietary fat intake as everyone’s needs and circumstances are different, however a good guideline to follow would be to consume about 0.45g of fat per pound of bodyweight. This can then be changed on personal preference. Aim to get a good mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats in your diets and avoid consuming mostly one type. Among your consumption of dietary fats should include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.” – www.shreddedbyscience.co.uk
Thank you to Scott Edmed for the skinny on saturated fat!