Fat, particularly saturated fat, have always been known as the bad fats that make you fat, raise blood cholesterol levels and will eventually give you a heart attack.
In recent years, this topic has been heavily debated and attracted controversy.
So, let’s dive into some FAT facts!
Types of Fats and Oils
Based on chemical structure, there are 3 types of fats – saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids just means that all of the carbon atoms are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. As such, they are usually solid at room temperature. Examples of foods high in saturated fat include meats, cream, butter, lard, full fat milk, coconut oil etc.
I want to highlight that any food that has fat will have all 3 types of fatty acids. No food is purely saturated fat or unsaturated fat.
Is Saturated Fat Linked to Heart Disease?
Many years ago, scientists assumed that saturated fat led to heart disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. We now know that this is not true and that there are no experimental studies that have directly proven that saturated fat will cause heart disease .
However, reducing saturated fat intake formed the basis of national dietary guidelines in the US (1977) and UK (1983) even when there was no solid evidence .
The fear that we have around fat is so in-grain that until today, even with all the evidence, that fear still lingers.
It is Complicated
The story is not as simple as whether or not saturated fat causes heart disease.
There are many types of saturated fats (short, medium, long chain and very long chain), which have different effects in our body. Therefore, we cannot make a general statement about them.
Consuming saturated fat seems to increase the lipid and lipoprotein concentration in blood, which are risk FACTORS for developing heart disease. However, studies have not found an association between the consumption of saturated fats and the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease .
Your Body NEEDS FAT!
Why we need fat:
- Energy store
- Make hormones (sex hormones etc)
- Part of our cell membranes
- Absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
- Protect vital organs
- Increase satiety (helps you feel FULL!)
- Increase palatability of food (food cooked in fat tastes SO much better!)
Of course, the quality of the saturated fat is important. The fat profile of the food is better when it comes from foods that are minimally processed.
Where possible, opt for grass-fed (not grain-fed) animal and animal/dairy products.
Fats to Avoid
Artificial/industrial trans fats are formed under harsh chemical processes involving hydrogenation of vegetable oils.
Trans fats have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, insulin resistance and weight gain . These fats are usually found in highly processed foods.
I am NOT saying that you should go all out and eat ALL THE SATURATED FATS!
What I am trying to say is that we DO NOT need to FEAR them and completely cut them out from our diet. However, if you have high cholesterol or hyperlipidemia, I’d limit intake of saturated fats.
Lastly, there is no ONE SINGLE cause of heart disease.
We need to look at our OVERALL diet and lifestyle.