The Truth About Saturated Fat
Photo by Amirali Mirhashemian on Unsplash.
Saturated fat has been demonized for decades. In the 1950s, scientists sounded the alarm, the public became scared of dietary fat and food manufacturers responded with low-fat versions of everything.
The low-fat craze didn’t seem to do much for collective health, though — the continuous climb in heart disease, obesity, and diabetes rates should make us wonder if perhaps saturated fat is not the problem.
But, science said saturated fat is bad for you
Foods high in saturated fat, like bacon, have a bad rap for no real reason. Photo by Casey Diviese on Unsplash.
Yes, “said” being the key word. Science did show — in the past — that saturated fat consumption might be bad for your health. What really happened is that a couple of observational studies on the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease got blown out of proportion.
That saturated fat is outright bad for you is a big, fat myth. Pun 100 percent intended.
Over the last few years, scientists have debunked the myth again and again, but most people still think saturated fat is bad for you. The truth is, saturated fat intake may not be linked to heart disease at all — says this study and this one. Oh, and this study, this one, and this one.
So, saturated fat is good for you, then?
Lots of healthy foods, including avocados, have saturated fat. Photo by Gil Ndjouwou on Unsplash.
It’s really not so simple, but yes, some saturated fat is good for you. In fact, saturated fat is critical to many elements of your health — without any saturated fat at all, your body won’t function like it should. You need fats in your diet as much as you need carbs and proteins.
Dietary fats protect your cells and nerves, help your body clot blood, aid in nutrient absorption, fight inflammation, and help with hormone production. Foods high in saturated fat can certainly be part of a well-rounded, nutritious diet.
Too much of a good thing may be a bad thing
Too much of anything could be a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean you have to entirely cut out saturated fats. Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash.
The harmful effects of overconsumption of saturated fats aren’t out of the question. Although recent research has called the heart disease claim into question, we can’t disregard decades of science that link saturated fat to other health conditions. Limited research links excess saturated fat to increased inflammation, cognitive decline, and disease risk factors like obesity and high LDL cholesterol.
However, the real culprit seems to be the origin of saturated fats, not the amount. Fast food, for example, is high in saturated fat and has been linked to an increased risk disease. But coconut oil, also high in saturated fat, may reduce disease risk factors.
Please, help me figure out what fats to eat
We hear you. The world of dietary fats is complex, confusing, and downright confounding. Following a few simple rules of thumb can help you add the best fats to your diet and avoid the fats that become problematic with too much consumption.
You should know about four types of dietary fat:
- Polyunsaturated: These are essential fats you must get from food, because your body doesn’t make them on its own. Eat plenty of these fats.
- Monounsaturated: These fats boost your health in several ways. Eat generous portions.
- Saturated: Nutritious when part of a balanced diet. Eat in moderation, and consume mostly from whole-food sources.
- Trans: If you’re to avoid any type of fat, this is the one. Trans fats form during food processing, and they’re known to harm your health in many ways. Avoid trans fats whenever you can.
Generally, unpackaged and minimally processed fatty foods (think olives, avocados, fish, and nuts) contain lots of healthy unsaturated fats. Some contain small amounts of saturated fat.
Animal meat, dairy products (butter, cheese, ghee), and tropical oils (coconut, palm, cocoa) contain saturated fat.
Processed foods — packaged snacks like crackers and sweet treats — generally contain saturated fat and many contain trans fat.
Now that you know saturated fat isn’t the demon it’s made out to be, go ahead and dip into that guacamole guilt-free!
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Photo by Ashley Green on Unsplash