Saturated Fats: Probably not as bad as you thought
Saturated fats are a rather interesting type of fat present in the food you consume every day, in varying amounts; you probably know that. But did you know that saturated fats are in the epicentre of a fierce academic debate that is raging on to this day? Here we talk about this debate, the difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats and much more. Read on!
What are Saturated Fats?
Fat is made up of three fatty acids and one glycerol molecule. Fatty acids are of two types: saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids.
A saturated fatty acid is made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms with single bonds between the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chains. Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one (or more) double bonds within the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chains.
Fats are usually a combination of saturated and unsaturated fatty acid chains. A fat that contains more saturated fatty acids is solid at room temperature whereas one that does not is liquid at room temperature.
Are saturated fats bad for you?
Moderation is always the key to good health. Over-consumption of any kind of food is bad for our health. A healthy balanced diet provides the right balance of saturated fats and unsaturated fats to sustain important body functions. However, too much intake of saturated fats can have an adverse effect on cholesterol levels.
Saturated Fats and Cholesterol
Saturated fat or Sat fat increases the level of LDL or low-density lipoproteins. LDL aids the transport of fat molecules or cholesterol from the bloodstream to the interior of different cells for further metabolic processing. High levels of LDL can increase the risk of heart diseases. Atherosclerosis can occur due to the oxidation of LDL molecules within the walls of the arteries. Hence, most people assume Sat fats are bad for health.
But, there is also some evidence that suggests LDL isn’t inherently “bad” for health. The size of LDL particles has a much more crucial role in this aspect.
Small and dense LDL particles are more susceptible to oxidation and hence increase the risk of heart diseases. On the other hand, large LDL particles cannot penetrate the arterial wall easily. Thus, small LDL particles pose a much greater risk of heart diseases as compared to larger LDL particles.
Some studies have shown that eating Sat fat changes the small LDL particles to large LDL particles which can reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Apart from LDL, saturated fats also increase the level of HDL or high-density lipoproteins. HDL or “good” cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart diseases. Since Sat fats increase LDL levels most people assume it to be bad for health ignoring the fact that it also increases the level of HDL.
Saturated fats and Unsaturated fats
Though some studies show that replacing Sat fats with unsaturated fats reduced cardiac events but that is because some unsaturated fats are “protective” in nature. This does not imply that saturated fats are bad for health, but are required in moderation.
What foods are high in Saturated Fats?
Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods, mostly animal sources. Fats from coconut, animal fats (ghee and butter) and animal foods like meat, lard, milk and milk products (such as cream, cheese etc) contain saturated fat.
In addition, many baked goods (such as cakes, biscuits, pies) and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fat. Some other sources include plant-based oils, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, margarine and coconut oil.
Should You avoid ghee and coconut oil?
Age-old Indian household oils like desi-ghee and coconut oil are under a lot of debate due to their high Sat fat content. Research has found that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are the most healthy type of saturated fatty acid. Coconut oil, for example, is rich in MCTs. On the other hand, ghee is rich in both saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, which is why many people fear it to be unhealthy. But that’s not the case!
Ghee is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that offers enormous value in a wholesome diet. Recent research indicates that CLA may be useful in the prevention of certain cancers as well as in the mitigation of type II diabetes and associated obesity.
Additionally, both ghee and coconut oil are great for cooking as they have a higher smoking point compared to other vegetable oils and butter.
How Much Should You Consume?
There is much debate surrounding the implications of saturated fat on our health. The National Institute of Nutrition recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 8% to 10% of calories from saturated fat. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, roughly 180 of them should come from saturated fat. Thus, you should limit the intake to 20 grams of saturated fat per day in this case.
We hope you would not shy away from eating ghee and other saturated fat foods after reading this article!