15 food trends revealed by top Google searches2Region by Region: What are the top 10 selling ice creams in the world? INTRODUCING EURYCO®, THE MOST RELEVANT TONGKAT ALI EXTRACT IN THE MARKET, 8% EURYCOMANONE PURITY. I’ve noticed a lot of information popping up about saturated fat, including its role in modulating Testosterone levels in men. Saturated fat can quickly divide people into being either pro (sat fat is super awesome) or con (sat fat will kill you).
All of the fatty acids in the “saturated fat” category are individual molecules with their own mechanisms and properties. Palmitic and stearic acid, for example, are saturated fats that are found in meat, and that have very different properties from betulinic acid (found in plants) and butyric acid (found in butter), yet all are saturated fatty acids, in the same way that oleic acid and erucic acid are two omega-9 fatty acids that are good for your heart (cardioprotective) and bad for your heart (cardiotoxic), respectively.
The category “saturated fat” is meant to be used for grouping, while the molecules themselves may not be similar enough to warrant drawing group-wide conclusions.
When reading studies on saturated fat, it may be easier to replace the words ‘saturated fat’ with ‘the particular group of saturated fats likely to be consumed by the people in the study.’ It may be wordy, but by doing so you won’t confuse research on hamburgers with research on coconut oil. Finally, remember, dietary sources of fat are almost always a blend of different types of fat. The first round of research on saturated fatty acids, as a group, found that they were positively associated with biomarkers of cardiovascular disease.
If a person drives a Ferrari it is a good marker you could use to suggest that that person is wealthy, but it does not prove that that a person is wealthy, nor does it mean that driving a Ferrari is what MADE that person wealthy.
These studies lacked controls, and when the data was replicated over the course of the following decades, it was found that the saturated fats did not cause heart disease. In other words, the people who had high saturated fat intakes were also more likely to smoke, eat too much food, and be sedentary than the people who ate less saturated fats. Saturated fats are a biomarker of a poor diet in the same way that total dietary cholesterol is a biomarker for cardiovascular disease. If the average person is told to reduce their saturated fat intake, they may end up eating healthier overall. Regardless of the abundance of new research suggesting that saturated fats do not cause cardio vascular disease, saturated fats are still being demonized in society today. Oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid, commonly used as the standard) is better than long chain saturated fats from lard. Oleic acid is comparable or slightly less healthy than medium chain saturated fats from coconut oil and dairy. Dietary fiber, known to produce short chain fatty acids in the colon, seems most cardioprotective (although not all cardioprotection can be linked directly to the short chain fatty acids).
A high intake of saturated fats are definitely associated with poor dietary habits in the general population.
Still, encouraging the general population to avoid saturated fats will promote better eating habits. As for saturated fatty acids themselves, the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil may be better than most for promoting heart health, however keep in mind that the the medium chain fatty acids make up a very small component of coconut oil.
About Brad PilonBrad is an expert on intermittent fasting as it relates to losing weight and gaining muscle. Rosemary Stanton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above. A diet high in particular saturated fatty acids can increase your body’s cholesterol production.
Dietary guidelines cite the fact that saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol, which is also known as bad cholesterol because it’s a major risk factor for heart disease. These are complex questions so let’s start with what cholesterol and fats actually are and the different types. The fats in food are categorised on the basis of their chemical structure as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. A “polyunsaturated” margarine spread may have 45% polyunsaturated fatty acids, 30% monounsaturated and 25% saturated. Being insoluble in liquid, fats and cholesterol are carried in the blood in protein-fat compounds (called lipoproteins) that vary in their density and function. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver and can deposit it in plaque on the walls of the coronary (and other) arteries. That’s why LDL cholesterol is often tagged as “bad” (high LDL levels may also be responsible for erectile problems in men).
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry stray bits of cholesterol back to the liver for disposal and are therefore “good”. Triglycerides are the form of fat circulating in the blood immediately after meals that are available to cells for energy and likely to be used during physical activity. Of the many saturated fatty acids in foods, three (myristic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid) have the greatest effect in raising blood cholesterol. Large quantities of shorter chain fatty acids (especially caprylic and capric found in foods such as butter, goat and cow’s milk cheeses, and coconut) can increase triglyceride levels.
Some saturated fatty acids such as stearic acid (in meat fat and chocolate) can increase triglyceride levels, but have no effect on blood cholesterol. All this may sound a little complicated (and it is) but there’s something simpler at the heart of the issue that’s much more important. Claims that saturated or unsaturated fats are “good” or “bad” are distorted by ignoring their food sources.
Judging foods only by their saturated or monounsaturated fat content ignores their complete nutritional profile.
Consider that the same quantity of saturated fat is found in 35 grams of cheese, 35 grams of white chocolate, 70 grams of potato crisps, 90 grams of roasted cashews, a small (145 grams) rump steak, a tablespoon of lard, 50 grams of polyunsaturated margarine, a small custard tart and 15 grams of hollandaise sauce! It would clearly be a nonsense to assume these foods were nutritionally equivalent, but judging only their content of saturated or monounsaturated fat creates that absurdity. Early studies using liquid oils added to a standard diet reported that unsaturated fatty acids lowered blood cholesterol.
In Mediterranean populations, most unsaturated fats come from olive oil and nuts – foods with wide range of other beneficial components. Until fairly recently, spreads were made by partially hydrogenating (adding hydrogen atoms to) liquid oils.
It took scientists years to realise that partial hydrogenation produces an unsaturated, but nasty trans fatty acid called elaidic acid. Mediterranean dietary patterns favour a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains, with extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices. Other processes are now used to make spreads, but we have no way of identifying other foods with elaidic acid as it need not be labelled in Australia. Going back to the question we started with, whether saturated fat is a saint or sinner depends on the quantity consumed and on other features of the food containing it.
One oft-quoted review of observational studies concluded there was no association between saturated fat and heart disease. But one of the authors of the paper is supported by Unilever and two are “supported by the National Dairy Council”, so there are clear conflicts of interest involved. Food companies complicated matters by producing many low-fat foods with sugar and refined starches replacing fat. The fact is, the diversity of foods containing saturated and unsaturated fats in modern diets is a major source of confusion.
My bias is for Mediterranean dietary patterns that favour few highly processed junk foods, cheese and yoghurt rather than butter and only modest meat intake. The basis of the day’s meals includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains, with extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices. While saturated and trans fat are termed bad for their property of increasing bad cholesterol levels, unsaturated fats like poly unsaturated fats and mono unsaturated fats are good and are known to reduce cholesterol levels.
Where eyes are concerned, PUFA helps prevent conditions like dryness and retinal disorders. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout are said to be rich sources of EPA and DHA. It is found in flax seeds in abundance and in a small amount in soya, canola and walnut oil.
The same can stand true for human beings; provided it is important it is taken in appropriate doses.
Therefore, it is advisable to add fish oil to a regular diet, so as to abstain from depression apart from gaining a few other benefits.
MUFA or omega-9 fatty acids are useful to the body because they not only lower the levels of LDL but also help maintain HDL or good cholesterol levels. Their common thread is that they are all fatty acids, and that they are all, well, saturated. For this reason, every saturated fat should be examined individually, rather than attempting to group them and isolate an overall effect.
Some of these saturated fats are being studied for having anti-cancer properties, others for production of detergents, photographic materials and mechanical lubricants. A biomarker is something that can be measured and is thought to reflect on another variable. Rather, it was the lifestyle that accompanied a high saturated fat intake that resulted in heart disease. When possible confounds like differences in exercise, nutrient and caloric intake, protein, and lifestyle habits like smoking are accounted for, the association no longer exists. Both suggest that the individual is at a higher risk for health problems, despite the fact that neither cholesterol nor saturated fats are actually causing or exacerbating the problem. They’re not going to replace a hamburger brimming with saturated fats with a hamburger dripping with polyunsaturated fatty acids, they’re just going to order a salad. This is partly due to social psychology, as a specific problem with saturated fat is rarely pointed to.
However, there isn’t enough evidence on any specific common saturated fatty acid, or the group as a whole, to suggest that they are bad for health.
The bottom line is in general, shorter chain fatty acids tend to be healthier than longer chains. I’m not one to recommend products, but these guys know their science, know their evidence, and they can be trusted. We use a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence, so you can republish our articles for free, online or in print.
Or could the search for a single culprit miss the inevitable subtleties of a multifactorial problem such as heart disease? Polyunsaturated fatty acids are further divided into omega 3s and omega 6s (here’s a more detailed description).
So olive oil is tagged “monounsaturated” although 16% of its fatty acids are saturated and 9% are polyunsaturated. That’s less than the 70% saturated fat content of butter, but it’s not an insignificant amount by any means!
This can restrict blood flow and, aided by inflammatory reactions, plaque can block an artery causing heart attack or stroke. LDL cholesterol can also bind to another heart disease risk protein called apolipoprotein(a) or Lp(a). The ratio of total to HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol now appears to give a stronger correlation with heart disease than LDL levels on their own. Any excess, which can come from too much ingested fat, carbohydrate or alcohol, is stored as body fat. Monounsaturated fats, for instance, are the dominant type of fat in chicken noodle soup, eggs, peanut oil, avocado, liquorice, almonds, rolled oats, chocolate chip muesli bars and chicken nuggets. But in North America and Australia, major sources of unsaturated fats include products such as frying oils and spreads. The same process was used for oils for commercial frying, snack foods, confectionery, pastries, biscuits and crackers and anything with a crisp coating. This fat raises LDL cholesterol, lowers HDL cholesterol, increases inflammation and has a string of other undesirable effects. This has been counterproductive although randomised controlled trials have established strong evidence of benefit by substituting unsaturated fats, especially those from seafood.
A simple way through the muddle is to follow dietary patterns associated with low levels of heart disease and other health problems. While EPA guards against inflammation, skin disease and asthma, DHA is relevant for the development of brain cells. It is important for the body to synthesize ALA into EPA and DHA in order to benefit in adequate measures.
Several studies have shown that fish oil helps overcome problems including poor memory, depression, dry skin, poor circulation, and mood swings. Since our body isn’t competent in synthesizing unsaturated fats, it is necessary to include these in food.
Some act as second messengers within our bodies to help signal for hunger, while others have no affect on these pathways. So a diet that is high in butter also contains a high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, and the ratio of saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats in the diet may be just as important as the effects of each individual type of fat. It is logical to say, “You are at a high risk for cardiovascular disease because of your saturated fatty acid intake,” while never actually saying, “Saturated fats are bad for you.” Biomarkers are not necessarily the problem. They’re independent, they don’t sell any supplements, and they’re about as unbiased as they come. A diet high in particular saturated fatty acids can increase cholesterol production, assisted by genetic factors, to levels that dramatically increase the risk of heart attacks. Still, while coconut oil may be better for LDL blood cholesterol than butter, it’s not as good as liquid oils, such as safflower oil. This also helps avoid the absurdity created by thinking in terms of individual nutrients rather then whole foods. Apart from boosting immunity, these help in the functioning of the brain and nervous system, and control heart disease, arthritis and eye problems. Those with rheumatoid arthritis should consume more of omega-3 than omega-6, as omega-3 reduces inflammation. One needs to maintain a balance between PUFA and MUFA because though they help reduce the level of bad cholesterol, an overdose can result in lowering the HDL or good cholesterol level. The bottom line is that any conclusions directed at the category as a whole should be taken with a grain of salt, as they may or may not accurately reflect on any individual component in the category. We can study lifestyles, but isolating individual components of that lifestyle is very difficult. While non-vegetarians can obtain EPA from fatty fish and tuna, vegetarians have to count on supplements after consulting a doctor.
The food products must be accepted by both groups, and both groups must match calories, which means the control group is still modifying their diet in some way.
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