Is Saturated Fat All That Bad for Me?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
by Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
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Is Saturated Fat All That Bad for Me?

Although most health experts agree that you should limit your intake of saturated fat, others insist that saturated fat has been unfairly demonized. So, what’s the truth? Is saturated fat something you should be trying to avoid or is it — as some argue — a uniquely healthy type of fat?

The main charge against saturated fat (the kind found in butter, cream, red meat, coconut and chocolate) is that diets high in saturated fat have been linked with increased risk of heart disease. But while eating more saturated fat may raise your LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol numbers, it also tends to increase the size of those LDL cholesterol particles. Larger LDL cholesterol particles have been linked to lower risk of heart disease. On the other hand, saturated fat tends to promote cellular inflammation, a process linked to higher heart disease risk.

A 2015 review of 72 studies (that’s a lot of studies!) found that simply eating less saturated fat does not reduce the risk of heart problems. What’s the deal? Whenever we talk about eating less or more of a food or nutrient, we need to take into account what we’re eating more (or less) of as a result. Our food swaps matter. Cutting down on fat and eating more refined carbohydrates instead does not appear to be heart healthy. Replacing some of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats, on the other hand, does reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

As I’ve argued before, no single food or nutrient can reasonably be designated as “healthy” or “unhealthy” in a vacuum. It’s how you put it all together that counts. No matter what sources of fat it includes, a healthy diet will also include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nutritious protein sources and few empty calories. In the context of such a diet, I think there’s absolutely room for some saturated fat. In fact, there may even be some advantages.

THE VERDICT

Many foods that contain saturated fat, such as meat and dairy products, also provide other valuable nutrients, including protein, calcium, iron and zinc. Moreover, those who consume full-fat dairy products may actually be more likely to maintain a healthy weight than those who choose low-fat dairy. Saturated fat is also stable at high heat and resists oxidation. While I certainly wouldn’t suggest a steady diet of fried foods, highly saturated coconut oil is an excellent choice for an occasional fried treat, as it is less likely to form harmful compounds when heated.

That said, I don’t suggest using saturated fats as your only source of fat, because then you’d be missing out on the well-established benefits of the healthful fats found olive oil, avocados, nuts and fatty fish. Although saturated fat may not be the villain it is sometimes made out to be, there’s no need to ride the pendulum to the other extreme either. A balanced and varied diet of nutrient-dense foods is the ideal way to get the nutrition your body needs.

What are your thoughts on saturated fat? Share them in the comments below.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, is a licensed nutritionist and creator of the top-rated Nutrition Diva Podcast. Find more nutrition and diet tips and recipes at NutritionOverEasy.com, or connect on Facebook or Twitter.

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8 responses to “Is Saturated Fat All That Bad for Me?”

  1. Avatar Jerry Dalferro says:

    I cant get my cell phone to upload my data (all my Meals)

  2. Coconut is considered a saturated fat and it is definitely good for you

    • Avatar Akimajuktuq says:

      Not for everyone unfortunately, but nothing to do with saturated fat of course. Most of my dietary fat is saturated and that is when I’m healthiest. I have no problem ignoring bad advice. 🙂

  3. Avatar Chris Taylor says:

    From what I have learned it is the interaction of insulin and fats that cause the problem. Reduce inflammation and severely reduce the intake of carbs and the body will thrive on high fat/moderate protein for a diet.

  4. Avatar Akimajuktuq says:

    The verdict is : natural saturated fats from healthy meats is our IDEAL food. SO the warning to still limit it is unnecessary and even harmful. I’m with Chris, I dumped the carbs (plant foods were harming my body in a huge number of ways) and now eat a two thirds animal fat/one third animal protein diet. I’m thriving!

  5. Avatar Nakul says:

    Do explore the healthiest saturated fat around: Indian Ghee (cow’s milk). Prescribed in Ayurveda due to multiple benefits.

  6. Avatar Edith D Thurman says:

    The saturated fat myth cam out in the 60’s and the heart disease was actually linked to “sugar” not saturated fat! The sugar companies paid researchers to change it, that’s when they started making everything low fat. Then pouring in high fructose corn syrup and other sugars in for flavor! Was there an obesity problem in the 50’s or 60’s NO! Not until they swapped fat for sugar was there an obesity problem! Those 75 studies they reviewed what year were they originally done in? The FDA and health studies also used to tell us cigarettes and coke products were healthy! Do you still believe that as well???

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