The fat we get through diet and the fat stored in our body is in the form of triglycerides, that is a glycerol molecule linked to three fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have all their carbon-carbon bonds saturated with hydrogen, while unsaturated fats have double bonds and are not saturated with hydrogen. A polyunsaturated fatty acid has many carbon-carbon double bonds. A triglyceride molecule can have both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids on it.
Saturated fat is much more stable at a high temperature, because the lack of double bonds makes the molecule more resistant to oxidation, which damages the molecule. Therefore saturated fats are better for cooking. You can find saturated fat in many kinds of food, including meat, eggs, high-fat dairy products, coconuts and more.
Is saturated fat bad for you?
Short answer: No.
It has never been proven that saturated fat causes harm, and some of the main studies often quoted to support the theory have been largely discredited. Somehow the fact that saturated fat would cause heart disease has become so firmly imprinted in the minds of everyone that it has become common knowledge. There’s actually a ton of research showing that saturated fat has absolutely no relation whatsoever to heart disease.
In fact, studies done on low-carbohydrate diets high in fat (both saturated and unsaturated) and lacking refined carbs, show clearly that such diets have an excellent effect on blood lipid profiles and therefore should massively reduce risks of heart disease.
What about monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats?
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are commonly believed to be healthy for us, but that’s not the end of the story. It is very important to consume a proper ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. I believe that one factor of the rising metabolic syndrome epidemic is because of an Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio that is way too high.
You can eat as much monounsaturated fat as you want, which is common in such things as nuts and olive oil, but it is a good idea to try and limit the amount of processed vegetable oils, which are the main sources of Omega-6 fatty acids in the western diet. Eating fatty fish or grass-fed eggs and meat will give you plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids but if you don’t consume any of those foods then it may be a good idea to take a fish oil supplement.
Everything that contains hydrogenated fats (trans fats) should be avoided, these are extremely unhealthy.
So are doctors and nutritionists wrong then?
If you were to ask a doctor or a nutritionist “Is saturated fat bad for you?” then you would probably hear that it is. The fact is, doctors don’t know much about nutrition and a lot of nutritionists don’t seem to have been observing the latest studies on saturated fat and heart diseases. This is something they’ve heard repeated countless times and learned at school a long time ago, and have mistakenly taken it as a fact, even though there have never been studies proving that saturated fats are bad for health.
Saturated fat has been known to cause a rise in LDL cholesterol levels, and therefore experts believe that they should cause a rise in heart disease, but there are several forms of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). There is the large, fluffy kind and the small, dense kind. The small and dense type is bad for you and increases risk of developing heart disease while the large and fluffy type is basically benign.
Eating saturated fat does increase levels of large and fluffy LDL cholesterol, which is benign, but it also raises HDL (the good cholesterol) and lowers triglyceride levels, which is another major risk factor. A high HDL and low triglyceride levels, which are easily attainable following a high-fat, low-carb diet should therefore massively reduce heart disease risk.
Where is the proof?
There is actually an enormous amount of studies showing how saturated fat is not bad for you and how low-carbohydrate diets (usually high in saturated fat) are incredibly beneficial for health, especially for people who have a tendency to gain weight. For a more thorough research review on saturated fat and heart disease risk, check out this post by Dr. Stephan Guyenet.
So the answer to the question is saturated fat bad for you is a definite no. Hydrogenated fats and excessive Omega-6 fats are, and overconsumption of refined carbohydrates like wheat and sugar is bad too. Humans evolved eating a high amount of saturated fat from animals, and they didn’t suffer from the epidemic of western diseases until after the food production had been industrialized.