We all know saturated fats are bad for your heart’s health, but there are a lot of questions about why saturated fat is so bad.
There are a couple key reasons you should still keep a healthy distance between your diet and saturated fat.
What is Saturated Fat?
Scientifically, saturated fats are named for the hydrogen molecules that “saturate” the fat molecules because there are no double bonds between the carbon molecules.
Simply put, saturated fats are fats typically solid at room temperature such as butter, lard, beef, pork, and lamb fats, cheese, and other dairy products made from whole milk.
Eating foods containing saturated fats raises levels of cholesterol in the blood. It’s that increased cholesterol that links saturated fats and heart disease. Many foods with saturated fat are also high in calories.
Saturated fats are found in a number of different foods, primarily animal sources including meat and dairy products.
How much can you eat?
The daily recommended intake of saturated fats is about 13 grams every day if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day. To put it into perspective, if you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet, only 120 of those calories should be saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat only be about 5 to 6 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Fortunately, saturated fat isn’t that sneaky. When you’re eating saturated fat, there’s often no question in your mind that you’re eating something unhealthy—that slab of butter on your pancakes, a greasy hamburger, or your favorite snack cake.
The reason saturated fats are so prevalent in the American diet is not because we’re unaware of their existence, but rather because they’re in food that is often cheap, accessible or just downright delicious.
How do saturated fats directly affect your heart health?
Saturated fats contain bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins. This is the type of cholesterol responsible for blocking arteries and heart disease.
When you are consuming too many saturated fats, the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood stream becomes unhealthy and can lead to artery blockages, high blood pressure, poor circulation, and eventually heart disease or heart attack.
So is it ALL that bad?
It’s important to realize, while most saturated fats contain bad cholesterol, a select few fats do NOT. The exceptions to the rule are usually plant-based oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, safflower oil, etc. Learn more about how to boost good cholesterol here.
These oils contain saturated fats, but do not contain bad cholesterol. In fact, some of them contain good cholesterol which helps to transport bad cholesterol out of your bloodstream.
How do you keep saturated fats out of your diet?
There are three keys to remember when grocery shopping or deciding what to eat to avoid saturated fat: lean, fresh, and unprocessed.
If you stick with lean meats such as chicken and fish, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and unprocessed foods, avoiding prepackaged foods, frozen dinners or packaged desserts, you’re on the right track.
When you buy your ingredients fresh, you have the option of preparing them in a healthy way, instead of relying on time-saving (but unhealthy) processed foods.
Another great rule of thumb is to follow the DASH diet.
Cutting back on saturated fat isn’t just healthy for those with heart issues. It’s a dietary change that could help prevent heart disease, obesity, and other health complications for everyone.