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Is Saturated Fat Bad for Your Health? (And How to Eat Healthy Fat)

Is Saturated Fat Bad for Your Health? (And How to Eat Healthy Fat)

Until few years ago, the term “fat” was a big curse in the fitness industry. Every single expert, trainer and fitness enthusiast suggested people who wanted to lose weight to stay away from it.

Anything that contained fat were urged to throw out of the diet. A fat-free version of almost everything was released in the market, making it a billion dollar industry.

But the million dollar question is, did that make people healthy and fit? The truthful answer would be NO!

In the urgency to get rid of fat, we forgot to distinguish good fat from bad fat.

Many studies have shown in the past that the bad fat present in meat, dairy products and high-calorie foods are harmful to the body and leads to heart diseases.[1]

But before we reach an obvious conclusion that all types of fat are bad and should be eliminated, let’s try and understand what is fat, the components, types and the effects.

What exactly is fat?

Contrary to arguments and popular belief, fat is necessary for human body to survive. Fat is a nutrient and a source of energy. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, while one gram of protein and carbohydrate contain 4 calories each.

Fat, when in excess, is stored throughout the body for consumption during lean times, by converting it into glycogen. It also acts as a cushion to protect our internal organs, which will otherwise be prone to damage.

Dietary fats are irresistible because it makes the food tastier, improves the smell and flavor. In simple terms, fat makes any food item more sellable.

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According to the US department of health, the maximum amount of fat consumption should be 30% of the total calorie intake. Any diet that includes 30% or less amount of fat is considered as a good diet.

But many items are loaded with huge amount of fat, which results in more fat consumption (sometimes, more than 40%) per day. This, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, results in heart diseases, obesity, and high cholesterol.

It is important to distinguish good fat from bad fat as good fat is necessary for healthy body functioning. Identify foods that are a source of good fat and include them in the diet and minimize those items that are loaded with bad fats.

For this, let’s understand different types of fats.

The different types of fat

Fats, in a broader sense, can be classified into saturated fat, trans-fat and unsaturated fat. The basic difference comes down to the molecular structure of fat.

Each molecule is combination of hydrogen and carbon. The ratio of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms is the deciding factor of whether it is a saturated, unsaturated or trans-fat. Let’s see each of them in detail.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat is also known as “Solid fat” because of its molecular structure. These fats are solid at room temperature. The hydrogen atoms would be higher than the carbon atoms in saturated fats.

The molecules form regular shapes and form as clumps easily. These clumps possess a sticky nature and can easily stick to the arteries one after the other, making a person overweight or obese and prone to coronary heart disease.

Some of the foods that contain a good amount of saturated fat are red meats such as lamb, pork, fatty beef, beef fat, poultry with skin and dairy products such as butter, cheese, and any product that is made from whole-milk.

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Furthermore, many fried and baked items such as French fries, cookies, cakes and oily foods contain high amount of saturated fat. Some of the oils such as coconut oil, cocoa butter and palm oil are also high on saturated fat.

The more a person consumes saturated fat, the higher would be the amount of cholesterol in his body.

Cholesterol is a free flowing fat, produced by the liver, which is essential for cell functioning and the building block for other vital components in the body. But excess cholesterol will hinder oxygen flow throughout the body and results in heart diseases.

Trans-fat

Trans-fat or hydrogenated fat is a chemically processed form of unsaturated fat. This type of fat is treated with additional amount of hydrogen. The main purpose of this fat is to act as a flavor-enriching component and offers no nutritional value.

Trans-fat increases the amount of bad cholesterol in the body and causes a myriad of heart diseases. It raises the LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol which puts your heart at risk.[2] The LDL cholesterol level should always be less than 100 mg/dL. Anything above 130 mg/dL is considered as high and harmful.

Excess consumption of trans-fat can cause the LDL cholesterol to rise and affect the healthy functioning of heart. This is a fat that one should try and minimize as much as possible.

Some of the foods that are high in trans-fat are processed foods, partially hydrogenated oils, cookies, chips, crackers etc.

Unsaturated Fat

Now, as you might have rightly guessed, unsaturated fats are those with a lower amount of hydrogen atoms in the molecular structure. At room temperature, this fat is in liquid state.

Most of the unsaturated fats are oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and plant-based such as avocado, walnuts, almond, groundnut, soybean, seafood, flaxseed and many more.

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It is always recommended to replace your intake of saturated fat with unsaturated fat for a healthier body and organ functioning.

Unsaturated fats can further be divided into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats help to increase the amount of good HDL cholesterol and lower the level of LDL cholesterol.

However, it is worth mentioning that consumption of monosaturated fat without reducing the intake of saturated fats may not fetch you the optimum benefits.

Polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in vegetable oils and seafood.[3] Like monounsaturated fats, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat will also help to lower the level of LDL cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats can be further classified into omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce risk of heart disease, promote brain functioning, improve eye health and regulate cholesterol levels.

Omega-6 fatty acids promotes skin health, hair growth, bone health, and metabolic rate. They are mostly found in vegetable oils such as safflower and corn oil.

Is saturated fat bad or good?

One of the main reasons for listing saturated fat as a bad option for your health is due to the increase in LDL cholesterol level it can cause. This cholesterol, in excess, will result in serious heart diseases and chronic health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure.

Considering the fact that the leading cause of death in the US and many parts of the world is heart disease, it is only logical to say that bad fat can be a serious threat to good health.

The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 7% of saturated fats in your daily calorie intake.[4] So if a person is consuming 1500 calories per day, the amount of saturated fat should be no more than 105 calories. If you are someone with an already high cholesterol, then the minimum intake should further be reduced to 5% or 6%.

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Another reason to minimize saturated fat is the high calorie per gram it contains. While protein and carbohydrates each comes with 4 calories per gram, fats offer as much as nine calories per gram. Hence, consuming even 200 – 250 calories a day can slowly increase your weight without you even realizing it.

However, not all saturated fats are bad. Some of the items such as coconut oil, palm oils and other tropical oils. While meats and dairy products come with fat and high dietary cholesterol, these oils are cholesterol free and are healthier.

A study conducted by Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that using coconut oil can even increase HDL cholesterol, which is good cholesterol.[5]

Should you consume fat?

The one word answer is YES!

Fat is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in healthy body functioning. Research suggests that even saturated fats, in ideal amount, is good for the body.[6]

The solution lies in identifying and including good fats in your diet. When it comes to trans-fat, try to avoid it as much as possible as the molecular structure is artificially modified to enhance flavor profile, with very less nutritious value and greater risks.

Include unsaturated fats in the right amount as it is a healthy source of nutrition and plays a key role in cell development and health.

As for saturated fats, consume in moderation and replace with good fat whenever possible.

Conclusion

The debate on whether saturated fat is good or bad is still on and heated. Many studies are out there favoring and declining the theory that saturated fat can cause heart diseases and is harmful.

However, it is just a small part of a larger picture which needs to be considered while making a decision. Eating healthy and making small changes to the lifestyle can easily overcome the effect of saturated fats.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Evlin Symon

Evlin Symon is a health and wellness expert specialized in fitness, weight loss, pregnancy, nutrition and beauty.

The Truth Behind Keto Weight Loss: Does This Diet Plan Actually Work? 15 Most Effective and Nutritious Healthy Foods to Lose Weight Is Saturated Fat Bad for Your Health? (And How to Eat Healthy Fat) 15 of the Best Fruits for Weight Loss and How to Enjoy Them Daily 10 Things You Should Know In 18th Week of Pregnancy

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in Moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch Less Television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t Smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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9. Be Optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a Pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink Coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat Less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh Often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook Your Own Food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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18. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

21. Have Sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

More Health Tips

Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

Reference

[1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
[2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
[3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
[4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
[5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
[6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
[7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
[8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
[9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
[10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
[11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
[12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
[15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
[16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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