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Published on July 26, 2018

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.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

Sleeping next to your partner can be a satisfying experience and is typically seen as the mark of a stable, healthy home life. However, many more people struggle to share a bed with their partner than typically let on. Sleeping beside someone can decrease your sleep quality which negatively affects your life. Maybe you are light sleepers and you wake each other up throughout the night. Maybe one has a loud snoring habit that’s keeping the other awake. Maybe one is always crawling into bed in the early hours of the morning while the other likes to go to bed at 10 p.m.

You don’t have to feel ashamed of finding it difficult to sleep with your partner and you also don’t have to give up entirely on it. Common problems can be addressed with simple solutions such as an additional pillow. Here are five fixes for common sleep issues that couples deal with.

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1. Use a bigger mattress to sleep through movement

It can be difficult to sleep through your partner’s tossing and turning all night, particularly if they have to get in and out of bed. Waking up multiple times in one night can leave you frustrated and exhausted. The solution may be a switch to a bigger mattress or a mattress that minimizes movement.

Look for a mattress that allows enough space so that your partner can move around without impacting you or consider a mattress made for two sleepers like the Sleep Number bed.[1] This bed allows each person to choose their own firmness level. It also minimizes any disturbances their partner might feel. A foam mattress like the kind featured in advertisements where someone jumps on a bed with an unspilled glass of wine will help minimize the impact of your partner’s movements.[2]

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2. Communicate about scheduling conflicts

If one of you is a night owl and the other an early riser, bedtime can become a source of conflict. It’s hard for a light sleeper to be jostled by their partner coming to bed four hours after them. Talk to your partner about negotiating some compromises. If you’re finding it difficult to agree on a bedtime, negotiate with your partner. Don’t come to bed before or after a certain time, giving the early bird a chance to fully fall asleep before the other comes in. Consider giving the night owl an eye mask to allow them to stay in bed while their partner gets up to start the day.

3. Don’t bring your technology to bed

If one partner likes bringing devices to bed and the other partner doesn’t, there’s very little compromise to be found. Science is pretty unanimous on the fact that screens can cause harm to a healthy sleeper. Both partners should agree on a time to keep technology out of the bedroom or turn screens off. This will prevent both partners from having their sleep interrupted and can help you power down after a long day.

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4. White noise and changing positions can silence snoring

A snoring partner can be one of the most difficult things to sleep through. Snoring tends to be position-specific so many doctors recommend switching positions to stop the snoring. Rather than sleeping on your back doctors recommend turning onto your side. Changing positions can cut down on noise and breathing difficulties for any snorer. Using a white noise fan, or sound machine can also help soften the impact of loud snoring and keep both partners undisturbed.

5. Use two blankets if one’s a blanket hog

If you’ve got a blanket hog in your bed don’t fight it, get another blanket. This solution fixes any issues between two partners and their comforter. There’s no rule that you have to sleep under the same blanket. Separate covers can also cut down on tossing and turning making it a multi-useful adaptation.

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Rather than giving up entirely on sharing a bed with your partner, try one of these techniques to improve your sleeping habits. Sleeping in separate beds can be a normal part of a healthy home life, but compromise can go a long way toward creating harmony in a shared bed.

Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

Reference

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