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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

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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 December 2, 2019

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. Give for the Joy of Giving

When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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