Saturated Fats: Eat Them or Avoid Them?
The effect of saturated fat on different health problems is controversial.
The main sources of saturated fat in the diet are: meat, poultry skin, meat products, whole milk and dairy products, butter, lard, coconut oil and palm oil and processed foods such as biscuits, sweets and chocolate.
Should we avoid all saturated fats?
Are they somehow useful to our body? Let’s try to get a clear picture.
Why to eat them?
1. All different types of fat, including saturated fat, are the basic source of energy for the human body, compared with all the other macronutrients. Each gram of fat releases 9 calories when metabolized in our body, while protein and carbs give our body only four calories when burned.
2. Half of vitamins are fat-soluble. Specifically vitamins A, D, E and K need to be dissolved in fat in order to be absorbed and transported in our body. Therefore a diet poor in fat might lead to vitamin deficiency.
3. Fat serves as an insulator, maintaining the body temperature.
4. Fat that is stored in our body surrounds the organs and absorbs shock protecting them from possible trauma or damage.
Moreover recent research has shown that specific saturated fatty acids have important biological functions in the body.
5. Butyric acid regulates the expression of several genes and may play a role in cancer prevention by stopping the development of cancer cells.
6. Palmitic acid is involved in the regulation of hormones.
7. Palmitic and myristic acids are involved in cell messaging and immune function.
Why to avoid them?
1. According to many health authorities saturated fat is a risk factor for dyslipidemia and therefore for cardiovascular disease.
2. Some studies have indicated a positive relationship between consuming saturated fat and different types of cancer, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.
3. A study in animals has indicated that bone mineral density is negatively associated with saturated fat intake.
4. An increased dietary fat consumption, including saturated fat, might lead to increased energy intake and therefore promote weight gain.
5. High consumption of saturated fatty acids may lead to more fat around the organs, including liver. This fat accumulation is linked to type 2 diabetes mellitus.
6. Saturated fatty acids might also be involved indirectly to the pathogenesis of insulin resistance and the development of metabolic syndrome.
The consumption of saturated fat is allowed but there is a recommended maximum consumption of saturated fat in the diet, which is ≤10% of total daily calories intake.
More recent recommendations suggest the replacement of saturated fat by polyunsaturated fat, instead of just reducing saturated fat. This replacement has shown positive effects on a number of health related outcomes, including CVD.
How to reduce the intake of saturated fats
Next time you go shopping remember to:
– Prefer lean meat
– Remove visible fat
– Remove the skin from poultry meat
– Limit the amount of pastry, biscuits, chocolate and other sweets consumed
– Prefer lower-fat dairy products
– Prefer vegetable oils such as olive oil
These are some simple steps for a balanced diet with less saturated fat, consistent with the latest recommendations.
Connect with Expert Afroditi Loukakou
EUFIC Review (2015). Facts on Fats – Dietary Fats and Health
EUFIC – Saturated Fat Upclose