What Is Saturated Fat?
How to lower your cholesterol level
Types of fat
Fats are generally grouped into three main types—unsaturated, saturated, and trans—based on the molecular structure of the compound.
All fats are basically made up of carbon atoms with long “tails,” or chains of hydrogen atoms attached to them. The more hydrogen molecules, and the more crowded the chain is, the less healthy the fat.
Unsaturated fats: They’re good for your health and are an important part of a healthy diet.
Trans fats: These have essentially no redeeming qualities in terms of your health. In fact, they’ve been banned in some locations, like the United States.
Saturated fats: They occupy a position somewhere in between and their role in heart health has been debated.
Why do we need fat?
In a nutshell, we all need a certain amount of fat to stay alive.
Fats also pack more calories than carbohydrates and proteins, which means they provide a lot of energy, or fuel, for your body, she says. In other words, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
How fat plays a role in inflammation
Saturated fats, on the other hand, can stimulate inflammatory molecules. “That makes the artery walls more permeable to fat deposits,” says Dr. Hirsch.
Saturated fats are still being studied
“Fat, in general, is a huge category, and it’s incredibly nuanced,” says Josh Septimus, MD, an internist and associate professor of clinical medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital. “There are definitely healthy fats, like olive oil [which is unsaturated], and unhealthy fats, like trans fats.”
But there may be much more in between than we realize.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
At a chemical level, the differences may have to do with how long the fat chains are. “Short-, medium-, long-, and very-long-chain fats all have different effects on health,” says Nasrallah.
“The future could refine our advice a little bit more,” says Petitpain.
How much saturated fat should you consume?
Experts advise curbing saturated fat intake. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of daily calories. (Overall, fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of daily calories).
The American Heart Association (AHA), which is understandably concerned about the current epidemic of heart disease, sets the bar lower, at only 5 to 6 percent of total calories each day. In general, the lower the better, says Dr. Hirsch.
Per the AHA guidelines, says Nasrallah, “if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 calories should come from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.”
Limit saturated fats
When you open your refrigerator or cupboard door, you’re not likely to see anything clearly labeled “saturated” or “unsaturated.”
And consider this: A 12-ounce steak has 20 grams of saturated fat. A cheeseburger has 10 grams. A vanilla shake has 8 grams. And a tablespoon of butter has 7 grams.
Sources of saturated fat
It’s best to limit your intake of the following foods, which Nasrallah names as high in saturated fat.
Whole or reduced fat milk and dairy (look for skim or 1 percent), including ice cream
Poultry with skin
Chips and other “munchies”
Coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
Cutting back on saturated fats only goes so far.
“The best strategy is not to just limit saturated fats,” says Nasrallah. “It is also to replace them with healthier unsaturated fats. That has more heart health benefits than cutting down or replacing them with foods of little nutritional value, like refined carbohydrates packed with added sugar.”
Sources of healthy unsaturated fats include:
Non-tropical vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and peanut oils
Nuts, including walnuts, pecans, and almonds
Seeds, like pumpkin, sesame, and flaxseed
Try to limit processed food
There is a simpler way to look at it, which has nothing to do with counting fats, saturated or otherwise.
That includes some of the most popular items around.
It helps to concentrate your energies on eating unprocessed, whole foods. “If you see ingredients on a label that your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize, don’t buy it,” Dr. Septimus says.
Helpful tips for lowering saturated fat
“You can still have some foods and beverages with saturated fats, just choose smaller portions or have them less often,” says Nasrallah.
Here are some healthy substitutions for saturated fats:
Choose lean meat and skinless poultry. Trim visible fat from meat and remove the skin from poultry.
Use oil (top choices are olive and canola) instead of butter.
Eat fatty fish instead of meat at least twice a week. Oily fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel) are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat.
Favor fruits and vegetables over processed foods
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