Saturated Fat: Good or Bad?
Saturated fat is bad for you, everyone knows that right?
Guess what. That is now outdated and false information.
Saturated fat is claimed to raise cholesterol levels and give us heart attacks. However… many recent studies suggest that the true picture is more complicated than that.
What is Saturated Fat?
“Fats” are macronutrients.
That is, nutrients that we consume in large amounts and give us energy.
Each fat molecule is made of one glycerol molecule and three fatty acids… which can be either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
What this “saturation” stuff has to do with, is the number of double bonds in the molecule.
Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds, monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond and polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds.
Another way to phrase this, is that saturated fatty acids have all their carbon (C) atoms fully “saturated” with hydrogen (H) atoms.
Actually, “fats” contain a combination of different fatty acids. No fat is pure saturated fat, or pure mono- or polyunsaturated.
Even foods like beef also contain a significant amount of mono- and polyunsaturated fats (1).
Like other fats, saturated fat contains 9 calories per gram.
Why do People Think That it is Harmful?
Back in the 20th century, there was a major epidemic of heart disease running rampant in America.
It used to be a rare disease, but very quickly it skyrocketed and became the number one cause of death… which it still is (2).
Researchers learned that eating saturated fat seemed to increase levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
This was an important finding at the time, because they also knew that having high cholesterol was linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
This led to the following assumption being made:
If saturated fat raises cholesterol (A causes B) and cholesterol causes heart disease (B causes C), then this must mean that saturated fat causes heart disease (A causes C).
However, at the time, this was not based on any experimental evidence in humans.
This hypothesis (called the “diet-heart hypothesis”) was based on assumptions, observational data and animal studies (3).
Even though we now have plenty of experimental data in humans showing these initial assumptions to be wrong, people are still being told to avoid saturated fat in order to reduce heart disease risk.
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