Is Saturated Fat Good For Health?
Time and again the health and nutrition police have brought saturated fat under the scanner. Claims have been made that saturated fat is unhealthy as it raises cholesterol and causes heart attacks. Studies have been done that have a different story to tell. Let’s have a look into fats.
About saturated fat
Fat is a macronutrient. They are an essential part of our diet. Foods high in saturated fat are the following:
- fatty meats
- full-fat milk products like butter and cream
- coconut oil
- palm oil
- dark chocolate
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (like butter) whereas unsaturated fats are liquid (like olive oil). Saturated fat offers 9 calories per gram.
Why has it been thought to be harmful?
It was found that saturated fat raises cholesterol and it was also found that cholesterol leads to heart disease. So people came to the conclusion that saturated fat causes heart diseases. This conclusion was not based on a human experiment! This assumption of ‘saturated fat being a major cause of heart disease’ is being found to be wrong by many studies carried out on humans. But people still are under the impression that saturated fat is bad for the heart!
Saturated fat does raise cholesterol- not only the bad but also the good one
The word ‘cholesterol’ is immediately linked to heart disease. Actually we have been a bit ignorant when it comes to cholesterol. The good cholesterol HDL and the bad cholesterol LDL are actually proteins that carry cholesterol around the body.
Saturated fat was found to raise LDL levels so scientists thought that it is bad for the heart. What they did not see is that saturated fat also raises HDL (the good cholesterol).
Latest research also says that LDL is not that bad. There are two types of LDL:
- Small and dense LDL
- Large LDL
Small and dense LDL is more harmful as it penetrates the walls of the artery and cause heart disease. On the other hand, Large LDL being big and fluffy can’t penetrate the arteries.
People with more small LDL particles have 3 times greater risk of heart disease when compared to those with more large LDL particles in their body. In order to reduce the risk of heart disease, we should be having a majority of large LDL particles and as few of the small ones as possible.
Do you know that if you eat saturated fat, the LDL particle change from small to large? This implies is that even if saturated fat mildly raises LDL, it is changing the LDL to a heart friendly subtype that is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease.
In a nutshell, saturated fats don’t seem to be harming the heart like previously assumed. The association between saturated fat and heart disease has been studied tremendously for decades, but even the largest and best studies say that there is no statistically significant association between saturated fat and heart disease.
Benefits of using saturated fats for cooking:
- They are resistant to damage induced due to heat. This makes coconut oil and butter good for cooking and particularly for frying.
- The food that is naturally high in saturated fat that is healthy provided it is unprocessed.
There are certain bad fats that you must avoid
You need to be careful with polyunsaturated fats that have both Omega 3 and Omega 6. There has to be a balance in the consumption of both. It has been found that we are consuming more of Omega 6s. Omega 3s are good for us and are found in fatty fish/flax seeds but at the same time you should be cautious about your Omega 6 consumption. Another harmful fat is trans-fat. It is made by hydrogenation of vegetable oil (vanaspati ghee). Just be wary of these fats and you are safe!
So, are you ready to include a bit of saturated fat in your diet?
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