Is saturated fat good for you?
Arguably one of the most controversial nutrients, fats, has been riding the health rollercoaster for decades. After spending years on the naughty nutrition list, fat is making a comeback.
Both meat and plant-based foods contain fats. You will find dietary fat is found in two forms: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Most fats contain a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats in different proportions.
Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature found in foods such as:
– Coconut and coconut oil
– Meat such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and turkey
– Dairy products (dairy, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream)
– Lard (animal fat)
Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature found in foods such as:
– Olives and olive oil
– vegetable oils such as canola, grapeseed, and avocado
– Nuts and seeds
– Fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Is Saturated Fat Good For You?
Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules and contain only single bonds between carbon molecules.
Often listed as “bad” fats, health organizations recommend keeping saturated fat intake low to lower heart disease risks and to promote overall health. Despite these recommendations, we have seen a dramatic rise in cardiovascular disease rates in the last 40 years.
Current research shows conflicting results regarding the effects of saturated fat on the incidence of heart disease. Some studies show that saturated fat does increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, while others show that saturated fat intake may have a neutral or even protective effect, pointing to the role of excessive refined sugar and carbohydrate intake as the main cause of heart disease risk instead.
Is Coconut Oil A Good Source of Saturated Fat?
Coconut oil has been heralded as the newest superfood – promising to aid in weight loss, cure disease, and even prevent cavities. Conventional wisdom tells us that a diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. In contrast, some studies have shown that coconut oil has a protective effect on heart health.
In combination with exercise, coconut oil has been associated with weight loss and, specifically, fat loss. In comparison, opposing studies show that coconut oil may increase blood cholesterol and contribute to weight gain.
Contradicting findings may exist around the health effects of coconut oil and saturated fats because variables in age, level of exercise, body condition, pre-existing health conditions, and genetics play a role in the outcome of the study subjects. Therefore, it is difficult to provide a precise guideline for saturated fat intake. The ideal quantity may differ largely from person to person.
Why Your Genetics Matter When it Comes To Saturated Fat
Our genetic makeup determines how our body processes and reacts to certain nutrients. For instance, the APOA2 gene plays a critical role in the fat-burning process. Variations in this gene have a higher risk of obesity if saturated fat intake is greater than 22 grams per day.
Other genetic factors may affect how your body breaks down fatty acid and triacylglycerol production. For example, variations in the ACSL1 gene may influence the risk of metabolic syndrome due to disturbances in fatty acid metabolism.
Your tolerance to saturated fat may be impacted by how well your genes metabolize and process dietary fats. Luckily, we now have easy access to DNA testing that can provide personalized insights on the diet that is right for you.
7 Nutritionist-Approved Ways To Add Healthy Fats To Your Diet
While we recommend using genetic analysis to determine your body’s ability to process saturated fats, you can start introducing healthy fats into your diet with a few of these nutritionist-approved tips!
- Eat 1-2 servings of fish per week (1 serving of fish is about the size of your palm). Unfortunately, fish and chips don’t count! Deep-frying destroys the beneficial properties of the fatty acid found in fresh fish. The best way to prepare fish is to steam or bake it.
- A plant-based alternative to fish is 1 tbsp of chia seeds per day, ¼ cup walnuts per day, 2 tbsp of flaxseed oil per day or omega-3 supplements derived from algae sources.
- Try ¼ cup raw and unsalted nuts or seeds as a snack – they’re a good source of unsaturated fats, and they are high in fibre and protein.
- We recommend including more unsaturated fats into your diet. With the exception of choosing fats for cooking. Cook with saturated fats such as coconut oil, butter, and ghee. Saturated fats have a higher smoke point than unsaturated fats (ie. olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil) and are more tolerant to heat exposure than unsaturated fats.
- Olive oil is a form of unsaturated fat that is best used as a salad dressing, drizzled over cooked dishes or soups. This way of preparation preserves the beneficial properties of the fats found in olive oil.
- Trim visible fat off of meats. Choose lean cuts often.
- Add half an avocado to your meal for a good source of fibre and healthy fats to keep you feeling full for longer.
Historically, there has been a lot of debate around the health effects of saturated fats. For years, scientists have claimed that saturated fat is one of the leading causes of bad cholesterol, stroke and heart disease. Recent studies have proven otherwise, pointing to the role of excessive refined sugar and carbohydrate intake as the main cause of increased heart disease risk.
Contradicting findings may be a result of variables such as age, pre-existing health conditions, varying levels of exercise and genetic makeup.
Specific genetic variations affect how well fats are processed in the body. Determining your genetic makeup may provide guidance on whether saturated fat is good for you or not, and in what quantity.