Saturated fats are often thought of as the bad fats but you may be surprised to learn that we need a limited amount of them in our diet. Read on to find out more.
Fats from both animal and vegetable sources play an important role in the diet. They provide a concentrated source of energy, provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances, and help to slow down absorption. They also act as carriers for the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and are necessary for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A. They also help with mineral absorption and a variety of other processes in the body. We all need fats, but not all fats are created equal. Some fats are good for our health while others increase the risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol as well as LDL, the bad cholesterol. They are mainly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood, but some plant foods are also high in saturated fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.
However saturated fats do have some benefits. These include:
• Making up at least 50 percent of the cell membranes, giving the cells stiffness and integrity.
• Helping calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure – at least 50 percent of the dietary fats should be saturated to achieve this.
• Lowering Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.
• Protecting the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
• Boosting the immune system.
• Necessary for the proper utilisation of essential fatty acids.
Fats are not only classified according to their saturation but also by their length. Short chain fatty acids have four to six carbon atoms and are always saturated. These fats have antimicrobial properties and are directly absorbed for quick energy. They also contribute to the health of the immune system. Medium chain fatty acids have eight to twelve carbon atoms and are found mostly in butterfat and tropical oils. Like the short chain fatty acids, they have antimicrobial properties, are absorbed directly for quick energy, and contribute to the health of the immune system. Long chain fatty acids have from fourteen to eighteen carbon atoms and can be either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Stearic acid is a fatty acid found mainly in beef and mutton tallows. Oleic acid is monounsaturated and the main component of olive oil. Palmitoleic acid is monounsaturated and has strong antimicrobial properties. It is found almost exclusively in animal fats. Very long chain fatty acids have twenty to twenty-four carbon atoms and tend to be highly unsaturated.
It is recommended that less than seven percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fats. For example, if you need 2000 calories per day, no more than 140 calories should come from saturated fats. This works out to about 16 grams of saturated fats per day.