Get ready for a hell of a confusing article titled “What is saturated fat and unsaturated fat?” This is something that I’ve wanted to write and about for a while now.
Everyday fats are portrayed as EVIL! “Hide your kid’s people!” But some smart folks have been saying that there is more than meets the eye on this topic.
Fat isn’t as simple as “bad” or “good” for us. You need to look open-mindedly at the whole picture.
The article revolves around the idea of what saturated fat does to our bodies is related to what else we eat and do.
Fats main function is as an energy store and we consume triglyceride lipid form from food sources mainly.
Triglycerides: one molecule of glycerol with three fatty acids attached to it.
The fatty acid tails (hydrocarbon structures) can be saturated (lack double bonds between neighboring carbons) and unsaturated (have double bond/s).
Saturated fat at room temp is a solid due to close packing of chains and unsaturated fat is a liquid (oil) due to chain kinks.
Unsaturated vegetable oils have double bonds in a “cis conformation” and hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to double bonds) of these unsaturated vegetable oils creates partially or fully hydrogenated saturated fats (lacking double bonds). This process converts the “cis double bonds” to trans double bond configuration (creating trans fatty acids).
Lipid hypothesis (must watch)
Types of Triglycerides
- Saturated (no double carbon=carbon bonds)
- Monounsaturated (fat molecule with 1 double carbon=carbon bond)
- Polyunsaturated (fat molecule with +1 single carbon-carbon bonds)
Saturated Fatty Acids tails can vary in length and the number of double bonds
- Butyric acid 4 carbon atoms in the fatty acid tail.
- Lauric acid 12 carbon atoms in the fatty acid tail.
- Myristic acid with 14 carbon atoms in the fatty acid tail.
- Palmitic acid with 16 carbon atoms in the fatty acid tail.
- Stearic acid with 18 carbon atoms in the fatty acid tail.
Example list of common fats
- Animal fats: (milk, meat, eggs, butter, cheese, lard, goose fat etc.)
- Tropical oils; (coconut and palm oil.)
- Olive oil.
- Omega 6: (Vegetable oils (soybean, sunflower, corn, peanut, and canola)
- Omega-3: (fish oil, flax seed oil etc.)
Trans-fat: margarine used in commercial backing and processed foods to prolong shelf life.
Side note: Read the back of your favorite “healthy” protein bar; you’ll be surprised how many have partially or fully hydrogenated vegetable oils.
A majority of people agree that these fats aren’t great, and removing artificially created forms from our diet will not cause side effects (only benefits). According to Poliquin they decrease insulin sensitivity, interfere with the body’s ability to absorb omega-3 fatty acids, interferes with the metabolism, increase body fat levels and cause inflammation.
The “General diet” and “Carbohydrate intake”
The average person eats too much heavily processed foods and carbohydrates. They are overweight, stressed out, lazy, and inflamed.
For them, it may be not so smart to eat high saturated fat amounts on top of massive caloric access from carbohydrates, especially from silly food sources (mmmm….highly processed kebabs and fried mars bars).
Lyle McDonald sums it up in a good way: there are no good or bad diets, only bad food choices, and depending on the individual, certain food choices may be detrimental.
Now look at someone who is healthy, working their ass off, watching what they eat, when they eat it, and how much of it – a higher saturated fat diet may not be “deadly”.
According to Dr. Jonny Bowden : In 2008, The American Society of Bariatric Physicians in conjunction with the Metabolism Society presented a conference in Arizona: “Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: What’s the Evidence”?
The best minds summed up the whole issue to “What’s the evidence?” for you in two words: Not much.”
When on a low fat (ketogenic) diet, you need to consume a higher fat amount to replace the loss of calories from carbohydrate sources. Higher carbohydrate diets need the fat benefits but not so high to skyrocket your caloric intake and knock your protein and carb intake/ratio out of whack.
A cool thing to look at is tribes that have lived for many years on high fat/low carb diets but have low heart disease incidents. When they start consuming a carbohydrate rich and heavily processed western diet, they get fat at a phenomenal rate – and a whole host of health issues surfaces. They have lived for centuries as hunter gatherers and their genome has evolved on such diets.
A great in-depth watch on the issue with a great historic layout of research over the years: Enjoy Eating Saturated Fats: They’re Good for You. Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D.
Fatty Acid Groups
Less than 6 carbons are called short chain fatty acids and are usually saturated. Like Butyric acid (found in butter) which is taken up directly to the portal vein in the digestion process.
Human intestinal bacteria ferment non-starch polysaccharides (a dietary fiber constituent) to short-chain fatty acids and one of them is butyrate (maintains normal colonocyte population). Colonocytes metabolize these fatty acids and this process maintains normal bowel function via many mechanisms (Topping and Clifton, 2001.)
Medium chain fatty acids (6 to 12 carbons) and are found in tropical oils and butter fat. The fitness industry recently has been going mad over them especially coconut oil. Medium chain triglycerides (saturated fat) can bypass the liver and can be used as a fuel source during exercise (pre-workout shake?)
When carbohydrates are low (insulin is low) the liver converts the fat stores of triglycerides (from adipose tissue) into glycerol and free fatty acids which are used for β-oxidation. Fatty acids are then converted into ketone bodies which can be used by the brain, muscles and other organs as an energy source over glucose. Medium chain triglycerides can produce more ketones than other dietary fats (long chain triglycerides)
Long chain fatty acids (14-18 carbons).
Very Long Chain Fatty Acids (20-24 carbons).
Most of these fats are unsaturated like EPA (20 carbons long and are essential fatty acids) and DHA. These include human essential fatty acids like ALA (omega-3) and linoleic (omega-6).
They have some amazing effects and should be the first thing people use to supplement their diet with (they deserve an article own their own).
What are EPA/DHA? By Dr. Hoffman.
US Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fat Consumption over the Last Century on Stephan Guyenets blog.
The Truth About Prescription Fish Oil by Mike Roussell, PhD.
Saturated Fat Benefits
- Higher amounts of saturated fat in diets may increase free testosterone levels (especially in strength training athletes). Extreme reduction in fat intake may reduce testosterone production (people especially men now have low test levels).
- Saturated fats, like lauric acid (found in coconut oil) and myristic acid (butter) can help to beef up the immune system.
- Saturated fat in the diet can help the overworked liver. And trust me we need every help we can get. The liver is working overtime in today’s society (toxins, drug detoxification, alcohol, etc.)
- Saturated fat can help decrease cardiovascular risk (wow, right?) by decreasing lipoprotein (a) – which has been linked to heart disease , and by fats raising the levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
John Meadows says “Increased size of LDL particles —research supports that the larger particles are not as atherogenic as the smaller pattern “B” particles.
Saturated fat can slightly increase LDL, but it also enlarges the particles. Jeff Volek’s research demonstrated a 10% reduction in smaller particles, and this was with people increasing their fat consumption and decreasing their carb consumption.”
6 Key Points to Take Home
- Eating fat, including cholesterol, doesn’t always raise cholesterol blood levels.
- You can say that some saturated fats are “good” and “bad” in a way. The same goes for the unsaturated camp, the smart thing to do is look at individual fatty acids.
- Intake of high glycemic carbohydrates and saturated fatty acids may not be the greatest thing for your heart health.
- There will be always new research and our understanding will change with time.
- You can find a study to always prove your point (this is such a misunderstood point its crazy).
- When dealing with complex organisms like humans, there aren’t black and white answers, take people with caution who do so.
To end this post like my grandma always says “moderation is the shit boy”.
If you have enjoyed the article share it with you chums and if I have missed something out drop me a comment bellow.