Fat is a macronutrient that is essential to our health.
It does not, on its own, make you gain weight or increase your risk of a heart attack.
Your body produces and stores fat from the excess calories you consume. Fat gives you energy, helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals, produces hormones, and protects your cells and nerves. Some types of fat even help keep inflammation at bay.
That being said, there are different types of fat. And the ones that come from highly processed sources, or the ones you grab from the local fast-food joint, typically don’t provide your body with the optimal fuel it needs. Instead of reaching for these easy but unhealthy sources of fat, lean on science-based nutrition to tell you which fats are preferable.
Personalized Nutrition Experts Discuss Saturated Fat
One type of fat that has become a hot topic in the world of nutrigenomics is saturated fat.
Saturated fat is found in animal-based proteins such as red meat and poultry, and in full-fat dairy like butter and cream. It can also be found in coconuts, coconut oil, and dark chocolate.
Here’s an easy way to tell if a fat is saturated. If it’s at room temperature, saturated fats tend to be solid like butter, coconut oil, or bacon grease. This is why we’ve been told that saturated fats are the main cause of clogged arteries.
However, it’s not that simple.
When it comes to fats and saturated fats, there are misconceptions that prompt many of us to steer clear of these macronutrients. While it is recommended to limit your consumption of saturated fat, there are several other sources of fat that are great nutrient sources for your body. Lumping saturated and unsaturated sources of fat together and avoiding both will rob you of essential nutrients your body needs.
To help you understand how you should be eating saturated fats, let’s discuss the 6 most common misconceptions surrounding this macronutrient.
Misconception 1: Fats makes you fat
All fats are high in calories. But your body, depending on your genetic makeup, needs a certain amount of fat to function.
Embrace this key macronutrient by balancing your fat intake with other whole foods from your personalized food list.
Be sure to incorporate the advice of your physician and the latest research from well-established institutions offering science-based nutrition advice, such as the American Heart Association.
Misconception 2: Fats are pure
Fats contain a combination of different fatty acids. No source of fat is pure saturated fat, or pure mono- or polyunsaturated fat. Even foods like red meat contain a significant amount of both mono- and polyunsaturated fats. (1)
Misconception 3: All researchers agree that saturated fats are the primary cause of heart disease
An article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine provided a different take on the common belief that eating saturated fat clogs your arteries like grease clogs a pipe.
According to the research team, "It is time to shift the public health message to the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease. Instead of focusing on lowering blood fats and cutting out dietary saturated fats, the importance of eating ‘real’ food, partaking in regular physical activity, and minimizing stress, should all be emphasized.” (3)
However, scientific research does show that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, some people may be able to limit chronic inflammation by following a Mediterranean-style diet. This diet consists of monounsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, oily fish, and nuts. These fats stay in their liquid form when they are at room temperature.
Misconception 4: Diets high in low or non-fat foods are healthier
If you try to avoid fat by opting for highly processed foods that are labeled as low-fat or fat-free, you will likely find yourself eating more sugar. This can cause inflammation, weight gain, and changes to your blood sugar levels.
You might also find yourself experiencing poor vitamin absorption, which can lead to you missing out on some essential fatty acids.
Instead of choosing fat-free or low-fat packaged foods, try to choose a combination of whole foods that are naturally lower in fat, as well as foods with plenty of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Misconception 5: Saturated fats are harmful to cook with
From a heat resistance standpoint, saturated fats, including coconut oil, lard, and butter add flavor and are highly resistant to heat.
This means that they will not oxidize easily when they're heated, which is beneficial for cooking. Oxidation creates free radicals which can cause damage that raises our risk for heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other health issues.
You should always keep in mind that the American Heart Association does recommend consuming a limited amount of saturated fat. You may want to use oils that are rich in mono- or polyunsaturated fats, such as canola oil, light olive oil, or avocado oil. Each of these also has a high smoke point, so they will not easily oxidize when heated.
Consult your physician or a registered dietitian for more information about which type of fats you should regularly use for cooking.
Misconception 6: You should avoid eating eggs
Depending on your genes, eggs may be an excellent whole source of protein. They contain healthy minerals and nutrients including Vitamins A and D, and key B vitamins.
However, many of us have been told to limit our consumption of eggs, more specifically egg yolks, because they are high in cholesterol. In reality, your liver produces large amounts of cholesterol. For most people, eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs signals your liver to produce less.
Long-term population studies show that eating an egg a day hasn't been linked to higher rates of heart attack or stroke. (4) Eggs also consistently raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In fact, for 70% of people, there is no increase in total or LDL cholesterol, or an increased risk of heart disease when they eat eggs. (5)
Saturated fat and your body
Our individual risk for disease and the foods our bodies respond to best are based on the study of nutrigenomics.
This is the relationship between the human genome, nutrition, and health. Variants in your genes can lead to drastic differences in the way your body processes food. They influence how you metabolize nutrients such as fat, and how you absorb certain vitamins and minerals.
We use this science-based nutrition research to determine what you should eat based on how your body will respond.
Click below to learn how this science can be used to personalize your nutrition and protect your health. You can also sign up today to get a personalized DNA nutrition test, so you can learn exactly how your body handles individual nutrients like saturated fats.
1. Healthline.com, Saturated Fat: Good or Bad?
2. MayoClinic.org, Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
3. MedicalNewsToday.com, Artery-Clogging Saturated Fat Myth Debunked
4. MayoClinic.com, Don’t Get Tricked by These 3 Heart-Health Myths
5. Healthline.com, How Many Eggs Should You Eat?
6. Healthline.com, 10 High-Fat Foods That Are Actually Super Healthy