6 Common Misconceptions About Saturated Fats
Fat is a macronutrient that is essential to your health.
It does not, on its own, make you fat 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 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, don’t provide your body with the optimal fuel it needs. The right amount of fats that come from whole, natural sources, do.
The debate over saturated fat
One type of fat that has become a hot topic is saturated fat.
Saturated fat is found in animal-based protein such as red meat and poultry and in full-fat dairy like butter and cream. It is also found in coconuts, coconut oil and dark chocolate.
Here’s an easy way to know if a fat is saturated. Think of butter, coconut oil and bacon grease. When these foods are at room temperature, they tend to be solid. This is why we’ve been told saturated fats are the main cause of clogged arteries.
But it’s not that simple.
When it comes to fat and saturated fats, there are misconceptions that prompt many of us to steer clear of these macronutrients. While it is recommended to limit consumption of saturated fat, there are several other sources of fat that are great nutrient sources for your body.
Here are 6 of the most common misconceptions:
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 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 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 belief that eating saturated fat is like clogging 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, chronic inflammation responds positively to a Mediterranean-style diet in some people. 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 that the sugar content increases. This can cause inflammation, weight gain and changes to your blood sugar levels.
You might also find yourself having less vitamin absorption and missing out on some essential fatty acids.
Instead of choosing fat-free or low-fat packaged foods, try choosing a combination of whole foods that are naturally lower in fat as well as healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.
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 attack, stroke, cancer and other health issues.
However, 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: Avoid eating eggs
Depending on your genes, eggs may be an excellent, whole source of protein for you. They contain healthy minerals and nutrients including vitamins A and D, and key B vitamins.
However, we’ve 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) And eggs consistently raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. In fact, for 70% of people, there is no increase in total or LDL cholesterol or an increased risk of heart disease. (5)
Saturated fat and your body
Our individual risk for disease and the foods our bodies respond best to are based in 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 whole-body science 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.
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