We often hear about good fats and bad fats which can have various effects on the health and functioning of the body. These fast are part of the every day diet and are unavoidable. Most foods have fats, even if it is not oily or greasy. Fats are necessary in small quantities but just as important is the type of fat that is consumed.
Saturated Fat is the Bad Fat
Saturated fat is well known as being a ‘bad’ fat. These fats are considered to be ‘bad’ due to the adverse effects it has on the body. Saturated fats raise a type of cholestrol known as LDL cholersterol. This is the ‘bad’ cholesterol which contributes to fatty plaques in the wall of arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis. Saturated fats are found in higher quantities in meat, dairy and certain nut oils.
Trans Fat is the Other Bad Fat
The other bad fat is known as trans fat. Similar to saturated fats, it raises the level of LDL cholesterol while reducing HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol). This ‘good’ cholesterol helps to remove the ‘bad’ cholesterol from the bloodstream. Trans fats are found mainly in hydrogentated oils or fats. This is where vegetable oil hardens, like in fried foods and baked goods as well as margarine.
Read more on saturated fats and trans fats.
Risks with Saturated Fats
Bad fats cannot always be avoided entirely. Small amounts of bad fats should not be a cause for concern. However, a diet that is high in bad fats and particularly when consumed or a daily or regular basis can be a serious health risk. These risks are linked to both saturated and trans fats but even very large quantities of ‘good’ fats like unsaturated fats can also be a problem.
Various studies have confirmed that high consumption of bad fats can contribute to the following diseases:
- Heart attacks
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
The correlation is largely associated with high blood cholesterol levels which tend to occur with consuming more ‘bad’ fats. The narrowed arteries that occurs as a result of the fatty plaques in its walls limits blood flow. It impairs blood supply and therefore oxygen to certain organs. Eventually a blood clot can block the narrowed artery thereby cutting off blood supply to a specific area.
However, excessive consumption of any fats can contribute to other diseases, like obesity. This occurs because fat has more calories ounce for ounce than other foods. A high fat diet can lead to obesity which in turn increases the risk of various diseases that are not due to atherosclerosis, such as with cancer.
Read more on obesity and cancer risk.
List of Saturated Fat Foods
As previously mentioned, saturated fats are not entirely ‘bad’. However, only a small quantity should be consumed. In the modern diet, saturated fats are abundant in various foods. Many people therefore exceed the recommended limit. The problem is not just with a single food. The collective intake of saturated fat from various foods raises the risk of high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol.
According to dietary guidelines, a person should not get more than 10% of their totaly daily calorie intake from saturated fats. As most adults require approximately 2,000 calories (women) or 2,500 calories (men) in a day, saturated fats should account for approximately 200 to 250 of these calories. That roughly equates to about 22 grams of saturated fat daily.
However, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that the saturated fats should not account for more than 7% of total daily calorie intake or approximately 15 grams of saturated fat.
One of the foods that is the biggest contributor to dietary saturated fats is meat. It applies to other forms as animal protein as well, such as eggs and dairy. All meat has some saturated fat in it. However, some meats and meat products may have much higher quantities of saturated fat ounce for ounce than other meats.
Even less commonly eaten meats like bison has high levels of saturated fat, although it may not be as high as beef. Some cuts of meat like chicken breast or pork loin has lower quantities of fat. Furthermore, eating meats like chicken with the skin can significantly increase saturated fat content. Fish like salmon have far lower levels of saturated fat and is therefore recommended as a protein source.
Dairy and Eggs
Whole milk and full fat dairy are high in saturated fat. Low fat or fat free diary is the healthier diary option. Eggs are often implicated as a major source of saturated fats. However, it should be noted that the egg yolks are more often the problem than the ‘whites’. Therefore whole milk or full fat diary and egg yolks should be avoided.
- Egg yolks
Contrary to popular belief, milk from plant foods is not always free of saturated fat. Soy and coconut milk are high in saturated fats than other alternative like almond milkd. However, these plant ‘milks’ usually have lower saturated fat than animal milk and dairy.
Oils and Fats
Oils and fats are are often highlighted for its high saturated fat levels but not all oils and fats are the same in this regard. It is important to note that small amounts of certain oils and fats are not harmful and is even necessary for health. However, the following oils and fats should be avoided due to its higher saturated fat content.
- Any animal fat such as pork fat (lard), beef fat (tallow or suet) and even chicken fat.
- Palm and palm-kernel oil
- Coconut oil
- Soybean oil
It is important to note that any oil or fat that is solid at room temperature is often high in saturated fats. Apart from the oils and fats mentioned above, other oils may not be entirely free of health risks. Hydrogenated and even partially hydrogenated oils are often the problem. However, even vegetable oil may be a problem as it can be high in trans fats, another ‘bad’ fat.
Processed, Fried and Junk Foods
All of these foods are often high in saturated fats. It may not always be about the content of saturated fat in the raw food but the cooking method also makes a difference. For example frying even skinless chicken breast can increase saturated fat content in the food. There are too many of these processed, friend and junk foods to mention as being a problem with saturated fats.
- Hot dogs
- Burger patties
- Fried meats, including fried chicken
- Baked goods, like cakes, cookies, donuts, pastries and croissants
It is always important to read the food packaging label as the saturated fat content can vary among different brands.