Yes, you read the title right – saturated fat is good for you.
Unfortunately, this type of fat has an undeserved reputation for ‘clogging arteries’ in the nutrition world.
However, there are many ways in which saturated fats are good for our health.
This article will explain nine of these reasons and expose some widespread myths.
1. Saturated Fats Are Not Bad For the Heart
The idea that saturated fat is inherently bad for the heart is a myth based on poor science.
At this instant, that myth is still alive (although slowly dying).
As for the question “does saturated fat cause heart disease?”, the answer is a firm no.
In fact, the consequences of replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrate have been disastrous for millions of people around the world.
The twin health destroyers known as obesity and diabetes are rampant. Diabetes rates have doubled in the past 20 years, and more than 115 million Americans now have diabetes (6).
It’s also interesting to note that the obesity rates started rising in 1980. This rapid increase came soon after the so-called “war” on saturated fat following the first release of dietary guidelines in 1980 (7, 8).
What Did These Guidelines Advise?
These guidelines told us to shun animal fats and flock to carbohydrate and refined omega-6 seed oils. Despite the American Heart Association promoting them, these vegetable oils are a terrible substitute for saturated fat.
In short, a diet low in saturated fat does not reduce the risk for heart disease – it may even increase it.
2. Raise HDL Cholesterol Levels
Sticking with the heart health theme, you may have heard that saturated fats are “bad for cholesterol.”
If you don’t know much about cholesterol, that may sound scary. But the truth is that “bad for cholesterol” or “increase cholesterol” are pretty meaningless terms.
When it comes to cholesterol and heart disease, the biggest risk factor is not ‘high cholesterol.’
The most compelling evidence from recent research suggests that the triglyceride to HDL ratio is what we should be looking at.
- There has long been a belief that the traditional idea of “good cholesterol” (HDL) vs. “bad cholesterol” (LDL) is sub-optimal as a risk factor (11).
- In a study involving 374 human participants, the ratio of triglycerides to HDL was the strongest predictor of extensive coronary heart disease (12).
- A further 2015 study showed that the triglycerides to HDL marker is the best independent predictor of cardiovascular mortality (13).
- The presence of high levels of triglycerides and low circulating HDL has a strong relationship with (and is even predictive of) insulin resistance. Notably, insulin resistance is also a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (14).
The Good News
The good news is that while diets higher in saturated fat might increase overall cholesterol, they also increase HDL levels.
Also, when people reduce their carbohydrate intake they usually see their triglyceride levels drop to normal levels.
3. Saturated Fats Are Good For High Heat Cooking
As well as being healthy, saturated fatty acids are the most stable of all fats and highly resistant to heat-induced oxidation (15).
As a result, they are one of the very best fats for frying and other high-heat cooking methods.
Sadly, far too many people use vegetable oils for this, but in truth, they are something which shouldn’t be anywhere near your kitchen.
Vegetable oils are extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids which are the least heat-resistant of all fats. Research indicates that cooking with them shows that they form significant amounts of oxidation products (16, 17).
So if you’re looking for some high heat oils, some of the best options are:
- Coconut oil
- Red palm oil
4. Good For Satiety
Starting the day with a bowl of fruit loops might be good for young children to learn colors, but it’s a terrible idea for their health.
And it’s bad for satiety. Eating a bowl of random powders (sugar, flour, flavorings) mixed with vegetable oils will leave you feeling hungry an hour or two later.
This feeling is due to the rapid rise (and fall) in blood sugar that refined carbohydrates cause (20).
And for anyone struggling with their body shape, carb cravings are particularly damaging to weight loss regimes.
A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrate is central to these constant hunger pangs that many people experience.
How Does Fat Help?
Do you always overindulge on foods like bread and cookies? Or get moody when you can’t eat for a few hours? Many people do.
However, stopping these carb cravings requires a lifestyle shift and a healthier eating pattern.
And this is where fat comes in. Compared to sugar and refined carbohydrate, fats leave you feeling satiated—especially when part of a protein source. Additionally, many foods which are high in fat also contain protein, which is the most satiating of all three macronutrients (21, 22).
This fact shows why a breakfast of eggs is optimal for feeling full (23).
5. Saturated Fats Are Rich in Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Saturated fat-containing foods are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence.
Therefore, it’s important to eat enough of these foods to ensure adequate fat-soluble vitamin intake.
Specifically, the fat-soluble vitamin levels are higher (34).
6. Saturated Fat is Much Healthier Than Sugar and Refined Carbohydrate
When we remove saturated fat from our diet, it needs replacing.
Following the first dietary guidelines which advised restricting saturated fats, a whole industry of low-fat processed foods sprang up.
What did these foods contain?
Typically, they were (and still are) full of sugar and cheap, simple carbohydrates such as wheat and corn flour.
Packaged meals and sugary snacks were suddenly everywhere, proudly stating that they are “fat-free” on the label.
But these foods are some of the very worst examples of carbohydrate, and supposedly ‘healthy’ replacements such as agave syrup are just as bad.
Sugar and Refined Carbs: Enemies of Health
The truth is that refined carbs and simple sugars destroy health on a mass scale. In particular, recent studies show that:
- Associations between added sugar and cardiovascular risk are present at levels far below current consumption among US children (35).
- Replacement of saturated fat with refined grains has adverse effects on insulin secretion and leads to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (36, 37, 38).
Saturated Fat Promotes Good Health
In contrast, saturated fat is beneficial for the body and tends to improve most of these risk factors.
Replacing natural sources of fat with excessive carbohydrate has been a disaster, and studies show that:
- Carbohydrate restriction improves weight loss, insulin sensitivity, and cardiovascular risk factors more than fat restriction does (39).
- Short-term weight loss studies show that low-carbohydrate diets work better than low-fat diets, and improve most CVD risk factors (40).
- An intervention study shows that a low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing weight than a diet low in saturated fat. Testing a low-carb diet against the Diabetes UK official recommendations, these results were the same in both diabetic and non-diabetic people (41).
- A randomized controlled trial compared a low-carb, high-fat weight loss intervention against a low-fat one. The low-carb, high-fat group lost more weight, improved health markers, and fewer side effects than the low-fat group did (42).
7. Saturated Fat is Part of the Natural Human Diet
To be specific, evidence shows that humans began to incorporate meat into our evolutionary diet at least 2.6 million years ago and we’ve well adapted to being carnivores (44).
And saturated fat is a prominent fixture in animals foods; whether it’s meat, dairy, or eggs- all contain a good amount.
To sum up, on an evolutionary timescale we’ve been hunter-gatherers who consume saturated fat for a long, long time. As a result, the modern high-carb, low-fat diet is quite a contrast to our evolutionary foods.
And perhaps this explains the recent epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease?
It certainly doesn’t make much sense to blame these relatively new diseases on old foods such as meat and natural fat.
8. Important For a Healthy Brain
It’s not just our body, but also the brain that needs saturated fat.
In fact, saturated fat is one of the essential components in (and for building) our brain cells. This fact makes a lot of sense when we consider that our brain is almost 60% fat (47).
Also, there is a wealth of emerging science regarding saturated fats (and fat in general) and brain health.
Some exciting research shows:
- Ketogenic diets that are high in saturated fat offer benefits in treating and managing epilepsy (48, 49, 50).
- Saturated fats appear to have neuroprotective effects on the brain and are protective against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (51, 52, 53).
- Replacing fat with high amounts of carbohydrate may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A significant amount of recent research suggests that Alzheimer’s is insulin resistance of the brain, or ‘type 3 diabetes’ (54, 55, 56).
Overall, saturated fat helps the brain to function at its optimum.
9. May Help With Weight Loss
Another statement that might raise a few eyebrows – but it’s true.
First of all, there’s a crucial point to be aware of.
A diet high in saturated fat has an extremely different effect depending on the amount of carbohydrate present.
For example, a diet that is low in carbs and also high in saturated fat will likely lead to plasma saturated fat levels falling.
And presuming the amount of food is reasonable, then weight loss should naturally follow too.
On the other hand, a diet containing high amounts of both carbohydrate and saturated fat is a terrible idea. Carbohydrate causes blood sugar levels to spike, which increases insulin secretion (57).
When our body releases insulin, it instructs our body to stop burning fat and to burn glucose as a priority. Furthermore, insulin drives the fat storage of free fatty acids in the blood (58).
So, if we have high insulin levels and a large amount of fat in our blood, then fat storage and weight gain is the logical outcome.
On the other hand, low levels of insulin alongside a high fat intake shouldn’t result in fat storage.
Saturated Fat is Good For You
Saturated fat has been a natural part of the human diet for millions of years, so it’s no surprise that it has health benefits.
As part of a healthy overall diet, there’s nothing to fear about naturally-occurring saturated fat in food.
It has some health benefits, and the foods that contain it are some of the tastiest things on earth.
However, one caveat…
All the studies showing lack of harm from saturated fat are based on typical diets and reasonable intakes.
Just because a typical intake of saturated fatty acids is unlikely to cause harm doesn’t mean we should consume as much of it as we can.