Over the years, fats have gotten a bad reputation for their supposed role in the development of heart disease and clogged arteries. Not all fat is dangerous, which is why cutting saturated fatty acids from your diet is not something you must necessarily be in a hurry to do.
Saturated fatty acids consist of chains of carbon atoms that are bonded to other chemical groups or atoms. Nothing can be added to these molecules without altering their chemical structure, a fact that makes them highly susceptible to damage from exposure to heat and air. Saturated fatty acids are found in a number of foods, particularly butter, fish, poultry, and lard. Some common forms of these acids include butyric (for which butter is named), lauric, myristic, stearic, and tridecylic.
Saturated fats have long been associated with an increase in heart disease, but emerging research indicates they are not as unhealthy as originally thought. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that saturated fatty acids have little or no effect on one’s risk of heart disease. Neither do monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which are often found in cooking oils. The real culprit when it comes to heart disease is trans fat, which is a leading ingredient in many fried foods. Trans fat is known to raise bad cholesterol levels while simultaneously lowering the amount of good cholesterol in the blood, thereby making heart disease more likely.
You are probably relieved to know that saturated fatty acids are not associated with heart disease. What you’ll enjoy hearing even more is the fact that these acids may also provide numerous health benefits. For example, saturated fat causes the liver to “dump” its fat cells, which in turn helps it function more efficiently. The saturated fat from butter and coconut can help to strengthen the immune system by encouraging white blood cells to destroy certain bacteria and viruses. Men who regularly consume saturated fatty acids may even see an increase in their free testosterone levels.
While saturated fatty acids can provide health benefits, it is important to note that all types of fat are high in calories. Gram for gram, saturated fat has more than twice the calories of carbohydrates or protein, meaning you should limit your intake when trying to lose weight. According to the American Heart Association, the way food is processed may determine how heart-healthy it is more so than the amount of saturated fatty acids it contains. They recommend limiting saturated fats and trans fats combined to no more than six percent of your total diet, and consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish on a regular basis.
When consumed in reasonable amounts, saturated fatty acids have little effect on the heart one way or another. So long as you monitor your total caloric intake and include a variety of healthy foods in your diet, you can enjoy them without feeling guilty about it.