What is Saturated Fat?

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is a type of dietray fat where all the fatty acids have single bonds. Most animal fats are saturated while that from plants and fish are generally unsaturated. Saturated fats have a higher melting point and tend to be solids at body temperatures while unsaturated fats tend to be liquid.

Fat is formed from two kinds of smaller molecules: monoglyceride and fatty acids in long chains of carbon atoms. Some carbon atoms are linked by single bonds and others are linked by double bonds. Double bonds can react with hydrogen to form single bonds. They are called saturated, because the second bond is broken and each half of the bond is attached to a hydrogen atom.

Foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat cream, cheese, butter, other whole milk dairy products and fatty meats. Some plant based products such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil also high saturated fat content.

Fat Profiles

Saturated fatty acids appear in different proportions in different food groups. Lauric acid and myristic acid are commonly found in "tropical" oils such as palm kernel and coconut oil, and in dairy products. The saturated fat in meat, eggs, cacao, and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic acid and stearic acid.

Fat Profiles

Food Saturated Mono-unsaturated Poly-unsaturated
As weight percent (%) of total fat
Cooking oils
Canola oil 8 64 28
Corn oil 13 24 59
Olive oil 7 78 15
Sunflower oil 11 20 69
Soybean oil 15 24 58
Peanut oil 17 46 32
Rice bran oil 25 38 37
Coconut oil 87 13 1
Dairy products
Cheese, regular 64 29 3
Cheese, light 60 30 0
Milk, whole 62 28 4
Milk, 2% 62 30 0
Ice cream, gourmet 62 29 4
Ice cream, light 62 29 4
Beef 33 38 5
Ground sirloin 38 44 4
Pork chop 35 44 8
Ham 35 49 16
Chicken breast 29 34 21
Chicken 34 23 30
Turkey breast 30 20 30
Turkey drumstick 32 22 30
Fish, orange roughy 23 15 46
Salmon 28 33 28
Hot dog, beef 42 48 5
Hot dog, turkey 28 40 22
Burger, fast food 36 44 6
Cheeseburger, fast food 43 40 7
Breaded chicken sandwich 20 39 32
Grilled chicken sandwich 26 42 20
Sausage, Polish 37 46 11
Sausage, turkey 28 40 22
Pizza, sausage 41 32 20
Pizza, cheese 60 28 5
Almonds dry roasted 9 65 21
Cashews dry roasted 20 59 17
Macadamia dry roasted 15 79 2
Peanut dry roasted 14 50 31
Pecans dry roasted 8 62 25
Flaxseeds, ground 8 23 65
Sesame seeds 14 38 44
Soybeans 14 22 57
Sunflower seeds 11 19 66
Walnuts dry roasted 9 23 63
Sweets and baked goods
Candy, chocolate bar 59 33 3
Candy, fruit chews 14 44 38
Cookie, oatmeal raisin 22 47 27
Cookie, chocolate chip 35 42 18
Cake, yellow 60 25 10
Pastry, Danish 50 31 14
Fats added during cooking or at the table
Butter, stick 63 29 3
Butter, whipped 62 29 4
Margarine, stick 18 39 39
Margarine, tub 16 33 49
Margarine, light tub 19 46 33
Lard 39 45 11
Shortening 25 45 26
Chicken fat 30 45 21
Beef fat 41 43 3
Dressing, blue cheese 16 54 25
Dressing, light Italian 14 24 58
Egg yolk fat 36 44 16
Avocado 16 71 13

Saturated Fat, Cardiovascular Disease and High Cholesterol

For decades it was thought that saturated fat was less healthy and contributed to disease, particularly cardiovascular disease. Recent research ahs indicated this might not be the case, and that the role of saturated fat in the diet may be much more complicated thatn previouslty thought. Still, most health organization recommend limiting the intake of saturated fat. Recent studies have indicated this might not be true in all cases.

A 2015 review found no association between consumption of saturaed fat and risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or death. ("Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies". Aug 12, 2015. PMC 4532752)

A 2014 review of studies of dietary intake of fatty acids, studies of measured fatty acid levels in the blood, and intervention studies of polyunsaturated fat supplementation concluded the findings "do not support cardiovascular guidelines that promote high consumption of long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 and polyunsaturated fatty acids and suggest reduced consumption of total saturated fatty acids." (Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe F, Ward HA, Johnson L, Franco OH, Butterworth AS, Forouhi NG, Thompson SG, Khaw KT, Mozaffarian D, Danesh J, Di Angelantonio E (2014). "Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis". PMID 24723079.)

There are consistent and established relationships between dietary saturated, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease. High triglyceride levels, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Research ahs established a significant relationship between saturated fat and cholesterol levels.

What to do About Saturated Fat

The World Health Organization recommends restricting total intake of saturated fatty acids to less than 10% of daily calories for the average person and to less than 7% for high-risk groups. The American Heart Association concurs that reduction in saturated fat consumption would positively affect health and reduce the prevalence of heart disease and the British Heart Foundation advises people to cut down on saturated fat.

Recommendations to lower saturated fat have recently been criticized for focusing too narrowly on reducing saturated fats rather than emphasizing increasing ed consumption of healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates. Concern was expressed over the health risks of replacing saturated fats in the diet with refined carbohydrates, which carry a high risk of obesity and heart disease, particularly at the expense of polyunsaturated fats which may have health benefits. Overall, emphasis should be on overall dietary quality to improve cardiovascular health.