The desire to become healthy has become dangerously associated with our physical appearance. As a result of this obsession to be thinner, we have unscrupulously pinned the blame on fat consumption and have become label scanners instead of responsible consumers. This lack of research combined with emotional decisions has led to low fat diets that have all but eliminated saturated fats from our consumption. Is this a good idea, or a really bad experiment? Time to get your facts straight and get the truth on saturated fats!
Classification by saturation
Fatty acids are classified in the following way:
- All available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom.
- Highly stable, which means they normally do not go rancid, even when heated.
- Are solid or semisolid at room temperature.
- The body makes them from carbohydrates and they are found in animal fats and tropical oils.
- Have one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms double bonded to each other, and therefore lack two hydrogen atoms.
- Relatively stable, so don’t go rancid easily, even with cooking.
- Tend to be liquid at room temperature.
- The main monounsaturated fat found in our food is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil. Also in oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and avocados.
- Have two or more pairs of double bonds; so lack four or more hydrogen atoms.
- These oils are highly reactive, so they go rancid easily, particularly omega-3 linolenic acid, so never should be heated or used in cooking.
- Are liquid, even when refrigerated.
- The body can’t make these fatty acids and therefore are called “essential”. We must get them from our essential fatty acids (EFA’s) from foods we eat. Quality sources include nuts, seeds, fish, krill, primrose oil, grass fed beef, and organic free-range chicken.
Classification by length
Saturated fats are also classified according to their length:
Short chain fatty acids have four to six carbon atoms and are always saturated. They are found mostly in butter fat from cows and goats, and are antimicrobial so they protect us from viruses, yeast, and pathogenic bacteria in the gut. They also do not need to be acted upon by bile salts and are directly absorbed for quick energy. They are unlikely to cause weight gain for this reason.
Medium chain fatty acids have eight to twelve carbon atoms and are mostly found in butterfat and tropical oils (like coconut oil). They also have antimicrobial properties, provide quick energy, and help strengthen the immune system.
Long chain fatty acids have fourteen to eighteen carbon atoms and can be saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. They are found almost exclusively in animal fats. An important long chain fatty acid is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is made by your body from omega-6 linolenic acid such as primrose, borage, and black currant oils. GLA is used for production of prostaglandins, localized tissue hormones that regulate many processes at the cellular level.
Very-long-chain fatty acids have twenty to twenty four carbon atoms. The most important very-long-chain fatty acids are dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA); arachidonic acid (AA); eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All of these except DHA are used to produce prostaglandins. AA and DHA also have important roles in the proper function of the nervous system.
The benefits of saturated fats
Saturated fats are not your enemy. They play an important role in body chemistry, including:
Make up at least 50% of the cell membranes, which gives them necessary stiffness and integrity.
Play an important role in the health of our bones. To effectively use calcium in your skeletal system, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease. They also protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
Enhance the immune system.
Required for proper use of EFA’s, as omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
Saturated stearic acid and palmitic acid are optimal foods for the heart, which is why the fat around heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart uses this reserve of fat in times of stress.
Short and medium chained saturated fatty acids have antimicrobial properties that protect us from pathogenic organisms in the digestive tract.
The scientific evidence that has been presented to us does not support the artery clogging theory that has been pinned on saturated fats. Evaluation of fat in artery clogs actually shows only 25% is saturated, with the rest being unsaturated, and 50% or more coming from polyunsaturated fats.