Why is saturated fat bad for my health?

Eating foods high in saturated fat increases blood levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. In fact, eating too much saturated fat and total fat has more influence on raising your blood cholesterol than eating too much cholesterol does.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

Saturated fats increase inflammation in the body, and inflammation has been shown to increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions such as arthritis. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, such as lean protein, turkey, chicken, soy and quinoa for healthy options.

Saturated fatty acids raise blood cholesterol more than all other types of fat. Main food sources are animal-based foods, such as meat, poultry, butter, whole milk, and whole milk products. Plant-based sources are coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

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Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

In a world of fast food, supersized sodas, and televised temptations, this guide shows how to buck the obesity trend currently in the national spotlight—and have fun doing it. Using a family...
Samantha Heller, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
A four part answer (due to space limitations) Part I: Is red meat, processed meat and saturated fat really unhealthy? The answer is no. The fact is red and processed meats and saturated fat is far worse for your health than the meat and dairy industry want you to know. Ethical and environmental issues aside, all you have to do is take a look at the scientific literature (studies done on humans not on animals or in test tubes) and it reveals irrefutable evidence that consuming animal foods and processed foods high in saturated fats in the quantities we eat them can be deadly over time. Even the United States Department of Agriculture, a government organization and a rather conservative one at that, recommends that people eat less animal foods and begin a shift towards a more plant based diet. http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=9246

The science: Research is finding that diets high in red meat and/or processed meats may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, mortality, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, esophageal, liver and lung cancers and chronic obstructive lung disease.

Red meat and other animal foods are high in saturated fat which increases internal inflammation, serum cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and arterial inflammation and dysfunction.
  • Scientists have found an association between dietary saturated fats, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and an increased decline in cognitive function. 
  • Saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and diabetes and may increase fat storage in your abdomen (commonly referred to as ab flab). Ab flab in and of itself increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Studies have shown that eating red meat may increase the risk of colorectal cancer, lung cancer (irrespective of smoking status), and has been linked to prostate cancer.
  • Recent studies show that red meat intake is associated with metabolic syndrome, stroke, cognitive decline and age related macular degeneration.
  • A study of over 500,000 people found that people who ate the most red and processed meats had a higher risk of mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease than those who ate lesser amounts of these foods.
Margaret Floyd
Nutrition & Dietetics
Saturated fat in and of itself isn't bad for your health. It's when you only eat saturated fat, or eat it at the expense of other important fats, that you run into trouble. All different types of fats -- saturated and unsaturated -- play important and different roles in your body, so you want to try to get some of each type every day.

There's one exception to this rule, and that's any trans-fat, which means anything with partially- or fully-hydrogenated oils in it. These fats are universally damaging and should be avoided completely.

What's most important when considering what fat you eat -- beyond just whether it's saturated or unsaturated -- is the quality of the fat and if you're using it properly. Toxins accumulate in fat -- so if you're eating the fat from a sick and toxic animal (as many of the animals in feedlots are), then you're eating those concentrated toxins as well.

Make sure you buy organic meat and eggs at a minimum -- even better are eggs, meat, and dairy that comes from animals who lived on pasture (grass) and not in confinement (feedlots). These animals are healthier overall, and the ratio of fatty acids in their meat/eggs/dairy is much more balanced. If the fat/oil is coming from a vegetable source, then make sure it's organic and has been cold-pressed and is unrefined -- vegetable, nut, and seed oils are more delicate and are damaged with over-processing and heat.

As long as you're getting good quality fats and oils, the next thing to consider is how you use them. Saturated fats are very stable, which means they don't break down or go rancid easily and can tolerate heat quite well. These are the best fats to use for cooking. Unrefined coconut oil, organic or pastured butter, or ghee (clarified butter) are great options for cooking and baking. Unsaturated fats, however, are much less stable and thus don't withstand heat very well. Use them cold in dressings or sauces, and on foods that have already been cooked. For example, I don't recommend cooking with olive oil unless you're using a very low temperature, or you blend it with some butter (the more stable saturated fats in the butter will protect the less-stable unsaturated fats in the olive oil). 
Julie Daniluk
Nutrition & Dietetics
Saturated fat is a hot topic! It is interesting to note that a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010) did not find a link between saturated fat intake and increased risk of heart disease. On the flip side, a study published in March 2010 from the Harvard School of Public Health, found that replacing saturated fats with an equal amount of polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of heart disease by 19 percent.

So the debate is still out. The real focus needs to be a balance of all the types of fat. Anti-inflammatory Omega 3 is displaced if you eat too much saturated fat. Hundreds of years ago, people ate meat that contained higher amounts of omega 3 because the animals grazed on grasses instead of corn. If you would like to eat meat, consider choosing grass fed beef. For a good vegetarian saturated fat that is healthy, I would have to vote for coconut oil because it is rich in lauric acid, which has been shown to be a natural germ fighter.

Another thing to consider is the way you prepare your food. For example, when you BBQ meat the fat drips on the hot coals creating polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Various PAHs adhere to the grilled meat and can increase your risk of cancer.

The truly damaging fats include trans fats (artificially hydrogenated oils) and refined omega 6 oils such as cottonseed, corn or soy. Eating high amounts of omega 6 can cause excess inflammation. If you are looking for ways to improve your health and longevity, it is important to focus on the omega 3 fats found in fish, chia seed and flax.  

Continue Learning about Fats


At 9 calories per gram, fats can add up quickly in your diet, yet experts recommend that you get only 7% of your calorie intake from fat. Fats also affect your cholesterol, and there are both good and bad fats. The best kind of fa...

ts are called unsaturated fats, and can be found in oils like olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds. These fats can help your body get rid of cholesterol. Saturated fats often have had hydrogen added to them to make them more solid. Other saturated fats are found in cream, butter and meats. They can raise your blood cholesterol. Its wise to learn which is which and check nutrition labels to make proper choices.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.