Why is saturated fat bad for my health?

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.  
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.

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.
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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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.

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.

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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.