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What is saturated fat?

Peter Attia, MD
Surgery
Saturated fat is one of the three main types of fats; these fats tend to be solid at room temperature. In this video, nutrition specialist Peter Attia, MD, discusses saturated fat, how it compares to other fats, and how it's found in foods. 
Saturated fats are found in a number of different food sources. These include: red meats, whole-milk dairy products such as butter, cream and cheese, coconut oil, palm oil, hydrogenated vegetable oils and pastries. Dietary saturated fats are actually much more dangerous than dietary cholesterol in terms of raising LDL cholesterol.
Margaret Floyd
Nutrition & Dietetics
Great question! This requires a little basic biochemistry.

Fatty acids are made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules. There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated. The basic difference between each of these is the number of carbon atoms with or without a hydrogen molecule bonded to it.

In a saturated fatty acid, all carbon atoms have bonded with hydrogen atoms. In other words, it’s “saturated” with hydrogen. This saturation makes the fatty acid very stable, which means it can withstand more heat before it becomes rancid. Common examples of saturated fats are butter and coconut oil. An easy way to know if a fat is saturated is if it’s solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are ideal for cooking because of their natural ability to withstand heat without going rancid. 
Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine
Saturated fats are "bad fats". These fats have been known to raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, which means that high levels of blood cholesterol will increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Saturated fat is a type of fat that is usually solid at room or refrigerator temperature. It's found mainly in foods that come from animals, although some plant oils also contain saturated fat. Eating foods high in saturated fat increases blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (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.
William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
Saturated fats raise LDH (bad) cholesterol, and most people should limit intake. The main sources of saturated fat are animal products, including fatty meat, un-skinned poultry, dairy products (except non-fat dairy), many baked goods, fried foods, and coconut oil (which is the only significant plant source of saturated fat). Look on the product label to determine the amount of saturated fat in grams.
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Eric Olsen
Fitness
The term "saturated" in saturated fat refers to the number of hydrogen atoms in fat molecules. Saturated fats in meats are loaded with hydrogen atoms; the unsaturated fats in most liquid vegetable oils are not. Products such as margarine and vegetable shortening start out as liquid vegetable oils, then manufacturers "saturate" them, loading them with hydrogen atoms, a process that converts the oils to soft solids, which makes them a bit more like the butter we once loved, and thus more marketable.
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The term "saturated" is not a reference to how densely fatty something is, but instead refers to the amount of hydrogen that is in a fat molecule.

Fat molecules are made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. When the open slots in a molecule are filled with hydrogen, then the fat is hydrogen saturated - or saturated, for short.

Hydrogenation is what makes oil a solid at room temperature, as in the case of margarine, and preserves it longer on store shelves.

The difference between a "saturated" or a "trans" fat refers primarily to the arrangement of the carbon and hydrogen atoms. In saturated fats, the placement makes molecules bend; in trans fat, it keeps them straight.

The health difference is much bigger than the chemical difference.

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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.