Chemically, saturated fats belong to the category of fats that have no double bonds in their structure. This is the reason why they have a solid consistency at room temperature, unlike unsaturated fats.
They can be divided into short-chain, medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids based on the number of carbon atoms. Short-chain fatty acids have 2-6 carbon atoms and are minimally derived from the diet. They are formed mainly when the gut bacteria ferment fiber. Medium-chain fatty acids have 6-12 carbon atoms. The long-chain fatty acids have more than 12 carbon atoms.
Often saturated fats are found in products of animal origin and processed foods. These include beef, poultry, pork, coconut and palm oil, dairy products like cheese, butter, and milk and processed meat like sausages, bacon and snacks like chips, cookies and crackers.
The saturated fatty acids below are the most commonly used for human consumption.
1. Palmitic Acid
This 16-carbon atom long fatty acid is the most common saturated fat in plants and animals. Plam oil contains the highest levels of palmitic acid, but it’s also present in dairy and red meat.
Studies have found that it is not heart healthy and can raise the levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, thereby increasing the risk of atherosclerosis. No effect was seen on the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.1
Studies have also revealed a link between reduced physical activity amongst people who had a high-palmitic-acid diet.2
2. Stearic Acid
It consists of 18 carbon atoms and is the second most common saturated fat in the American diet. But studies claim that it is healthier than most saturated fats, even good at lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.3
It’s mostly derived from animal fat and available some plant fats like coconut oil, cocoa butter and palm kernel oil.
3. Myristic Acid
Present in small amounts in coconut oil and palm kernel oil, myristic acid is a long-chain fatty acid that consists of 14 carbon atoms. It has the similar effects of palmitic acid by increasing total cholesterol and HDL levels.4
4. Lauric Acid
Predominantly found in coconut oil and palm oil, lauric acid is a 12 carbon atom long fatty acid. It raises total cholesterol by raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease, thereby making it beneficial for health.
A unique trio of medium chain fatty acids, namely caproic, caprylic and capric acid have 6-10 carbon atoms in length. Goat milk is a rich source of these fatty acids. Several studies indicate that they may slightly increase the number of calories burned and promote weight loss, especially when compared with long-chain fatty acids (28, 29, 30, 31, 32).
Studies have found that they can positively influence weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity when compared to long-chain fatty acids. Capric acid especially was seen to have anti-seizure effects in epileptic patients provided a ketogenic diet was followed.
Are All Saturated Fats Linked With Heart Disease?
Investigators have thoroughly researched the relationship between saturated fat intake and stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). They have analyzed that medium chain fatty acids are good for health in general and is not associated with the risk of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. In fact, on regular intake, it was found that they could even prevent obesity and increase the overall health and energy expenditure.5
Unsaturated fats like polyunsaturated fats are the best for health but it doesn’t mean that saturated fats should be completely avoided from one’s diet. Eating healthy isn’t only about the variety of a nutrient but also depends on the amount as well. Ultimately, moderation is key when it comes to eating anything.6
|↑1||Ishiyama, Junichi, Ryoko Taguchi, Akiko Yamamoto, and Koji Murakami. “Palmitic acid enhances lectin-like oxidized LDL receptor (LOX-1) expression and promotes uptake of oxidized LDL in macrophage cells.” Atherosclerosis 209, no. 1 (2010): 118-124.|
|↑2||Kien, C. Lawrence, Janice Y. Bunn, and Figen Ugrasbul. “Increasing dietary palmitic acid decreases fat oxidation and daily energy expenditure.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 82, no. 2 (2005): 320-326.|
|↑3||Mensink, Ronald P. “Effects of stearic acid on plasma lipid and lipoproteins in humans.” Lipids 40, no. 12 (2005): 1201-1205.|
|↑4||Zock, Peter L., Jeanne HM de Vries, and Martijn B. Katan. “Impact of myristic acid versus palmitic acid on serum lipid and lipoprotein levels in healthy women and men.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 14, no. 4 (1994): 567-575.|
|↑5||St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, and Peter JH Jones. “Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity.” The Journal of nutrition 132, no. 3 (2002): 329-332.|
|↑6||Saturated or not: Does type of fat matter?The Nutrition Source. HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH|