The fat series - Saturated fat

Fat is essential for health. Our body and cells use it for so many functions and we literaly can’t survive. This is not to say that we need to feed ourselves with butter, but rather that good amount fat is required on a daily basis and we should not be afraid of it.

As already discussed in other articles, our history proves this and we don’t need to go so far back into time. Our grandparents used lard for their daily cooking. And the probably knew that besides giving a great taste to their food, it was very stable in high heats and as a result not prone to oxidation.

Fat does many wonderous things and we need it for our brain function, temperature regulation, reproductive health. The outer-lining of our cells is built from fat, while it help with the digestion of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K. These vitamins don’t travel so well in the bloodstream so they need to be carried around to the cells along with cholesterol and triglycerides by the little fat carriers (lipoproteins).

And not to forget our hormones. Every single ex hormone is synthesized by fat. Check this out

Cholesterol –> pregnenolone –> androstenedione –> testosterone !

This is why following a low-fat, low cholestrerol diet can be very harmful. Carbs, on the other hand, deplete you hormones. It has been shown that increasing your fat consumption from 25% (mostly unsaturated) to 40% (mostly saturated) will increase testosterone. One other important hormone is leptin, which helps regulate satiety is also built from saturated fat and cholesterol.  

The type of fats

Not all fat is the same. There are three type of fat satured, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These words have to do with the chemical stucture of the fatty acids. There is a simple rule to differenciate them.

  • The more saturated the fat is, the harder it will be at colder temperatures. Typical saturated fats are coconut oil and butter
  • Monounsaturated fats solidify somewhat in cold temperatures. Olive oil is high ( around 70%) in monosaturated fat.
  • Highly polyunsaturated fat don’t solidify even they are cold. In this category we find sunflower, canola oil etc.
What is most important though is that stability of those fats under heat. Saturated fats have a higher smoking point and better suited than polyunstaturated  fats which you want to avoid for cooking since they are highly oxidised when heated. We need to make a special notes on vegetables oils since they are very highly processed and should be avoided at all costs.

Since we have established that fat is beneficial, it is also important to know which fats serve which purpose. Some fats are used as building block for the body while others are better for fuel. So we are looking for the perfect balance to fuel our body the right things, keep inflammation low and have energy through-out the day.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats in particular is so important that our body converts to it even from carbs via a process called novo lipogenesis. There are various saturated fats. There are short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fats. As a general rule, the shorter the saturated fat, the more anti-inflammatory it is. For example, butyric acid in only six molecule long, while other might be 20 or more.  While nutrition labels regularly combine them, the saturated fatty acids appear in different proportions among food groups. 

Here are the most common saturated fatty acids in the human diet:

  • Stearic acid: 18 carbon atoms long
  • Palmitic acid: 16 carbon atoms long
  • Myristic acid: 14 carbon atoms long
  • Lauric acid: 12 carbon atoms long
  • Capric acid: 10 carbon atoms long
  • Caprylic acid: 8 carbon atoms long
  • Caproic acid: 6 carbon atoms long

Cells use saturated fats, since it is the most stable of the fat and it makes up around 45% of the cell membranes in the brain and liver and about 35% in the heart and muscle. This percentages are pretty much stable in all the cells around the body except the adipose tissue (our external body fat).

Most animal fats are saturated. The fats of plants and fish are generally unsaturated. Various foods contain different proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat. Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol include animal fat products such as lard or schmaltz, fatty meats and dairy products like yogurt, ice cream, cheese and butter. Certain vegetable products have high saturated fat content, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. The saturated fat in meat, eggs, cacao, and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic and stearic acids. Lauric and myristic acids are most commonly found in “tropical” oils (e.g., palm kernel, coconut) and dairy products. 

We need to be careful though! Stability is the key word here and that is compromised by oxygen. Oxygen drives reactions that damage fats and oxidize them. This can cause inflammation which we want to avoid at all costs. Many processed foods like foods deep-fried in hydrogenated oil and sausage are high in saturated fat content. Some store-bought baked goods are as well, especially those containing partially hydrogenated oils. 

MCT Oils

MCT oil has become popular due to low-carb diets where people following such a lifystyle eat coconut oil freely. As the name suggests, medium-change triglycerides oil contains medium-length chains of fats called triglycerides. Due to their shorter length, MCTs are more easily digested than longer-chain fatty acids found in many other foods. MCT oil is most commonly extracted from coconut oil as more than 50% of the fat in coconut oil comes from MCTs. Four different types of MCTs exist, of which caprylic and capric acid are most commonly used for MCT oil. In some cases, these specific types have unique benefits.

The body absorbs MCTs more rapidly than long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), which contain more carbons in their fatty acid chains. Due to their shorter chain length, MCTs travel more quickly from the gut to the liver and do not require bile to break down like longer-chain fats do. In the liver, the fats are broken down to be either used as fuel or stored as body fat. Since MCTs easily enter your cells without being broken down, they can be used as an immediate source of energy. This is especially important since MCTs can be converted into ketones in the liver. These ketones can pass through your blood-brain barrier, making them a source of energy for your brain cells.

Further to this MCTs have been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal effects and has been shown to reduce the growth of Candida. Usage of coconut oil is common as anti-bacticial for teeth cleaning known as oil pulling.

Saturated foods

Examples of foods with saturated fat are

  • Animal fat : Fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter, cheese 
  • Plant fat : Plant-based oils are palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil (etc) and contain primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.

Key Takeaway

  • Saturated fats are essential for proper functioning cells
  • Saturated fats are more stable in heat than other types of fat
  • Include them in your daily meals without fear

Further Reading

  • https://www.cancerquest.org/cancer-biology/biological-building-blocks
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9898/
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coconut-oil-uses
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat-types