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Saturated Fatty Acids are Good or Bad? What You Need to Know

Saturated Fatty Acids are Good or Bad? – What You Need to Know

The effect of saturated fats has been hotly debated over recent years. It is demonised as a dietary culprit in heart disease due to it’s ability to raise LDL cholesterol, whereas omega-6 PUFAs has been regarded as heart healthy because of it’s ability to lower LDL cholesterol.

The dietary intake of saturated fatty acids is important for determining plasma LDL cholesterol levels. Thus, this class of fatty acids has long been positively related to cardiovascular risk.

In this article, we are concentrating on the relationship between saturated fatty acids and health, it’s effects, the good and bad sides.

What are Saturated Fatty Acids?

Saturated fatty acids are straight-chain organic acids with no double bonds, having the carboxylic acid functional group (R–COOH), where “R” is the number of carbon atoms in a saturated fatty acid. SFAs are derived from both animal fats and plant oils. Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature and colorless.

The degree of saturation determines whether a fat is solid or liquid at room temperature. In saturated fats, the fatty acids are straight, compact, and rigid molecules that are able to pack tightly next to each other to form a solid.

Saturated fatty acids with short chains from C6 to C10 are considered not harmful, they exist in liquid form, whereas long chains between C12 to C18 are semi-solids or solids due to the nature and composition of the fatty acid, they also have low effect on blood cholesterol.

Saturated Fatty Acids Sources: What Foods are High in Saturated Fatty Acids?

There are many sources of saturated fatty acids, some are found in animal fat, vegetable fat, vegetable oils, plant oils and processed foods. Rich sources of dietary saturated fatty acids include:

  • Meat
  • Lard
  • Beef
  • Butter
  • Poultry skin
  • Processed foods
  • Fast foods
  • Palm oil

There was a heated debate on butter compared with margarine, nutritionist and consumers are still confused as to whether which one should be considered in a diet, studies have not convincingly shown that milk fat which is butter is associated with cardiovascular diseases.

The Relationship Between Saturated Fatty Acids and Health

There is evidence showing that individual saturated fatty acids have different effects on lipid metabolism and blood lipids, and thus have a differential impact on health according to the length of fatty acid.

A study revealed that when lauric acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid were replaced with carbohydrates there was a greater reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol compared with the longer chain fatty acids such as stearic acid.

Similarly, comparing a mixture of carbohydrates, a higher intake of lauric acid and myristic acid raised total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, but lowered triglycerides, whereas stearic acid had no significant effect on any of the blood lipids.

The Good and Ugly Sides of Saturated Fatty Acids

If saturated fatty acids were harmful to humans, nature would probably not have established within the mammary gland of animals the means to produce saturated fatty acids such as butyric, caproic, caprylic, capric, lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acids that provide a source of nourishment to ensure growth, development and survival of mammalian offspring.

Saturated fatty acids are essential in our diet, they provide good amounts of cholesterol for the body and stores up energy. They also help maintain HDL:LDL ratios when combined with carbohydrates. However, eating too much of saturated fatty acids might not be good for you at a certain age.

Why Are Saturated Fatty Acids Bad For You?

Higher concentrations of SFAs in foods can have several impacts on your health, both physically and mentally. There are possible reasons, and they include:

1. High Mortality Rates

Foods high in saturated fats, particularly processed and red meats, however, have been associated with increased mortality and risk of cancer, though dairy foods are not consistently associated with cancers. A small body of evidence suggests that saturated fat increases risk of CVD and mortality among people with diabetes.

2. Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

Eating foods with high concentrations of saturated fatty acids increases LDL cholesterol, and they are associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases including atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction and stroke.

3. Dyslipidaemia

Dyslipidaemia is an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood, increased concentrations is associated with a number of metabolic diseases and incident type 2 diabetes.

4. Increase in High Blood Pressure

High intakes of saturated fats, lack of physical activity, excess consumption of alcohol and smoking can increase the risk of high blood pressure.

5. Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Plasma glucose concentration of glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) are used to diagnose diabetes. A considerable body of research has indicated that diabetes is a strong independent risk factor for CVD. Often, CVD and type 2 diabetes co-exist as they share common modifiable risk factors, such as obesity, and in particular elevated central adiposity.


Not all saturated fatty acids are bad, some are essential in a diet and others too are unhealthy when consumed in high proportions, eating only saturated fats in a diet may increase LDL cholesterol at higher concentrations which is bad for you, this can negatively affect your health. Most saturated fatty acids are linked to certain types of diseases, and it is important to balance your diets with good significant amounts of PUFAs and carbohydrates.

I hope this article helped you know about the good and bad sides of saturated fatty acids.

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