We have all been lead to believe that saturated fats are bad for us. They raise serum cholesterol levels and bad cholesterol (LDL).
IS THIS THE CASE IN REALITY?
If we have to give a straight answer "yes", it is. But leaving it at this will actually not be very accurate.
A little background is in order. There are three types of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. All fats and oils contain all the three types but in different proportions.
When the greatest percentage in certain fat comes from saturated fat, we call it just that - saturated fat. This is the simple reason why fats in meat are considered saturated, although they contain quite good quantities of monounsaturated fat, too.
Saturated fats are those with the greatest number of hydrogen atoms, which is the reason why they are called saturated. They are also solid at room temperature.
Saturated fats can further be broken down, depending on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. Letís examine the four that are most commonly presented in the different types of animal fat: lauric acid, myristic acid, palmic acid and stearic acid.
Lauric acid is found in motherís milk. In the body this acid is converted into monolaurin - a monoglyceride with antiviral and antibacterial properties. Lauric acid increases cholesterol levels but it does not affect triglyceride levels.
This type of saturated fatty acid is also present in coconut oil, palm-kernel oil and cocoa butter.
Myristic acid has the ability to significantly increase plasma and LDL cholesterol levels. It can be found mainly in milk and dairy products.
Palmitic acid comes immediately after myristic acid for its abilities to negatively affect cholesterol levels. Moreover, this saturated fat exhibits a cholesterol independent mechanism for increasing the risk of heart disease, which is still not well researched by the science.
Palmitic acid is the predominant saturated fat in meet. It accounts for about a half of all the saturates in beef.
Stearic acid is the saturated acid with the largest number of carbon atoms of all the four. Scientists have long known that stearic acid does not affect cholesterol levels in the body. Some recent studies even suggest that it can lower them.
Stearic acid is contained mainly in meat (beef, pork, lamb, dark chocolate). More than a third of all saturated fats in beef is stearic acid.
And that's not all about saturated fats...
Recent studies suggest that although lauric, myristic and palmitic acids are proven to increase the bad cholesterol (LDL), they also increase the levels of the good cholesterol (HDL).
Scientists now know that the ratio of LDL to HDL is the most important factor in predicting the incidence of coronary hart disease (CHD). In other words higher LDL and HDL levels are not as threatening as higher LDL and lower HDL levels.
Another factor that increases the risk of CHD is high triglycerides levels in combination with high total cholesterol. Far greater contributors for high triglycerides levels are the consumption of trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated fats) and abnormal levels of carbohydrates in the diet.
In conclusion, despite all that was said above, it is not wise to assume that beef, pork and lamb are safe foods to eat. Until more research is done to prove the validity of such an assumption, we are safer to continue to pay special attention on the amounts of saturated fats from animal origin in our diet.