Saturated fats

If you had to acknowledge one single thing as the biggest obstacle getting in the way of achieving your goals, what would it be? It might be an addiction to chocolate, an aversion to cardio, or you might not be able to stop halfway through your favourite T.V. box set. I wouldn’t say that those are the most common though. For a lot of people there is just far too much conflicting information out there and they can’t get their head around it all. Nowhere is this more evident that with our attitudes to fats.

Thankfully most people now acknowledge the need for fats as part of a healthy lifestyle but they still argue about how much and which type. Some of it is quite simple, like trans fats. We know that we want to consume exactly zero of these over the course of our lives. Not all of us will but at least the information is clear. The same cannot be said of saturated fats.

This tends to be a taboo phrase, saturated fats, but if they caused as much harm as trans fats then you would expect them to just be discounted as well. In the U.K. the recommendation is that your saturated fat intake in grams shouldn’t exceed 1% of your calorie intake. So if you are eating 2000 calories a day, then you don’t want to be eating more than 20g of fat. Pretty simple up to there, right? But if you knew something was specifically disastrous for your health, would limiting intake be enough on its own? And shouldn’t the authorities be doing more to get rid of it?

Let’s just look at some of the major risks of excessive saturated fat consumption:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as other cancers
  • Increased energy intake, i.e. promotion of weight gain
  • Increased fat around vital organs, linked to type 2 diabetes

You would expect any sensible person to completely avoid foods that presented that many problems, not just limit them. So do they possess any benefits that offset the list above?

Well there are a few:

  • Fats, including the saturated one, provide the most efficient way of energy production in our bodies
  • Some vitamins have to be dissolved in fat to be absorbed into our bodies
  • A certain level of body fat can protect organs from possible damage caused by trauma

But those attributes aren’t unique to saturated fats, yet we continue to eat them. This might just be because of where we find them. Trans fats are artificially added to the things we eat, saturated fats can occur naturally. So if you wanted to get rid of them completely you would have to kiss goodbye to a lot of your meat, dairy products and even coconut oil.

The point is that it is almost impossible to get rid of all the saturated fat in a healthy diet. What we can do is try to replace certain foods we eat with alternatives that do provide lower levels of saturated fat. That means looking out for leaner cuts of meat, removing any fat that you can see on your food and opting for low-fat dairy products.

If I am being honest I don’t believe anyone could completely remove saturated fat from their diet and still eat meat and dairy on a regular basis but I would be surprised if most of us couldn’t reduce it in some way.

Ollie Lawrence
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