Saturated fats have become the bogeyman in regards to just about every health problem imaginable. In particular, saturated fats are blamed for raising bad (LDL) cholesterol levels—which puts you at risk for heart or cardiovascular disease. However, research indicates that not all saturated fats raise cholesterol levels. So which ones don’t? Let’s take a look at the different saturated fats and their effects on your blood cholesterol.
Types of Saturated Fats
There are 3 major saturated fats found in foods in the US: myristic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid. Of the three, myristic and palmitic acids are known to raise bad cholesterol levels, while stearic acid does not raise bad cholesterol levels—and in fact may raise your good cholesterol levels.
Stearic acid comes mostly from animal products—specifically beef. However, it can be found in a few other sources, such as chocolate and coconut. Stearic acid does not contribute to bad cholesterol levels because most of it is converted by the body into oleic acid—a monounsaturated fat.
So, Can Foods High in Saturated Fats Reduce Cholesterol?
While the foods listed do contain stearic acid, many of the foods also contain the palmitic acid—the effect of which generally means a high cholesterol level. However, some researchers say not to discount these foods. Lean meats with stearic acid may still offer hope for a healthy diet.
For now, what this means is that foods which contain both stearic acid and palmitic acid still raise your bad cholesterol; they just don’t raise it as much as say a food that contains only palmitic acid. It is still important to limit your intake of saturated fats, but if you do consume products high in saturated fats, try to consume the ones higher in stearic acid.
In addition, stearic acid may not be a bad fat, but it’s still a fat. Fats contain the highest number of calories per gram—9 calories per gram of fat. This compares with proteins and carbohydrates, which only contain 4 calories per gram of fat. Limiting saturated fats helps to keep calories under control.
The Future of Saturated Fats
Research continues on the benefits of stearic acid. Perhaps someday, we’ll be able to separate the stearic acid from the bad saturated fats to use it to help reduce bad cholesterol. Lean meats may become a staple for a heart healthy diet. Until then, it is important to keep up on all the latest research and see what is being discovered. The road to a healthy body and a healthy population is a long one, but we will discover the secrets to good health for all.
Next time you see something vilifying saturated fats, take it with a grain of salt. Always look for the motives of the people saying it. Things are not always as black and white as people wish you to think. There are always 2 sides to every story—and for saturated fats, that second side comes from stearic acid.