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Saturated Fat vs Trans Fat: Which is Worse?

Saturated Fat vs Trans Fat: Which is Worse?

Saturated Fat vs Trans Fat: Which is Worse? Health and nutrition can be very confusing. You’ve heard “Trans Fat can kill us.” and “Saturated Fat increases heart disease, makes us fat, causes diabetes, etc.”  But Paleo dieters say, “no, saturated fat lowers cholesterol and makes us thin.”  “Real Butter is good, margarine is bad.”  What do you believe?

What is the definition of Saturated Fat

Saturated fat refers to a group of saturated fatty acids each with its own properties and characteristics. Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat include animal fats such as cream, cheese, butter, and ghee; suet, tallow, lard, and fatty meats; as well as certain vegetable products such as coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, chocolate, and many prepared foods.

The saturated fat in meat, eggs, chocolate, and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic and stearic acids. Sources of lower saturated fat but higher proportions of unsaturated fatty acids include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils.

What is the definition of Trans Fat?

Trans Fats (technically called trans-unsaturated fatty acids) are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil during food processing in order to make it solidify. This process, known as hydrogenation, makes fats less likely to spoil, so foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life and also have a less greasy feel. The end result of the hydrogenation process is a completely unnatural fat that causes dysfunction and chaos in your body on a cellular level.

Furthermore, many have now realized that it’s the trans fat found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that is the true villain, causing far more significant health problems than saturated fat ever could!

While animal fats were once the only type of trans fat eaten by people, by far the largest percentage of trans fat eaten now are in processed foods – particularly vegetable oils. Partially hydrogenated oils have been used for many years because they increase shelf life and decreasing refrigeration requirements. Many baked goods require semi-solid fats to suspend solids at room temperature and vegetable oils are generally cheaper to use than animal fats like butter or lard.

Trans fat oils are also used for deep fryers in many restaurants because they last longer than most conventional oils. McDonalds’ French fries were tested at various restaurants around the world in 2005 and they found that American McDonalds had 28 times more trans fat in them than Denmark McDonalds.

What are Saturated Fat foods?

While many foods contain various proportions of saturated and unsaturated fats – those with high saturated fat levels include cheese, cream, butter, ghee, lard, and fatty meats. Certain vegetable products that have high saturated fat levels include coconut oil and palm oil. Some prepared food that contains high saturated fats are pizza, dairy desserts, and sausage.

*Below is a table of the best meats to include in a diet due to their protein/fat ratio.  If you eat meat, including these in your diet will help keep you full, get you the proper nutrients and protein, while keeping the fats healthy and moderated.

Meat Protein Fat
Skinless Turkey Breast 94% 5%
Boiled Shrimp 90% 10%
Red Snapper 87% 13%
Buffalo Roast 84% 16%
Roast Venison 81% 19%
Broiled Halibut 80% 20%
Pork Tenderloin 72% 28%
Veal Steak 68% 32%
Sirloin Beef Steak 65% 35%
Skinless Chicken Breast 63% 37%
Broiled Salmon 62% 38%
Lean Pork Chops 62% 38%
Mussels 58% 24%

Which fat should you be eating?

So what should you do about all these trans and saturated fats? Which foods should you be avoiding? Ideally, you would want to minimize saturated fats and completely avoid trans fats! A healthy diet should consist of lots of nutrient rich vegetables, healthy low glycemic carbohydrates, protein, and healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like those found in wild fish, nuts (walnuts and pecans), avocados, pharmaceutical grade fish oil, and virgin olive oil. The more processed foods you avoid the healthier you’ll be!

*“Multiple studies on Pacific Island populations who get 30-60% of their total caloric intact from fully saturated coconut oil have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease.”

There is some debate about the amount of saturated fat that one should eat but the debate is not whether saturated fat is bad for you but what type is better for you. All fats contain different types of fat. However, if you predominately eat wild fish, nuts and oils noted above and eat grass fed beef (without added hormones or antibiotics) and organic poultry or wild game, you should be fine.

*“A meta-analysis published last year, which pooled data from 21 studies and included nearly 348,000 adults, found no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.”

Do not eat Trans Fat!

Trans fats should be avoided entirely as they have shown through numerous studies that they increase a person’s risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Fortunately, all food labels will indicate whether or not they contain trans fat so make sure to read your labels when going to the grocery store!

What does the Trans Fat Ban mean?

*In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences advised the US to remove trans fats stating they “are not essential and provide no benefit to human life”. In 2006 the New England Journal of Medicine stated that “from a nutritional standpoint, the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm but no apparent benefit”.

In 2006 the FDA determined companies had to list trans fat content on nutrition labels. However, companies are only required to list trans fats on their nutrition labels if there is more than half a gram per serving. Critics have called that a loophole in the system.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fat) were not generally recognized as safe. However, trans fat still hides on many processed foods like frosting, popcorn, pies, and coffee creamers.

Recently in June of 2015 the FDA finalized their determination and set a ban which included a three year time limit for the removal of partially hydrogenated oils from all processed foods. The food industry claimed it was pleased they were given 3 years to carry out the rule and stated they would be seeking permission to keep small amounts of trans fats in certain products.

What should you do?  Eat Healthy Fats!

You’re already doing the first step which is educating yourself on what is in your food and what you should and should not be eating. Focus on healthy eating for a healthy lifestyle. Plan your meals and read labels when you grocery shop. Pay attention to the meals you order at a restaurant and don’t be afraid to ask how the item is prepared and cooked. Avoid trans fats all together, limit the saturated fats you intake daily to healthy forms of meats and fish and organic poulty and wild game, and you’ll live a much longer, healthier life!

The Real Culprit!

We substituted “real” fats for fake fats and added sugar with refined carbs like bread and pasta.  As recent studies have clearly shown when you reduce saturated fat and increase the refined carbohydrates, you end up promoting obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

“There were 500 cardiologists practicing in the U.S. in 1950.  There are 30,000 of them now – a 60 fold increase for a population that has only doubled since 1950.”

Reference: Kyungwon Oh, et al. “Dietary Fat Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women: 20 Years of Follow-up of the Nurses’ Health Study.” Correspondence to Dr. Walter C. Willet, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.

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