Fatty acids, or the building blocks of dietary fat, are either saturated or unsaturated based on their structure. They have a chain of atoms with hydrogen and carbon.
Saturated fats do not have a double bond between their carbon chain, allowing additional hydrogen atoms to attach to carbon atoms.
Hydrogen atoms are densely packed because they’re the smallest possible atom. The atoms form a solid at room temperature.
When hydrogen atoms are attached to saturated fatty acids, the molecule becomes more flexible, and energy can be released.
This is because there are fewer bonds to count and break when the hydrogen atoms remove themselves from those carbon chains.
In contrast, unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fat molecules are typically smaller than their saturated counterparts and contain hydrogen atoms that can be removed, making them less likely to create a solid at room temperature.
Examples Of Saturated Fat
Saturated fat is found in animal products like meat, butter, and cream. It is also found in plant-based foods like coconuts and avocados.
Foods contain a range of saturated and unsaturated fats.
For example, nuts, olive oil, and avocados are typically thought of as “healthy fats.”
While they are healthy and should be consumed as part of a healthy ketogenic diet, these foods also contain saturated fat.
There’s no escaping saturated fat, and there’s no need to.
Here are examples of saturated fat in certain food you can eat on the keto diet:
- Olive and coconut oils
- Steak, pork belly, lard, chicken drumsticks or thighs
- Butter, ghee, cheese, and heavy cream
- Avocados and nuts
Food High In Saturated Fat
Examples of food high in saturated fat are butter or ghee, oils like coconut and palm, meat, whole milk cheese, fatty meats such as lamb and pork, cream-based sauces, and soups.
A meal that is high in saturated fat may also contain a lot of full-fat dairy products.
Saturated fat is also found in many processed foods containing hydrogenated oils like ice cream or margarine and deep-fried foods.
In the body, saturated fat is stored in the form of triglycerides and is mostly found in the liver and to a lesser extent in muscles, fat cells, and bone tissues.
It is important to note that most plants we consume contain some amount of saturated fats, which are, of course, vital to the health of plants.
The best plant sources include avocado, cocoa butter, coconuts and chia seeds.
Is Saturated Fat Good Or Bad?
If you’re following a ketogenic or low-carb diet, you’ll likely consume more than the daily recommended grams of saturated fat a day.
The general ranges from the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommend anywhere from 13-22 grams per day, but you’ll likely go well above that number.
While everyone’s body is different, a study showed participants who followed a ketogenic diet and another group that followed a low-fat diet. Even though both groups lost more fat mass than fat-free mass, their LDL levels did not change. (1)
The ketogenic group did lose more weight than the low-fat group, as well as reduced triglycerides, and had higher HDL levels. HDL cholesterol levels usually go up when carbs are replaced with saturated and unsaturated fats.
It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor to see if specific diets are right for you. Everyone is different and will experience different results even if their body composition does change positively.
It’s important to consider the other factors that may affect a person’s risk of heart disease when considering how saturated fat might make them more susceptible.
For example, if someone following the ketogenic diet is eating foods high in saturated fat and can still lose weight, improve blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure, is it a bad thing if there’s a rise in LDL cholesterol?
Many factors need to be considered to determine if someone is at risk for heart disease due to the increase in cholesterol.
As with the study mentioned above, consuming a high-fat diet had no significant changes in LDL cholesterol anyway, which put them at a reduced risk of heart disease.
While more long-term studies need to be done, increasing saturated fat intake in a ketogenic diet will have a lower impact on the risks of heart disease.
How Much Saturated Fat Should You Consume Each Day?
As part of a healthy ketogenic or low-carb diet, you will be consuming a good amount of saturated fat daily.
Coconut products such as milk and cream contain healthy saturated fat, which has several benefits. Aside from containing regular nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamin D, it also has been shown to reduce hunger-related hormones that lead to overeating.
Some studies have looked at the effect of full-fat dairy seen in coconut products and reported it to positively protect against risks of heart disease, boosting our “good” HDL cholesterol and is beneficial to losing weight. (2)
The foods you want to watch out for that are high in saturated fat are fast food and anything fried. These kinds of food have been linked in many studies to heart disease, obesity, and other health problems. (3, 4)
Throughout all the research and studies that have been done, one thing is clear. A healthy diet should contain whole foods nutritious in vitamins and minerals, and saturated fat is a natural ingredient.
Saturated fat does not need to be feared unless you’re specifically trying to avoid it, as recommended by your doctor.
Saturated Fat Vs. Unsaturated Fat
Most foods we eat contain a mixture of fats.
For example, canola oil has a small amount of saturated fat and is mostly monounsaturated fat. On the other hand, butter or ghee contains unsaturated fat but is mostly made up of saturated fat.
So what’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat?
Simply, saturated fat is solid at room temperature and found in butter, full-fat dairy, and high-fat meat. Unsaturated fat is in a liquid form at room temperature in most cases and is found in oils, nuts, and fish.