Just what are saturated fats? How do they differ from monounsaturated fats and trans fatty acids? Where do saturated fats come from? Learn more about the myths and truths of the fat world.
First, what is fat? Chemically, a fat is a substance that has glycerol or fatty acids in it. Fats can come from all sorts of sources - including both animals AND plants. Coconuts have fats in them. So do pigs. Fish have healthy fats in them, as do sunflowers. Just saying something has "fat" in it does not say if it's a good fat or a bad fat. Fat is a HUGE category of items. It's important to look at what type of fat you are ingesting, to know if it's good or bad.
Saturated fats - just like fats in general - can come from both plants and animals. Cream and butter are high in saturated fats. Cocoa and coconut also have high levels of saturated fats. Chemically, saturated fats are "triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids." So it's a specific group of fats.
You can actually break this area down even further. There are four types of saturated fats. These are:
Why is this important? Because, just like we are finally starting to learn that cholesterol comes in both "good" and "bad" varieties, we are also learning that there are good fats and bad fats.
For example, Salmon has huge amounts of Palmitic acid and pretty much none of the other fats. On the other hand, coconut oil has large amounts of Lauric acid. You could say both have "saturated fats" in them - but I think you've probably heard how important it is to eat fish oils, and probably haven't heard any similar exhortations to eat tons of coconut every week :).
Stearic acid, which is very high in dark chocolate, has been found by the World Health Organization to have NO effect on heart disease, for example. That is, eating chocolate is not eating a "bad fat". It does not hurt your heart.
This is why it's so important to learn more about the diet you are eating. It's not enough to say "I want to do something about my fat intake". If you did that, you'd cut out salmon and lose the critical benefits of fish oils! Oils are fats, after all. Fish oils are the HEALTHY fats. It's important to learn more, to see which fats are good, and to make sure you keep those in your diet.
As a final note, fats are NOT cholesterol. They are completely different substances. However, certain types of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids DO cause the human body to produce cholesterol in the liver.