The health effects of saturated fats are a controversial topic.
In the past, saturated fat was widely believed to be a major cause of heart disease. Today, scientists are not so sure.
However, one thing is clear: saturated fat is not a single nutrient. It is a group of different fatty acids with varying effects on health and metabolism.
This article takes a detailed look at the most common saturated fatty acids, their health effects and dietary sources.
Heart-Shaped Piece of Butter
What Is Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat is one of the two main classes of fat, the other being unsaturated fat.
These groups differ slightly in their chemical structure and properties. For instance, saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fat is liquid.
The main dietary sources of saturated fat are fatty meat, lard, tallow, cheese, butter, cream, coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter.
All fats are composed of molecules called fatty acids, which are chains of carbon atoms. The different types of saturated fatty acids can be distinguished by the length of their carbon chains.
Here are the most common saturated fatty acids in the human diet:
- Stearic acid: 18 carbon atoms long
- Palmitic acid: 16 carbon atoms long
- Myristic acid: 14 carbon atoms long
- Lauric acid: 12 carbon atoms long
- Capric acid: 10 carbon atoms long
- Caprylic acid: 8 carbon atoms long
- Caproic acid: 6 carbon atoms long
It’s rare to find saturated fatty acids other than these in the diet.
Saturated fatty acids that are less than six carbon atoms long are collectively known as short-chain fatty acids.
These are produced when gut bacteria ferment fiber. They are created in your gut from the fiber you eat and can also be found in trace amounts in some fermented food products.
Bottom Line: Saturated fatty acids are one of the two major categories of fat. Common dietary saturated fatty acids include stearic acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid and lauric acid.