Saturated Fat

The Physicians Committee


Is Saturated Fat Good or Bad for You?

Saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature, is found in meats, dairy products, and eggs. According to the American Heart Association, consuming saturated fat raises cholesterol levels in your blood, increasing risk for cardiovascular problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Setting aside saturated fat can also decrease your risk for obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

What is Saturated Fat?

Saturated fat is even worse than cholesterol in foods. It's particularly harmful because it stimulates the liver to manufacture even more cholesterol. The term “saturated” simply means that the fat molecule is completely covered with hydrogen atoms.

frying pan with butter

This type of fat is marbled throughout all meat and poultry, so the only way to avoid it is to avoid meat altogether. Even chicken and turkey breasts cooked without the skin have significant amounts of saturated fat; about 20 percent of the calories still come from the animal fat lurking in the muscle. And about 15 percent to 30 percent of the fat in fish is saturated fat.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends that people limit the saturated fat in their diets and refers to this fat as “empty calories.”

According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat high amounts of animal protein—which is high in saturated fat—are 22 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

Saturated fat has even been linked to breast cancer, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline. Fortunately, there are many plant-based protein sources that are low in saturated fat and won’t send your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels through the roof.

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The following are just a dozen of the many studies showing why avoiding saturated fat is a smart choice for maintaining good health:

  1. Dairy Increases Risk for Death from Prostate Cancer: The saturated fat in dairy products may increase your risk of death from prostate cancer, according to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer.
  2. High-Fat Diet Slows Metabolism: A high-fat diet may change how your body processes nutrients, according to a study published in Obesity.
  3. Fat Linked to Breast Cancer Risk: A high-fat, high-cholesterol diet increases the risk for breast cancer, according to a study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
  4. A High-Fat Diet Increases Risk of Breast Cancer: Women who eat diets high in fat and saturated fat increase their risk of developing breast cancer, according to a study published by the National Cancer Institute.
  5. Better Brain Health with Less Saturated Fat: Reducing consumption of saturated and trans fats reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to a review published in Neurobiology of Aging.
  6. Fatty Diets Linked to Cancer and Early Death: Diets high in saturated fats and sugar may increase your risk of death from gastrointestinal cancers, including stomach and esophageal, according to a presentation at the American Institute for Cancer Research Annual Research Conference.
  7. Low-Saturated-Fat Diet Improves Insulin Function: Eating a low-saturated-fat, high-fiber diet helps with insulin sensitivity, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.
  8. High-Fat Diet Boosts Brain Proteins Linked to Alzheimer's Disease: A high-fat, high-glycemic-index diet increases the concentration of proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published by the American Medical Association.
  9. Fat Matters for Type 1 Diabetes: Fatty foods tend to increase blood sugars for people with type 1 diabetes, according to a study published by the American Diabetes Association.
  10. High-Fat Dairy Intake Linked to Mortality: Women who consumed the most high-fat dairy products were more likely to die during a 12-year follow-up, compared with those who consumed the least, according to a study published by the National Cancer Institute.
  11. Yes, Cutting Fatty Foods Really Does Help You Lose Weight: Diets lower in total fat led to lower total body weights, compared with diets higher in fat, according to a new review published in the British Medical Journal.
  12. Cognitive Decline Associated with Fat Intake: Fatty foods eaten during midlife may hasten cognitive decline in later life, according to research from the Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study.