Saturated fat

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A saturated fat is a type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have all single bonds. A fat known as a glyceride is made of two kinds of smaller molecules: a short glycerol backbone and fatty acids that each contain a long linear or branched chain of carbon (C) atoms. Along the chain, some carbon atoms are linked by single bonds (-C-C-) and others are linked by double bonds (-C=C-).[1] A double bond along the carbon chain can react with a pair of hydrogen atoms to change into a single -C-C- bond, with each H atom now bonded to one of the two C atoms. Glyceride fats without any carbon chain double bonds are called saturated because they are "saturated with" hydrogen atoms, having no double bonds available to react with more hydrogen.

Most animal fats are saturated. The fats of plants and fish are generally unsaturated.[1] Various foods contain different proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat. Many processed foods like foods deep-fried in hydrogenated oil and sausage are high in saturated fat content. Some store-bought baked goods are as well, especially those containing partially hydrogenated oils.[2][3][4] Other examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol include animal fat products such as lard or schmaltz, fatty meats and dairy products made with whole or reduced fat milk like yogurt, ice cream, cheese and butter.[5] Certain vegetable products have high saturated fat content, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil.[6]

Guidelines released by many medical organizations, including the World Health Organization, have advocated for reduction in the intake of saturated fat to promote health and reduce the risk from cardiovascular diseases. Many review articles also recommend a diet low in saturated fat in order to lower risks of cardiovascular diseases,[7] diabetes, or death.[8]

Fat profiles[edit]

While nutrition labels regularly combine them, the saturated fatty acids appear in different proportions among food groups. Lauric and myristic acids are most commonly found in "tropical" oils (e.g., palm kernel, coconut) and dairy products. The saturated fat in meat, eggs, cacao, and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic and stearic acids.

Saturated fat profile of common foods; Esterified fatty acids as percentage of total fat[9]
Food Lauric acid Myristic acid Palmitic acid Stearic acid
Coconut oil 47% 18% 9% 3%
Palm kernel oil 48% 1% 44% 5%
Butter 3% 11% 29% 13%
Ground beef 0% 4% 26% 15%
Salmon 0% 1% 29% 3%
Egg yolks 0% 0.3% 27% 10%
Cashews 2% 1% 10% 7%
Soybean oil 0% 0% 11% 4%
Cocoa butter[10] 1% 0–4% 24.5–33.7% 33.7–40.2%

Examples of saturated fatty acids[edit]

Some common examples of fatty acids:

Fat composition in foods.png
Food Saturated Mono-
As weight percent (%) of total fat
Cooking oils
Algal oil[11] 4 92 4
Canola[12] 8 64 28
Coconut oil 87 13 0
Corn oil 13 24 59
Cottonseed oil[12] 27 19 54
Olive oil[13] 14 73 11
Palm kernel oil[12] 86 12 2
Palm oil[12] 51 39 10
Peanut oil[14] 17 46 32
Rice bran oil 25 38 37
Safflower oil, high oleic[15] 6 75 14
Safflower oil, linoleic[12][16] 6 14 75
Soybean oil 15 24 58
Sunflower oil[17] 11 20 69
Mustard oil 11 59 21
Dairy products
Butterfat[12] 66 30 4
Cheese, regular 64 29 3
Cheese, light 60 30 0
Ice cream, gourmet 62 29 4
Ice cream, light 62 29 4
Milk, whole 62 28 4
Milk, 2% 62 30 0
*Whipping cream[18] 66 26 5
Beef 33 38 5
Ground sirloin 38 44 4
Pork chop 35 44 8
Ham 35 49 16
Chicken breast 29 34 21
Chicken 34 23 30
Turkey breast 30 20 30
Turkey drumstick 32 22 30
Fish, orange roughy 23 15 46
Salmon 28 33 28
Hot dog, beef 42 48 5
Hot dog, turkey 28 40 22
Burger, fast food 36 44 6
Cheeseburger, fast food 43 40 7
Breaded chicken sandwich 20 39 32
Grilled chicken sandwich 26 42 20
Sausage, Polish 37 46 11
Sausage, turkey 28 40 22
Pizza, sausage 41 32 20
Pizza, cheese 60 28 5
Almonds dry roasted 9 65 21
Cashews dry roasted 20 59 17
Macadamia dry roasted 15 79 2
Peanut dry roasted 14 50 31
Pecans dry roasted 8 62 25
Flaxseeds, ground 8 23 65
Sesame seeds 14 38 44
Soybeans 14 22 57
Sunflower seeds 11 19 66
Walnuts dry roasted 9 23 63
Sweets and baked goods
Candy, chocolate bar 59 33 3
Candy, fruit chews 14 44 38
Cookie, oatmeal raisin 22 47 27
Cookie, chocolate chip 35 42 18
Cake, yellow 60 25 10
Pastry, Danish 50 31 14
Fats added during cooking or at the table
Butter, stick 63 29 3
Butter, whipped 62 29 4
Margarine, stick 18 39 39
Margarine, tub 16 33 49
Margarine, light tub 19 46 33
Lard 39 45 11
Shortening 25 45 26
Chicken fat 30 45 21
Beef fat 41 43 3
Goose fat[19] 33 55 11
Dressing, blue cheese 16 54 25
Dressing, light Italian 14 24 58
Egg yolk fat[20] 36 44 16
Avocado[21] 16 71 13
Unless else specified in boxes, then reference is:[22]
* 3% is trans fats

Association with diseases[edit]

Cardiovascular disease[edit]

The effect of saturated fat on heart disease has been extensively studied.[23] There are strong, consistent, and graded relationships between saturated fat intake, blood cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease.[8] The relationships are accepted as causal.[8][24][25]

Many health authorities, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,[26] the British Dietetic Association,[27] American Heart Association,[8] the World Heart Federation,[28] the British National Health Service,[29] among others,[30][31] advise that saturated fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. In 2020, the World Health Organization recommended lowering dietary intake of saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy consumption, and increasing intake of unsaturated fats.[32] There is moderate-quality evidence that reducing the proportion of saturated fat in the diet, and replacing it with unsaturated fats or carbohydrates for a period of at least two years, leads to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.[23] A 2021 review found that diets high in saturated fat were associated with higher mortality from all-causes and cardiovascular disease.[33]

In 2019, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published a report "Saturated fats and health" which examined 47 systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Their report concluded that higher saturated fat consumption is linked to raised blood cholesterol and higher intakes of saturated fat are associated with increased risk of heart disease.[34][35]


The consumption of saturated fat is generally considered a risk factor for dyslipidemia, which in turn is a risk factor for some types of cardiovascular disease.[36][37][38][39][40]

Abnormal blood lipid levels, that is high total cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, "bad" cholesterol) or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, "good" cholesterol) cholesterol are all associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke.[28]

Meta-analyses have found a significant relationship between saturated fat and serum cholesterol levels.[8][41] High total cholesterol levels, which may be caused by many factors, are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.[42][43] However, other indicators measuring cholesterol such as high total/HDL cholesterol ratio are more predictive than total serum cholesterol.[43] In a study of myocardial infarction in 52 countries, the ApoB/ApoA1 (related to LDL and HDL, respectively) ratio was the strongest predictor of CVD among all risk factors.[44] There are other pathways involving obesity, triglyceride levels, insulin sensitivity, endothelial function, and thrombogenicity, among others, that play a role in CVD, although it seems, in the absence of an adverse blood lipid profile, the other known risk factors have only a weak atherogenic effect.[45] Different saturated fatty acids have differing effects on various lipid levels.[46]


Breast cancer[edit]

A meta-analysis published in 2003 found a significant positive relationship in both control and cohort studies between saturated fat and breast cancer.[47] However two subsequent reviews have found weak or insignificant associations of saturated fat intake and breast cancer risk,[48][49] and note the prevalence of confounding factors.[48][50]

Colorectal cancer[edit]

One review found limited evidence for a positive relationship between consuming animal fat and incidence of colorectal cancer.[51]

Ovarian cancer[edit]

Meta-analyses of clinical studies found evidence for increased risk of ovarian cancer by high consumption of saturated fat.[52]

Prostate cancer[edit]

Some researchers have indicated that serum myristic acid[53][54] and palmitic acid[54] and dietary myristic[55] and palmitic[55] saturated fatty acids and serum palmitic combined with alpha-tocopherol supplementation[53] are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in a dose-dependent manner. These associations may, however, reflect differences in intake or metabolism of these fatty acids between the precancer cases and controls, rather than being an actual cause.[54]


Mounting evidence indicates that the amount and type of fat in the diet can have important effects on bone health. Most of this evidence is derived from animal studies. The data from one study indicated that bone mineral density is negatively associated with saturated fat intake and that men may be particularly vulnerable.[56]

Dietary recommendations[edit]

Recommendations to reduce, limit or replace dietary intake of trans fats and saturated fats, in favor of unsaturated fats, are made by the World Health Organization,[57] American Heart Association,[8] Health Canada,[58] the US Department of Health and Human Services,[59] the UK National Health Service,[60] the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition,[34] the Australian Department of Health and Aging,[61] the Singapore Ministry of Health,[62] the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,[63] the New Zealand Ministry of Health,[64] and Hong Kong's Department of Health.[65]

In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expert consultation report concluded that "intake of saturated fatty acids is directly related to cardiovascular risk.[66] The traditional target is to restrict the intake of saturated fatty acids to less than 10% of daily energy intake and less than 7% for high-risk groups. If populations are consuming less than 10%, they should not increase that level of intake. Within these limits, the intake of foods rich in myristic and palmitic acids should be replaced by fats with a lower content of these particular fatty acids. In developing countries, however, where energy intake for some population groups may be inadequate, energy expenditure is high and body fat stores are low (BMI <18.5 kg/m2). The amount and quality of fat supply have to be considered keeping in mind the need to meet energy requirements. Specific sources of saturated fat, such as coconut and palm oil, provide low-cost energy and may be an important source of energy for the poor."[66]

A 2004 statement released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined that "Americans need to continue working to reduce saturated fat intake…"[67] In addition, reviews by the American Heart Association led the Association to recommend reducing saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories according to its 2006 recommendations.[68][69] This concurs with similar conclusions made by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which determined that reduction in saturated fat consumption would positively affect health and reduce the prevalence of heart disease.[70]

The United Kingdom, National Health Service claims the majority of British people eat too much saturated fat. The British Heart Foundation also advises people to cut down on saturated fat. People are advised to cut down on saturated fat and read labels on the food they buy.[71][72] The British Nutrition Foundation have said that based on the totality of available evidence the saturated fatty acids should make up no more than 10% of total dietary energy.[73]

A 2004 review stated that "no lower safe limit of specific saturated fatty acid intakes has been identified" and recommended that the influence of varying saturated fatty acid intakes against a background of different individual lifestyles and genetic backgrounds should be the focus in future studies.[74]

Blanket recommendations to lower saturated fat were criticized at a 2010 conference debate of the American Dietetic Association for focusing too narrowly on reducing saturated fats rather than emphasizing increased consumption of healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates. Concern was expressed over the health risks of replacing saturated fats in the diet with refined carbohydrates, which carry a high risk of obesity and heart disease, particularly at the expense of polyunsaturated fats which may have health benefits. None of the panelists recommended heavy consumption of saturated fats, emphasizing instead the importance of overall dietary quality to cardiovascular health.[75]

In a 2017 comprehensive review of the literature and clinical trials, the American Heart Association published a recommendation that saturated fat intake be reduced or replaced by products containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, a dietary adjustment that could reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%.[8]

Molecular description[edit]

Two-dimensional representation of the saturated fatty acid myristic acid
A space-filling model of the saturated fatty acid myristic acid

The two-dimensional illustration has implicit hydrogen atoms bonded to each of the carbon atoms in the polycarbon tail of the myristic acid molecule (there are 13 carbon atoms in the tail; 14 carbon atoms in the entire molecule).

Carbon atoms are also implicitly drawn, as they are portrayed as intersections between two straight lines. "Saturated," in general, refers to a maximum number of hydrogen atoms bonded to each carbon of the polycarbon tail as allowed by the Octet Rule. This also means that only single bonds (sigma bonds) will be present between adjacent carbon atoms of the tail.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]