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Saturated Fats and Cardiovascular Health

Rida Wali, MS, RD
October 15, 2021

Saturated fats are composed of fatty acids with no double bonds in their structure. They primarily exist as solids at room temperature. 

Common Food Sources

Common food sources for saturated fat include meat, butter, lard, palm oil, coconut oil and processed foods that contain them. Common sources of saturated fats in the typical American diet are from cheese, pizza, desserts and meats.

Saturated Fat Types

While chain length varies, saturated fatty acids most commonly exist as 12-18 carbons in length and are thus classified long-chain fatty acids. Some of the more common saturated fatty acids in the food supply are:

  • Lauric acid (12:0)
  • Myristic acid (14:0)
  • Palmitic acid (16:0)
  • Stearic acid (18:0)

Note - Lauric acid (12:0), the main fatty acid in coconut oil, may be classified as long-chain or medium-chain fatty acid. Metabolically, lauric acid functions as a long-chain fatty acid with 70-75% absorption into the bloodstream and 20-25% absorption into the portal vein.

Some of the less common saturated fatty acids are:

  • Caprylic acid (8:0)
  • Capric (10:0)

Based on chain length, they are classified as medium-chain fatty acids (8-12 carbons in length).

The human body can synthesize its own saturated fatty acids and thus there is no need for dietary saturated fat intake.

Effects of Saturated Fat Intake

Saturated fatty acids (lauric, myristic and palmitic acids) are known to increase LDL cholesterol which may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Evidence also indicates that decreasing saturated fat intake can reduce the risk for diabetes and promote weight loss.

With regards to cardiovascular disease risk, caprylic (C8:0), capric(10:0) and stearic acid (18:0) do not raise cholesterol levels. However, since most foods exist as a combination of several different fatty acids, it is prudent to limit consumption of foods containing saturated fats. 

According to 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for American, recommendations are to limit saturated intake to as minimal as possible and less than 7-10% of total calorie intake.