Dr. Fuhrman Dr. Fuhrman

Saturated fat

raw coconut

In this fourth post in the series about cooking oils I will discuss saturated fat. If you are reading this blog, chances are, I do not need to tell you that saturated fat is not that good for you. In this article, I will discuss why.

Most saturated fat in western countries is consumed in the form of animal products and fried/baked goods. Cooking oils that are high in saturated fat include coconut, palm and palm kernel oil.

There are different kinds of saturated fatty acids (SAFA's). The most common distinction is between short chain, medium chain and long chain SAFA's. All SAFA's have a different effect on fat metabolism and cholesterol levels.

Health benefits of saturated fat

There are very vocal internet groups that claim that saturated fat is not just safe, but necessary for health. Lots of research does not agree. There are a couple of arguments that are worth discussing:

  • There are many studies that proof that saturated fat is better for {insert favorite disorder here} than polyunsaturated oils. I actually believe that this is likely to be true, in a society where people eat an extremely antioxidant poor diet. As I explained in the article about Polyunsaturated oils, they do have their drawbacks. The fact that, in some selected studies, saturated fats somewhat improve a diet that is rich in PUFA's from extracted oils and low in nutrients, does not impress me much.
  • Lauric acid (the main fatty acid in coconut oil) has anti viral/bacterial properties. I believe this is true as well. It is important to note though, that many foods have health promoting properties, and most have a much better calorie:health ratio. If I wanted to kill a flu, I would load up on garlic, ginger and greens, not on coconut oil. That said, I do think lauric acid has some beneficial properties, and I am not too worried about the cholesterol elevating effects of a small amount of saturated fat in my diet, so I still happily consume some coconut products.
  • Short and Medium chain fatty acids promote weight loss. I strongly feel people should not micromanage their diets this way. It may or may not be true, eating three tablespoons of cholesterol elevating oil a day is just too unhealthy. I also dislike the idea that weight loss needs a secret, a special method. Weight loss is not that difficult for most people. Willpower is a good skill to learn.

Health dangers of saturated fat

The most well known danger of saturated fat is that it elevates your LDL ("bad") cholesterol. It also elevates your HDL ("good") cholesterol, but the net effect is still negative. The cholesterol will block your arteries, which makes it harder for the blood to flow, which (simplified to the extreme) leads to heart attacks. Technically, this is not the entire story. Some types of saturated fat do not elevate cholesterol as much. Practically all high saturated fat foods do contain the cholesterol elevating kind of SAFA's (cocoa is a welcome exception!), so this is only a theoretical point.

Cholesterol is not the only thing that makes saturated fat less healthy. Saturated fat has a bad effect on blood glucose levels, which may cause diabetes. It also causes inflammation, which may cause many diseases.


I do not recommend to consume significant amounts of coconut or palm oil (I don't recommend dairy either - but this series is about cooking oils). For occasional use, I do not think it is very harmful if you eat an otherwise healthy diet with lots of anti-oxidants, but I would still recommend consuming fresh coconuts instead of coconut oil.

See also

Masai people and heart disease on a high saturated fat diet.

September 29, 2006