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Why You Should Not Eat Too Many Saturated Fats

Last updated July 16, 2015

Fats are necessary to sustain numerous body functions and are required to dissolve some vitamins to nourish the body. However, fats are high in calories, which can lead to weight gain and poor health. Unsaturated fats are the “good fats,” while saturated fats are the “bad fats”.


Fats are necessary to sustain numerous body functions and are required to dissolve some vitamins to nourish the body. However, fats are high in calories, which can lead to weight gain and poor health. Unsaturated fats are the “good fats,” while saturated fats are the “bad fats”.

  • Unsaturated fats are good for the heart, cholesterol, and overall health: Present in most oils (olive and sunflower oil), nuts (almonds), fatty fish, tofu, and soymilk.

Saturated fats are suspected to be a harmful dietary fat:

  • Occur naturally in many foods; majority come from meats (example: beef) and dairy products like butter
  • Known to cause an increase in blood cholesterol levels

Consuming saturated fat increases the risk of developing various cardiovascular disorders as well as cancer. It could also cause severe damage to the bones.

Saturated fats negatively impact one’s health:

Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disorders

Several studies have been conducted to study the health effects of saturated fats on the heart. The following are some of the conclusions drawn from these studies:

  • Saturated fats are directly associated with atherosclerosis formation.
  • Consuming saturated fats instead of unsaturated fats has been observed to cause a 20% increase in coronary heart diseases.
  • Dietary saturated fats have been directly linked to the onset of various coronary heart disorders.
  • Saturated fats have a causal link to coronary blockage and even untimely stroke.
  • Reducing consumption of saturated fats has been observed to improve cardiovascular health.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans published by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has advised that since the body produces enough saturated fats, it can be harmful to consume additional saturated fats from our diet. Higher levels of saturated fat intake could lead to an increase in total cholesterol and bad cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular disorders.

Increased Risk of Cancer

  • Intake of saturated fats on a regular basis is considered a risk factor for cancer and may be a major contributor to the increase of cancer cases worldwide:
  • Separate scientific studies have illustrated that a diet enriched with saturated fat increases a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.  
  • A positive association between dietary fat and breast cancer survival has been reported.
  • Moreover, systemic research published in 2007 by World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research has shown how regular intake of saturated fats can cause colorectal cancer in both female and male subjects.

These scientific studies have demonstrated that regular intake of saturated fats can lead to the growth of malignant cells, along with damage to organs such as the prostate, ovaries, and rectum.

Increased Risk of Low Bone Density And Diabetes

  • Intake of saturated fats has also been seen to decrease bone density, which increases the risk of various musculoskeletal disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
  • Studies have illustrated that an inverse relationship exists between dietary saturated fat intake and bone density. In other words, the more saturated fats present in one’s diet, the less bone density.
  • Another research has indicated that bone mineral density (BMD) could be negatively impacted by intake of saturated fat and that men are particularly susceptible to these negative effects.
  • Similarly, the American Diabetics Association has established that regular consumption of saturated fat could lead to the development of type-2 diabetes in the long run, and its excessive consumption should be avoided.

In summary, most medical communities and government organizations have illustrated the dangers of saturated fats on the heart. However, contrary reports exist as well, stating that dietary fats have no correlation with cardiovascular disease or development of different types of cancer.

Nevertheless, overconsuming saturated fats in a diet many have harmful effects on health and fitness. Overindulgence in dietary saturated fats could potentially cause obesity and hormonal disorders. Obesity, in turn, could bring about the metabolic disease and cardiovascular problems in an individual. Additionally, an association has been reported between obesity and various types of cancer. Therefore, whether directly or indirectly, saturated fats could cause harm to an individual’s health.

The prudent thing to do is to adhere to portion control, which would limit the amount of saturated fat intake. Leading an active lifestyle, in combination with a healthy diet, will contribute significantly to good health.

References:

Corwin, R.L, Hartman, T.J, Maczuga, S.A, Graubard, B.I. (2006). Dietary saturated fat intake is inversely associated with bone density in humans: Analysis of NHANES III. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(1): 159–165. PMID 16365076

Mente, A., de Koning, L., Shannon, H.S., Anand, S.S. (2009). A Systematic Review of the Evidence Supporting a Causal Link Between Dietary Factors and Coronary Heart Disease. Arch Intern Med, 169(7):659-669. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.38 

Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Qi, Hu, F.B., & Krauss, R.M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3): 535-546. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535  

World Cancer Research Fund International, Second Expert Report 2007. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/english.pdf

Saturated Fats. Retrieved from  http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Saturated-Fats_UCM_301110_Article.jsp

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: Diet. Retrieved from http://www.world-heart-federation.org/cardiovascular-health/cardiovascular-disease-risk-factors/diet

(2014 Aug 7). Dietary fats: Know which types to choose. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550

(2009).  Dietary fats, dietary cholesterol and heart health. Retrieved from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Dietary-Fats-Dietary-Cholesterol-and-Heart-Health.pdf

Smith, M., Paul, M.W., & Robinson, L. (2015 Jun). Choosing Healthy Fats. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm

Pelser, C., Mondul, A., Hollenbeck, A., & Park, Y. (2013). Dietary Fat, Fatty Acids, and Risk of Prostate Cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 22(4), 697-707.

Reddy, B. (2004). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cancer Prevention. Nutrition and Disease Prevention Nutrition and Cancer Prevention, 112(1), 1-7.

Crowe FL, Allen NE, Appleby PN, Overvad K, Aardestrup IV, Johnsen NF, Tjønneland A, Linseisen J, Kaaks R, Boeing H, Kröger J, Trichopoulou A, Zavitsanou A, Trichopoulos D, Sacerdote C, Palli D, Tumino R, Agnoli C, Kiemeney LA, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, Chirlaque MD, Ardanaz E, Larrañaga N, Quirós JR, Sánchez MJ, González CA, Stattin P, Hallmans G, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Rinaldi S, Slimani N, Jenab M, Riboli E, Key TJ (November 2008). Fatty acid composition of plasma phospholipids and risk of prostate cancer in a case-control analysis nested within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(5): 1353–63. PMID 18996872

Brennan, S., Woodside, J., Lunny, M., Cardwell, C., & Cantwell, M. (2015). Dietary fat and breast cancer survival: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25692500

Obesity and Cancer Risk. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 16, 2015
Last updated: July 16, 2015