How Saturated Fats Affect the Heart

Despite popular beliefs, eating saturated fats doesn’t negatively impact cholesterol levels or inflammation. How exactly do saturated fats affect heart health?
How Saturated Fats Affect the Heart

Last update: 10 February, 2021

Saturated fats are one of the nutrients with the worst reputations. For many years, it’s been stated that the intake of saturated fats could negatively affect the heart and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. However, recent studies call these claims into question.

There are two different types of lipids: saturated and unsaturated. Regarding the spatial configuration of lipids, we can classify them into two groups: cis fatty acids and trans fatty acids. The latter can have a negative impact on health, and not saturated fats as such. Below, we’ll explain this to you.

What are saturated fats?

Saturated fats are a series of macronutrients whose chemical structure consists of simple bonds. They’re usually found in foods of animal origin and tend to be solid at room temperature.

However, their melting point isn’t high. As they heat up, they become liquid. This increase in temperature can cause a change in their spatial configuration and make them harmful.

How saturated fats affect the heart: are they harmful?

Currently, the most recent studies question whether saturated fats are capable of causing increased cardiovascular risk. In fact, experts proved that some of them, such as those in coconut oil, have protective effects on the heart.

On the other hand, for many years, people believed that the intake of these saturated fats could alter blood lipid profile, meaning increase cholesterol. This was one of the reasons why experts stated that people shouldn’t eat too many eggs per week.

Sources of saturated fats.

Despite the fact that this is what was always believed, nowadays, it’s known that saturated fats aren’t so harmful.

Researchers showed that this impact isn’t as huge as experts previously believed. Thus, people can eat eggs and lipids without fear of elevated cholesterol levels.

In fact, experts are now questioning whether blood cholesterol is really a good predictor of cardiovascular disease. The most recent studies, such as this one that was published in the journal Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, attribute the risk of atherosclerosis to the oxidation of a small fraction of LDL cholesterol, not the presence of it in the blood.

In fact, experts argue that a good supply of antioxidants is key to preventing redox reaction variations that can translate into a higher incidence of atherosclerosis.

The problem of saturated fats

As we discussed in this article, saturated fats as such don’t represent a health problem, except in a specific situation. We’ve already mentioned that the spatial configuration of these lipids changes if they’re subjected to high temperatures. This transforms them into trans fats, which can inflame the body.

These nutrients can modulate markers of inflammation. At the same time, they can also cause changes in the maintenance of the redox potential of lipoproteins, which increases the risk of atheromatous plaque formation that clogs the arteries.

Therefore, foods high in trans fatty acids are dangerous and these saturated fats affect cardiovascular health. However, consuming raw saturated fats or those subjected to less aggressive cooking processes shouldn’t cause problems.


Some strips of bacon.
Saturated fats are harmful when cooked at high temperatures.

For many years, experts believed that saturated fats could harm health. However, current studies have called this relationship into question and consider these nutrients to be beneficial and essential.

Many mysteries still surround cardiovascular diseases. In this regard, it’s necessary to make clear the role of cholesterol and the risk that inflammation and oxidation actually generate. However, it’s known for a fact that increasing the consumption of cis fats is a protective factor, in the same way as regular physical activity.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to opt for fresh foods over industrial and processed foods. The latter usually contain sugars and trans fats, which can be harmful to metabolic health and heart function. The less you eat, the better.

Likewise, you need to avoid the intake of toxins, such as alcohol. Instead, it’s best to include fruits and vegetables with antioxidant properties in your diet.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Szajewska H., Szajewski T., Saturated fat controversy: importance of systematic reviews and meta analyses. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2016. 56 (12): 1947-51.
  • Hartley A., Haskard D., Khamis R., Oxidized LDL and anti oxidized LDL antibodies in atherosclerosis novel insights and future directions in diagnosis and therapy. Trends Cardiovasc Med, 2019. 29 (1): 22-26.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.