"Saturated" in this context refers to the number hydrogen bonds in the fatty acid molecule -- in the case of these fatty acids, all the bonds are full (as opposed to unsaturated fats, in which they aren't). Like all fats, saturated fats are a source of fuel for the body, aid in absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
and some phytonutrients
, are used to build cell membranes, and have many other purposes. The human body can make all the saturated fat it needs, including from excess carbohydrate in the diet.
Fats in food are always a mix of different types of fatty acids -- when we say "saturated fat", we really mean the saturated fatty acids in the particular fat source. (See below for examples)
Although saturated fats are often thought of as a group, there are many different saturated fats, and each has different uses in the body and potentially different health effects. There is some evidence for positive effects of some saturated fats, including antibacterial properties. However, the various types of saturated fatty acids have not undergone a great deal of study.
Some saturated fats tend to raise both LDL and HDL cholesterol.
In the past few decades, saturated fat has been blamed for having a causative role in heart disease, but research has not shown this to be the case.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) (2005), Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences.
German, J Bruce, Dillard, Cora J. "Saturated fats: what dietary intake?." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 80/3 (2004).
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20.
Pronunciation: SACH-uh-ray-tihd fat
Also Known As: Mistakenly, animal fat is sometimes equated with saturated fat.
Fats which are solid at room temperature (butter, lard, coconut oil, cocoa butter) have a higher percentage of saturated fat than oils which are liquid at room temperature. However, all fats and oils are mixture of types of fat. For example, although beef fat contains more saturated fat than most oils, it has more monounsaturated fat (the kind that olive oil is high in) than saturated fat. Butyric acid, lauric acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acids are examples of saturated fatty acids.