Saturated fatty acids are characterized by a single bonding position between their hydrogen carbons. In contrast, unsaturated fatty acids have double bonding between their hydrogen carbons. Saturated fatty acids are found in sources of saturated fat, such as red meat and milk.
A number of different saturated fatty acids make up saturated fat. There are three common types which are known as lauric, palmitic and stearic acids. The melting point — or the temperature that causes a saturated fat to change form — is usually higher than it is for unsaturated fats.
Nutrition labels do not typically separate out or identify the types of saturated fatty acids that foods may contain. Animal products such as meat and eggs tend to contain palmitic and stearic acids. These types of acids are also found in chocolate and nuts. Saturated oils tend to contain lauric fatty acids.
There are many food sources of saturated fatty acids. Some of these sources are certain categories of oils. Many of the oils that are high in saturated fat are tropical oils and include sources such as coconut, palm and kernel. Many dairy and animal products also tend to be high in saturated fat.
While food manufacturers have made incredible strides in reducing the saturated fat content of dairy and meat products, they are still one of the primary dietary sources. Low-fat versions of cheese, milk and yogurt still contain traces of saturated fat. Even though this type of fat cannot be avoided completely, dietary recommendations call for its limitation.
Unsaturated fats such as olive and peanut oil also carry trace amounts of saturated fatty acids. The proportion of unsaturated to saturated fat is usually high enough to classify these food sources as unsaturated. Trace amounts are not considered to be dangerous or to be causes of adverse health effects.
Saturated fats also contain some unsaturated fat. Some sources of saturated fat, such as lard or butter, may contain higher amounts of some unsaturated fats. Despite some of these proportion inequalities, they are still considered to be saturated since the total amount of saturated fat exceeds the total amount of unsaturated fat.
Consuming a large amount of saturated fat is thought to lead to the development of several diseases and complications, including heart disease, cancer and obesity. These fats are also linked to high cholesterol levels. High-density cholesterol, which can lead to the hardening of arteries, has been shown to rise with increased consumption of saturated fatty acids.