Saturated fat contains triglycerides that consist only of saturated fatty acids. They are called "saturated" because there are no double bonds between the fatty acid chain and the carbon atoms, meaning the carbon atoms are fully filled or saturated with hydrogen atoms (unlike “unsaturated fats”). Keep reading for examples of saturated fat, saturated fatty acids and examples of foods with high amounts of saturated fat.
Many believe that all saturated fats are bad for you. But depending on the saturated fatty acids found in a food’s saturated fat, it could be generally harmless – or even beneficial. Some healthy saturated fatty acids raise HDL, or “good” cholesterol, while others increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.
Each fatty acid has a numeric name that represents the number of carbon atoms within the saturated fatty acid chain. Here are examples of saturated fats with their common name, systematic name, numeric name (or lipid number), and foods in which they are found.
Butyric acid is a short-chain fatty acid, which is a fatty acid that contains fewer than six carbon atoms. It’s made in your gut when fiber breaks down and helps with the digestive process. Small amounts of butyric acid are also found in dairy products, such as butter, milk and parmesan cheese, as well as goat’s and sheep’s milk.
Systematic Name: butanoic acid
Numeric Name: C4.0
Capric acid is primarily found in tropical oils, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil, as well in products made from goat’s milk. It is one of the healthiest saturated fatty acids and is often used in pharmaceuticals and perfumes.
Systematic Name: decanoic acid
Numeric Name: C10:0
Caprylic acid is found in mammals’ milk (including humans), coconut oil and palm oil. It’s often used in antibacterial soaps, disinfectants and antifungal products because of its medium size at 8 carbon atoms.
Systematic Name: octanoic acid
Numeric Name: C8:0
One of the smallest medium-chain fatty acids is caproic acid. Caproic acid is found in plant and animal oils and waxes, various aged cheeses and wine grapes.
Systematic Name: hexanoic acid
Numeric Name: C6:0
Lauric acid has 12 carbon atoms and is found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and laurel oil. It’s one of the more beneficial fatty acids found in saturated fats. Lauric acid increases your HDL cholesterol.
Systematic Name: dodecanoic acid
Numeric Name: C12:0
Proprionic acid is often used as a food preservative because it inhibits mold and bacteria growth. However, this short-chain saturated fatty acid is also found in dairy and soy products.
Systematic Name: propanoic acid
Numeric Name: C3:0
Myristic acid is found in coconut oil, nutmeg, palm kernel oil, and butterfat. It’s not as commonly found in foods as other saturated fatty acids, and is known to raise LDL cholesterol.
Systematic Name: tetradecanoic acid
Numeric Name: C14:0
Because palmitic acid is found in meat, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, butter, cheese, and other dairy products, it’s one of the most common saturated fatty acids in the average diet. It significantly raises LDL cholesterol and is a major risk factor for heart disease when eaten in large amounts.
Systematic Name: hexadecanoic acid
Numeric Name: C16:0
You’re most likely to find stearic acid in animal fats such as meats, lard and butter. It has 18 carbon atoms and is known to lower LDL cholesterol more than other fatty acids.
Systematic Name: octadecanoic acid
Numeric Name: C18:0
While the above saturated fatty acids are commonly found in the average daily diet, there are many more short-chain, medium-chain and long-chain saturated fatty acids. Here are a few that you might find in animal, plant and chemical products.
- arachidic acid - eicosanoic acid - (C20:0)
- behenic acid - docosanoic acid (C22:0)
- ceroplastic acid - pentatriacontanoic acid (C35:0)
- cerotic acid - hexacosanoic acid (C26:0)
- enanthic acid - heptanoic acid (C7:0)
- geddic acid - tetratriacontanoic acid (C34:0)
- henatriacontylic acid - henatriacontanoic acid (C31:0)
- heneicosylic acid - heneicosanoic acid (C21:0)
- heptacosylic acid - heptacosanoic acid (C27:0)
- hexatriacontylic acid - hexatriacontanoic acid (C36:0)
- lacceroic acid - dotriacontanoic acid (C32:0)
- lignoceric acid - tetracosanoic acid (C24:0)
- margaric acid - heptadecanoic acid (C17:0)
- melissic acid - triacontanoic acid (C30:0)
- montanic acid - octacosanoic acid (C28:0)
- nonacosylic acid - nonacosanoic acid (C29:0)
- nonadecylic acid - nonadecanoic acid (C19:0)
- pelargonic acid - nonanoic acid (C9:0)
- pentacosylic acid - pentacosanoic acid (C25:0)
- pentadecylic acid - pentadecanoic acid (C15:0)
- psyllic acid - tritriacontanoic acid (C33:0)
- tricosylic acid - tricosanoic acid (C23:0)
- tridecylic acid - tridecanoic acid (C13:0)
- undecylic acid - undecanoic acid (C11:0)
- valeric acid - pentanoic acid (C5:0)
Many people confuse saturated fat for trans fat, which contain trans fatty acids. Trans fats are not found naturally in foods; instead, they are produced by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. Trans fats almost always raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, making them unhealthier than even the richest saturated fat.
Unlike trans fats, saturated fats vary in how healthy they can be in a diet. Some saturated fats are helpful for a balanced diet, while others can increase your risk of heart disease or obesity. Here are examples of various foods that are high in saturated fat.
These foods are part of a well-balanced diet. When eaten in moderation, they can increase your HDL cholesterol and provide important fatty nutrients to your body. Foods with healthy fats include:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
Eating too much of the above foods can lead to an unhealthy diet. Including processed foods, such as whipped cream and vegetable oil, in your meals can lead to lowered HDL cholesterol and raised LDL cholesterol. The next time you go to the grocery store, look for these different types of foods to see lots of real-world examples of saturated fats.
Saturated fats may have a bad reputation, but overall, they are much healthier than processed foods made with trans fats. As long as you know what type of fats you are eating, you can plan your nutritional needs accordingly. Learn more about different types of fats with these examples of unsaturated fats. You can also find an overview of all types of fats with examples of lipids.