It seems totally harmless, even though deep down we know that we shouldn’t. We start to reason with ourselves ‘But it’s just this one time… I have been eating good all week! One take-out wouldn’t hurt’. But the truth is that it might hurt. And we don’t know when.
I recently stumbled upon a study that clearly shows how one single meal high in saturated fat is able to cause insulin resistance and increase the fat content of the liver. To perform the study, healthy, slim men were given a palm oil drink with a fat content similar to that of two cheeseburgers with bacon and a large portion of French fries. The scientists then used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to observe the liver metabolism and track the storage of sugar and fat. The study found that just one portion of high fat had a detrimental effect on liver and triggered insulin resistance. In healthy people. What happens if the liver metabolism is already impaired? It only creates the further damage.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance is the main precursor of type II Diabetes. It is a condition in which the cells fail to respond to insulin released as the result of sugar consumption. In a healthy organism, insulin is produced once the glucose is released in the bloodstream. The main function of insulin is to deliver glucose to the cells, where it is used for energy. When that happens, the level of glucose in the blood starts to reduce. But under the condition of insulin resistance, the cells cannot uptake the glucose efficiently, and the high levels of glucose keep circulating in the blood, forcing pancreas to produce even more insulin, which still cannot manage all that sugar, and ultimately it leads to high blood insulin levels too. This causes various symptoms and also impairs normal body functions in many ways. In general, insulin resistance leads to impaired reuptake of glucose by muscles and other cells and leads to increased fat deposition, including accumulation of fat in the liver. All of these increase your chances of developing diabetes and becoming obese.
What is Saturated Fat?
Saturated fats are simple fat molecules with a single bond – they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Because of their lack of double bonds that the other types of fat have, saturated fats are the most stable and remain solid at room temperature. Unfortunately, they can increase your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, thus damaging the arteries and leading to heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.
Sources of saturated fat include:
- animal products – meat, poultry, fish, dairy (also contain cholesterol).
- some plant oils – palm, palm kernel, coconut (do not contain cholesterol).
The research concerning the danger of consuming saturated fats is quite controversial, but this latest study seems pretty convincing. In any case, it seems sensible to reduce the amount of saturated fat consumed, both in a day and at one sitting.
But how much is too much?
The American Heart Association recommends that the saturated fat intake is about 13 g a day for a 60 kg person eating 2000 kcal a day. That equals 5-6% of calories consumed from saturated fats or 120 kcal from saturated fats. Because the recommendations are just as diverse as the opinions on the entire topic, some sources suggest that up to 24 g of saturated fat can be eaten in a day.
Let’s now see how much saturated fat there is in different foods.
Values are given for 100 g of product:
- Turkey – 1 g
- Chicken – 2 g
- Ham – 2 g
- Cottage cheese – 2 g
- Milk, whole – 2g
- Salmon – 2 g
- Duck – 3 g
- Egg – 3 g
- Beef – 6 g
- Sardines – 6 g
- Pork – 7 g
- Tuna – 8 g
- Lamb – 10 g
- Sausage (frankfurters, pork) – 10 g
- Fried bacon – 16 g
- Salami – 20 g
- Cheddar cheese – 21 g
- Cream cheese – 21-30 g
- Butter – 53 g
The more detailed list can be seen here. But as you can see, you can eat plenty of good food without going overboard. The more you stick to fruit and veggies + lean meats and fish or better yet, legumes & pulses (beans, lentils), the less saturate fat you consume. You can avoid saturate fats by avoiding large amounts of processed meats and dairy, especially cheese and butter.
Now, what about the fast food?
- McDonald’s Hamburger – 3 g
- McDonald’s Cheeseburger – 5 g
- McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger – 11 g
- McDonald’s Big Mac – 10 g
- McDonald’s Mc Chicken – 3.5 g
- McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets (4 pc) – 2 g
- McDonald’s World’s Famous Fries (small) – 1.5 g
- McDonald’s World’s Famous Fries (large) – 3.5 g
- McDonald’s Mc Café Strawberry Shake – 10 g
- Pizza Hut Medium Italian Margherita – 2.5 g (per slice) – 20 g/whole pizza
- Pizza Hut Medium Italian Meat Feast – 3.1 g (per slice) – 24.8 g/whole pizza
- Pizza Hut Medium Italian Chicken Supreme – 1.7 g (per slice) – 13.6 g/whole pizza
Know your take-away, too.
In the study conducted for SafeFood.eu researchers found that a portion of egg fried rice from Chinese take-away on average contained 3 g of saturated fat, which is about 15% of guideline daily amount (GDA). Beef curry was found to have the highest saturated fat content – an average of 10 g per portion, or 50% of GDA. The starters were found to have an average of 5 g saturated fat per portion (25% GDA).
The situation seems to be worse with Indian take away. A similar study performed for SafeFood.eu found that an average portion of Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Korma had over 130% of recommended daily saturated fat allowance, while Chicken Jalfrezi contained about 50% of GDA for saturated fat. An average portion of Pilau rice contained 14% GDA for saturated fat and Peshwari naan contained 16%, while a portion of Poppadoms had about 6% GDA.
Now that we know how much saturated fat we need or rather allowed per day and see how much there is in different food, it’s time to wonder what was the amount of saturated fat given to the subjects in the study?
The review of the study specifies that the fat content was similar to that of two cheeseburgers with bacon and a large portion of French fries. Using the above information, we see that cheeseburgers and large fries make up 13.5 g of fat. We don’t know how much bacon they used, but it will probably get us to 15-20 g altogether. That is almost the entire GDA, depending on which recommendations we take.
Eating the entire GDA of saturated fat in one sitting may be a very bad idea. It wrecks havoc on your metabolism increasing insulin resistance, which leads to high sugar and high insulin levels in blood, which in turn makes your risks of developing high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes skyrocket. Although the team Prof. Roden ‘suspects that healthy people, depending on genetic predisposition, can easily manage this direct impact of fatty food on the metabolism’, he does suggest that ‘long-term consequences for regular eaters of such high-fat meals can be far more problematic’. And that is exactly the kind of problem that we do not want. So better be safe than sorry.