Both chocolate and meat contain saturated fats, which are known for raising “bad” LDL cholesterol levels when consumed in excess. But the holiday season is here and it’s time to indulge, which begs the question—are all saturated fats created equally?
In order to answer this question, let’s start with the basics:
Why is saturated fat bad for you?
Saturated fats are not harmful when consumed in moderation and are a normal part of the American diet. Experts generally recommend limiting consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories. You will encounter saturated fats in a variety of common foods, including red meat, whole milk, cheese, butter and coconut oil.
Consuming too much saturated fat can increase total cholesterol over time, which increases the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood. An excess of bad cholesterol can cause artery blockages in the heart and other parts of the body. For this reason, high LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Is the fat in chocolate different from fat in meat?
Yes, the fat in chocolate is different from the fat in meat, partially due to where the fat comes from. Fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is composed of equal parts oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids. Oleic acid is a heart healthy omega-9 fatty acid that may actually lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
Both stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats, but stearic acid does not increase cholesterol. And while palmitic acid can significantly raise cholesterol, it only makes up one third of the fat from cocoa butter in chocolate. The amount of palmitic acid found in red meats like beef and pork is proportionately much higher.
Chocolate and red meat aren’t all bad, but moderation is key.
Both chocolate and meat aren’t entirely bad for you, they each have their own limited health benefits. Cocoa beans, for example, contain flavonoids which are antioxidants that repair cellular damage in the body. The specific flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate have been linked to lower blood pressure, improved circulation, and decreased risk of blood clots. However, phytonutrients with the same health benefits can just as easily be found in fruits and vegetables, without the high calories and sugar content of chocolate.
Red meat, on the other hand, is often praised for being an excellent source of protein and vitamin B12. Just a 3-ounce serving of red meat contains roughly 45% of your recommended daily protein and 35% of your daily B12. Red meat is also rich in zinc, iron, and selenium, another antioxidant. But just as we shouldn’t rely on chocolate for flavonoids, the nutrients found in red meat can easily be found elsewhere. Healthier options (poultry, fish, eggs, and even plant-based diets) which contain less saturated fats are equally effective sources of protein, B12, zinc, iron, and antioxidants.
This holiday season, feel free to enjoy your sweet treats and your rich meats, just enjoy both in moderation.