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Many studies have investigated the relation between the intake of saturated fats and the increase of cholesterol. Saturated fats are usually found in animal products, such as meat and dairy. We can speculate that saturated fats are not all the same, and there might a difference between animal and vegetable source of saturated fats. Are there any studies that can answer this question? Do vegetable saturated fats increase cholesterol?

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I will try to answer your question based on the types of saturated fats that some vegetable sources contain as compared to animal sources.

The presumably two biggest sources of saturated fats in vegan diet are coconut products (notably coconut oil) and palm oil. Other sources can be various nuts, non-exotic oils, cacao etc. but these contain smaller amounts than the two previously mentioned oils.

Saturated fats in coconut oil are, proportionally, like this:

Lauric acid  Myristic acid  Palmitic acid  Stearic acid
        47%            18%             9%            3%

For palm oil, the saturated fats content looks like this:

Lauric acid  Myristic acid  Palmitic acid  Stearic acid
        48%             1%            44%            5%

As you can see, both are rather high in Lauric acid, with palm oil being high in Palmitic acid as well. While Lauric acid has been found to have a positive impact on HDL (the good cholesterol) levels, the Palmitic acid is not so great and its consumption has been connected to rise of LDL (the bad cholesterol) and subsequential onset of corronary diseases.

For comparison, most of the animal products have just marginal Laruic or Myristic acid contents and rather high Palmitic and Stearic acid contents.

Food         Lauric acid  Myristic acid  Palmitic acid  Stearic acid
Butter                3%            11%            29%           13%
Ground beef           0%             4%            26%           15%
Salmon                0%             1%            29%            3%
Egg yolks             0%           0.3%            27%           10%

While Stearic acid does not have such a bad effect on our body, these product are all high in exactly the Palmitic acid which causes the most trouble.

TL;DR (which turned out to be too long to read, ironically):

To answer your question - yes, vegetable saturated fats do increase cholesterol, just like any other fats. The important thing to keep in mind is that there is good and bad cholesterol and different types of saturated fats increase different types of cholesterol.

While palm oil is pretty high in not so good Palmitic acid, it also contains high values of Lauric acid which somehow negates these effects (presumably).

As for the coconut oil, while it has high content of saturated fats, majority of these are the good kind, with relatively small amounts of Palmitic acid and 18% proportion to the total fat conent of Myristic acid which is, along with Palmitic acid, linked to the increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.

When it comes to other vegetable sources of saturated fats, these all have just small amounts of saturated fats in their total fat content and are henceforth less harmful than animal products which contain more of these.

Therefore it can be argued that in fact, all of the vegetable sources of saturated fats are less harmful than their animal counterparts.

EDIT: As requested by the OP in the comments, I will explain the sources for these claims in a little bit more detail:

To cite from the previously included source at page 82 (the hihglight is mine):

The relationship between dietary fats and CVD, especially coronary heart disease, has been extensively investigated, with strong and consistent associations emerging from a wide body of evidence accrued from animal experiments, as well as observational studies, clinical trials and metabolic studies conducted in diverse human populations (2).

Saturated fatty acids raise total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, but individual fatty acids within this group, have different effects (3--5). Myristic and palmitic acids have the greatest effect and are abundant in diets rich in dairy products and meat.

I would also like to point out the Table 10 in the same source at p.89 which shows factors that decrease or increase risk of cardiovascular diseases along with the probability (based on the strength of evidence) for these factors. The palmitic and myristic acid are on the top of the table for increasing the risk with the strength of evidence set as convincing.

  • Thanks for the effort, however your answer is kind of weak: it's not really clear which source you used to say that palmitic acid increases LDL cholesterol. it should be pointed out which kind of study was done (cohort study with dietary recall, or clinical trial, etc.) and which where the results. in this way the causal relation between the consumption of vegetable saturated fats and increase of total and LDL cholesterol should be more clear. – Attilio Feb 22 '17 at 16:05
  • Thanks for the feedback. I have edited my answer to specifically address your concerns. Is there anything else you would like me to specify? – Alexander Rossa Feb 22 '17 at 17:10
  • Upvote for the effort. Still it doesn't completely answer my question. I know, it's a matter of details, but I'll try to be as clear as possible. You decompose sat-fats into fatty acids, and say myristic and palmitic acids make cholesterol increase. However in this experiment they were still from animal sources. We can speculate they have different impact if they come from animal or vegetable source, for reasons that we might not know (still). It would be perfect to have a trial where 2 groups are fed with vegan diets, with two different levels of fats, and see if this makes a difference. – Attilio Feb 22 '17 at 20:20
  • Well I am afraid there is no such study for the time being and I doubt there ever will be. Your assumption that two identical substances have different impact based on whether they are from animal or vegetable source seems rather surprising to me. Do you have some reason to believe this? If there are no structural differences between the two, it is very unlikely they will have different metabolic destiny in our bodies. And as for there being things that we might still not know, well, that is hard to argue about - yes, there might, but unless we know for sure, let's just work with what we have – Alexander Rossa Feb 22 '17 at 20:28
  • If such a study hasn't been done yet, then the correct answer is "we still don't know". As for the substances (with "no structural differences") that might have different effect, we have reasons to suspect that this might happen. For example, there are several studies where supplementation with vitamins didn't sort out the expected results, ALTOUGH natural and artificial vitamins have the same molecular structure. – Attilio Feb 22 '17 at 21:20

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