Demonizing saturated fats…did we make a mistake?
More than ever, it seems people today are confused on what to eat and what is truth. With so much conflicting information AND changing of nutrition advice, we are all at a loss as to what is actually healthy for us and what is not. I know my head is constantly spinning.
The truth is, overall, we really don’t know that much about food, nutrition, hormonal response to foods, and how this all affects our physiology. Nutrition is such a new science — we’ve barely touched the surface as to the power it has over our health and wellbeing. And we’ve mislabeled good things as bad and bad things as good over time. We learn as we go and as we take a deeper look at the old and new data.
With that said, today I want to talk about a very controversial topic — saturated fat. You know, the evil, artery clogging, heart attack promoting stuff that most doctors tell you to eliminate from your diet or lower as much as possible.
Today I want to present another side to the saturated fat story. I want to discuss with you (with studies to back up what I’m saying) why I believe saturated fat has undeservingly received a bad reputation. I will discuss why saturated fat can actually be very beneficial to you — why we have been brainwashed into thinking it is unhealthful and why you should start incorporating it back into your daily diet.
First, what are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that are held together by single bonds. Single bonded chains are very stable and strong (since they are saturated with hydrogen). They do not go rancid or break down when exposed to heat or oxygen. In contrast, poly- and mono-unsaturated fats have one or more double bonds, which make them weak.
This is one reason why it is best to cook with saturated fats — they are stable (do not break down) and are not changing chemically into unhealthful, cancer-promoting compounds, like polyunsaturated oils can with cooking. These strong bonds and chemical structure of saturated fats also delivers anti-cancer properties in the body.
Foods that contain saturated fats are coconut oil, butter, eggs, cheese, meats, and full fat dairy (such as whole milk and cream).
What is the role of saturated fats in the body?
Saturated fats have many positive roles in the body. In fact, half of our cells are composed of saturated fat.
- Are resilient to oxidation — meaning they’re protecting your body from the harmful effects of oxygen and oxidants such as iron (in this way, saturated fats need less help from antioxidants and lower your risk of developing many types of cancer)
- When incorporated into cells, decrease body inflammation in comparison to poly- and mono-unsaturated fats
- Boost your metabolism (especially coconut oil)
- Help regulate blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates
- Help with glucose metabolism
- Contain high amounts of essential fat-soluble vitamins ( K2, A, and D )
- Can help detoxify the liver and pancreas
- Help with digestion
- Make food taste amazing
So where did it all go wrong?
Why has saturated fat received such a bad rap? Well, back in the 1950’s a biologist/researcher named Ancel Keys “proved” that saturated fats caused heart disease, and then later showed that saturated fats raise cholesterol levels. I say “proved” because when you look at all the research data, including all the omitted data, you will see that Mr. Keys really didn’t prove anything. Yes, he reviewed 7 countries that had high saturated fat intake and high heart disease. The problem is that he failed to report on the other 16 countries that did not support his hypothesis. In fact, many of these countries proved quite the opposite — they disproved his theory. Some countries, including France and Holland, had a very high saturated fat intake and had extremely low heart disease. And other countries like Chile had a very low saturated fat intake and a high incidence of heart disease. Essentially, Keys developed a HYPOTHESIS that made a correlation between high saturated fat and heart disease, he did not PROVE anything. Unfortunately, his correlation was enough to get him on the cover of Time Magazine, and this ended up becoming the beginning of the “evil saturated fat” theory.
Since then, subsequent controlled studies have tried to prove that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels, and thus increases your chances of heart disease. Most of these studies were found to be inconclusive, poorly designed, or completely unsupportive of the “saturated fat is evil” hypothesis.
So what does this all mean?
Simply put, you shouldn’t be scared of saturated fat. Personally, I eat anywhere from 20% to 30% of my calories from fat, most of that being saturated fat. Now, I know this may be a little shocking to many of you, since it’s against popular opinion at the moment. However, nutrition science is evolving as we learn more. And think about this — in the last 60 years we have ingested far less saturated fat and tons more polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oils) and have only gotten fatter, increased the incidence of diabetes and heart disease, and are just plain less healthy.
My personal journey to eating a diet that does not limit saturated fat (and purposefully incorporates it into meals) has been an educational, healing, and enlightening one. In my blog next week, I will be going over exactly what I eat, how it helped me heal my body, and why I am now a big saturated fat fan.
Consider adding these foods that have healthy saturated fats in your diet.
- Coconut oil
- Grass fed, organic whole milk and cream (raw if you can buy it)
- Grass fed organic cheese
- Grass fed meats. Beef, lamb, and bison
- Dark organic chocolate (additive free)
- Organic butter
- Organic ghee
- Lard from grass-fed animals
*Also remember, processed foods, baked goods, fast foods, and other “garbage foods” have a good amount of saturated fats — these are not the ones I am talking about! If it is not on the list above, stay away!
Your Optimal Health Coach,
“Disclaimer: I am an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, nutritional and lifestyle coach, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, mitigate or cure any human disease or physical problem. I do not provide diagnosis, care treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles. I do not prescribe prescription drugs nor do I tell you to discontinue them. I provide physical and dietary suggestions to improve health and wellness and to nourish and support normal function and structure of the body. If you suspect any disease please consult your physician.”
www.raypeat.com Suitable Fats, Unsuitable fats: Issues in Nutrition
Eat Fat Lose Fat, Dr Mary Enig and Sally Fallon
Ancel Keys, Seven Countries: A multivariable Analysis or Death and coronary Heart Disease.
Uffe Ravnskov: The Cholesterol Myths.