A lot of the mis-guided information about saturated fats came from poorly done studies. Testing saturated fats on rabbits (who are not designed to consume meat) and comparing this to humans was the first mistake. Not paying attention to other factors in the subjects’ diet, like carbohydrates, was the biggest mistake. In 2010, an extensive analysis and research study was conducted (21 studies and almost 350,000 subjects). The results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the conclusion was that there is absolutely no association between saturated fat and heart disease. Eat your heart out! Sort of. Interestingly, this information is not new. Research has been indicating this for quite some time. Here is a shocking find:
“In 1970, the Framingham Heart Study, one of the largest and most influential studies on heart health done to date, concluded that dietary cholesterol had absolutely no effect on serum cholesterol levels (the cholesterol levels your doctor tests). In 1971, one of the researchers from that study, George Mann, went on to examine the primitive Maasai people in Africa, who eat mainly raw cow’s milk and meat. Their overwhelming lack of heart disease led Mann to conclude that saturated fat or animal products are not the enemy.” 1
We really don’t need to go to Africa to figure out that something was amiss with the idea that animal products are causing all the problems. We know that a hundred years ago heart disease, diabetes and cancer were almost non-existent and this was a time when people consumed diets that were relatively high in saturated fats.
Today 60% to 70% of our diet is comprised of wheat, barley, rice and other carbs not to mention the other sugar laden “goodies” we are consuming. The reason the Western diet is so toxic is because it is really not based on any traditional principles and wisdom of proper eating in contrast to such diets like the Mediterranean or Japanese diet. They may not have had science but they had thousands of years of experimentation to figure out what food combinations were healthy. The Western diet on the other hand started out as a diet of survival for the early pioneers. It then resulted in being a mish-mash-melting-pot diet of anything that was available as well as a result of various cultures assimilating their diets. Ask your great grandmother if they ate spaghetti for supper. They did eat bread, but it was organic, whole grain bread and they did not eat carbs or sugar in anywhere near the same proportions that we do.
Researchers found further proof that carbs are the real killer when they discovered that swapping bacon and eggs in the morning for a bagel raises your ‘bad’ cholesterol. “When you replace saturated fats with refined carbs, your triglycerides can go up and your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol can go down,” explains Alice H. Lichtenstein, the director of Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University. This certainly explains the mystifying healing power of the Paleo diet in which countless individuals with MS experienced complete remission from their disease or significant improvement from the symptoms of the disease. Because the Paleo diet eliminates carbs and sugar, inflammation in the body is greatly reduced which has resulted in success for people with inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and many other chronic conditions.
Saturated fat comes from animal products and is found in:
Cholesterol is actually a necessary component of the body. Our body manufactures 1,000 to 14,000 milligrams of cholesterol every day. So the next time someone tells you cholesterol is bad for you can hand them this condensed list of why without it you would die.
These are a few of the ways that saturated fats (and the cholesterol that goes with it) are essential to your health:
- 50% of the cell membrane is made of fat
- The heart muscle prefers saturated fat for energy
- Cholesterol from saturated fat is absolutely essential to manufacture hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
- Lauric acid (another component of saturated fat) helps to prevent plaque from building up on your teeth and arteries. Plaque build up is what contributes to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Lauric acid is also an anti-fungal which helps your immune system.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are better absorbed into the body when the diet is rich in saturated fats (kind of like how many of our great grandparents ate meat, dairy and eggs with some fish and nuts)
- Caprylic acid (a component of saturated fat) is an antiviral
- Saturated fat is necessary to move calcium into the bones
- Protects the liver from alcohol and other toxins
- Improves the immune system
- Saturated fat is needed to make bile, skin and brain cells as well as all cells in the body
So should we consume saturated fat? The answer is yes. In moderation. If you are doing some version of the paleo diet and are eliminating grains and most starches then this eliminates the problem of LDL cholesterol being oxidized by high carb foods and sweets.
If you are eating a relatively healthy version of the Western diet and you are still eating a fair amount of carbs and sugar then you do need to be careful not to raise your oxidized LDL cholesterol. Try eating lots of vegetables, some whole grains, some fruit, and moderate animal products.
Either way animal products are definitely not something you need to be eating at every meal. I don’t want to advise you to eat a certain diet because as I have mentioned in a previous post Eat Right for Your Type what is right for your body might not be right for mine.
If you’re still having a hard time with this idea remember that coconut oil (a saturated fat) actually lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease as well as improves diabetes and aids in weight loss. And butter? Well I love butter. My naturopathic doctor told me I wasn’t getting enough fat and to eat butter liberally. There’s nothing wrong with spooning off a chunk!
**For some great information on debunking the myth of saturated fat as dangerous check out Nick English’s article “Everyone was Wrong; Saturated Fat is Good for You” http://greatist.com/health/saturated-fat-healthy