Scared of Saturated Fats? Read This!

By Kim Banting,

We only know as much as our current scientific research has shared with us.  It changes constantly and contributes to a lot of confusion when it comes to our health and what foods we consider to be wholesome or harmful.  Saturated fat is another confusing food to contemplate. For the past 60 years, we have been advised to reduce or eliminate saturated fats and cholesterol from our diets and substitute them with polyunsaturated fats, however, the current evidence does not support these guidelines and the adverse health effects associated with the consumption of saturated fats are most likely due to other factors.

In 1955, scientific researcher, Ansel Keys introduced his lipid hypothesis which claimed that dietary fat raised blood cholesterol and increased the risk of heart disease.  Initially he blamed all fats, but eventually he pointed his finger at saturated fat alone and stated that unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil were beneficial, while saturated fats from meat and eggs were harmful.  Health Canada jumped on board, telling us to avoid butter, eggs, meat and high fat dairy foods and emphasized the low fat diet craze to prevent Cardiovascular Disease.  The public bought this advise and switched to margarine, leaner meats and fish, but heart disease has risen anyway.

In a recent British Medical Journal review, titled “Saturated Fat is Not The Major Issue”, Dr. Aseem Malhotra wrote “saturated fat has been demonized ever since Ansel Key’s landmark “7 Countries” study in 1970.”  http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6340  When Ansel Keys shared his theory, many other researchers pointed out that there were many other factors that could have been contributing to heart disease, and that Mr. Keys conveniently excluded information that did not support his ideas.  The countries he chose for his 7 countries study with the highest rates of heart disease were also the countries with the highest sugar consumption, yet this was quietly swept under the carpet.  In spite of critics pointing out the discrepancy, the public ate it up and began to consume inflammatory vegetable oils and trans fats while avoiding saturated fat like the plague.  Until the mid-90′s, scientific researchers assured us that trans fats were complete harmless.

While some fats do raise cholesterol, and others lower it, it is not total cholesterol that is of such importance, so much as the type of cholesterol.  Your total ratio of HDL to LDL is very important, but so is the type of LDL!  I will get to this in a bit.  For now, let’s agree that saturated fat raises both HDL and LDL where sugar only lowers HDL.  This is important, because HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad.  Next, the quality, or source of your saturated fat is crucial.  A fast food burger, or any beef that is mass produced in a CAFO is NOT quality meat.  (CAFO stands for Confined Agricultural Feeding Operation)  The animals raised in CAFO’s are never exposed to a grass pasture.  They spend their entire existence in a concrete or mud enclosure, knee-deep in their own waste.  They are fed genetically modified corn and soy, which is not their natural diet.  This feed is designed to make them gain their maximum weight in the shortest time.  These animals are depressed and sick and must be given antibiotics to combat the bacterial growth that is inevitable given their living conditions and poor diet.

Grass-fed cattle are raised in what we would typically think of as the family farm environment.  They are let out to pasture daily to graze on plants.  They move around in a clean environment and get exercise.  These cows are only supplemented with organic feed if necessary during harsh winters.  These are healthy, happy animals and nutritionally they are far superior to CAFO animals.  Just consider two humans: one who eats plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and gets regular exercise to another who eats mainly processed and refined foods and lays around indoors-who will be in better health?  Grass-fed cows are lower in saturated fat than grain-fed cows and this saturated fat is higher in stearic acid (does not raise cholesterol and may even lower LDL), and lower in palmitic acid and myristic acid which raise cholesterol.

Our understanding of cholesterol has changed over the years; not only do we know that HDL is healthy and LDL is bad, but within LDL cholesterol there are molecules that are large and fluffy (good) and some molecules that are small and dense (bad), meaning some LDL is good.  Eating some saturated fats like coconut oil will help to raise this healthy cholesterol.  As an added bonus, many saturated fats have properties that make them anti-microbial which helps our immune system and they are fuel for our mitochondria which helps boost energy and metabolism.  That’s right, some fat will help you burn calories!

When studying the causes of any disease, we must always look at all possibilities.  In the research on Cardiovascular Disease, saturated fat and cholesterol got the bad press while sugar flew under the radar.  Sugar, especially HFCS and other highly refined, man-made sugars have been on higher consumption for the past 70 years, just like the increase in Cardiovascular Disease!

  • 1830: 15lbs/capita, mostly molasses-today: 150lbs/capita, mostly HFCS
  • 1900: 1/3 of people lived on a farm-today: 1% of people live on a farm
  • 1910: type 2 Diabetes affected 1 in 30-today: 1 in 3 is at risk
  • 1910: butter consumption was 18lbs per person per year and CVD was <10%-today:  we eat <4lbs per year and CVD is >45%!

In the early 1900′s, butter and lard were staples in every home, but far less sugar was consumed and heart attacks were rare.  None of our sugar came from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) but in the past 30 years, since it has been introduced, we have seen obesity and chronic diseases skyrocket!  A high sugar and refined carb diet may increase your risk of CVD by 4 times; specifically heart attacks!

Dietary guidelines limit saturated fat intake to a maximum of 10% of calories, but there has been no limit to sugar intake to date.  Sugar contributes to increased triglycerides, lower HDL and higher LDL as well as inflammation, which is the precursor to all chronic disease.  We have been eating more and more highly processed foods that are labelled low-fat and fat-free, but if you inspect the label, you will see that the fat has been replaced by sugar and total carbs is very high in low-fat foods.  Bottom line: do not fear saturated fat, but do choose healthy sources like coconut oil, grass-fed beef and eggs from pastured hens.  Eat a diet that is abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables and limit sugar of all kinds.  If your great grandparents wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it!

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