Written by Jason Rickaby - PhD Nutrition Founder
Those of you who remember the days before fat stopped being a swearword, will remember that dietary recommendations
of the 80’s and early 90’s usually recommended as little fat as possible and a diet as high as 70% of calories coming from carbohydrates. These calorie recommendations weren’t usually broken down into carbohydrate types, they were quite often general in their advice. It was “Carbs are good and all fats are bad”.
Throw forward some two decades or more and we have become more educated in the role of fats and sugar in the body and given 2 or 3 decades of carb-abuse, are still suffering the same health and body weight issues as we were when we were told “fat” was the cause. Heart and cardiovascular health, obesity, diabetes is all on the rise and we have long since realised that “fat” of any type, isn’t the cause. A general increase in overindulgence of any macro-nutrient source, lack of exercise, sedate lifestyle, alcohol, smoking, poor food timing, binge eating and drinking, sugar-based soft drinks- all these have a part to play in the rise in ill-health.
Despite all this simple evidence that we see every day, some ill-informed people still believe that “saturated fat” is the cause of most terrible things that mankind can suffer.
The reality is, too much saturated fat is bad. Too many bacon sandwiches everyday for years on end, too many spoonfuls of butter, too many doughnuts, cakes, and pastries aren’t going to do any of us much good, especially (as with most of the above food types) if they are combined with tons of refined sugar. Sugar together with saturated fat in large amounts, on a regular basis, for an extended period, isn’t good. But like all nutrients, saturated fat plays a vital part in any healthy diet and if used (like all macronutrients) sensibly and combined with a great diet, exercise plan and lifestyle, will indeed be extremely beneficial.
A few Studies on Saturated Fat
- A meta-analysis published in 2010 (1), which pooled data from 21 studies and included nearly 348,000 adults, found no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.
- In a 1992 editorial published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. William Castelli, a former director of the Framingham Heart study, stated: “In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. The opposite of what… Keys et al would predict…We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
- Another 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2) found that a reduction in saturated fat intake must be evaluated in the context of replacement by other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates. When you replace saturated fat with a higher carbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity, increase triglycerides and small LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol. The authors state that dietary efforts to improve your cardiovascular disease risk should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intake, and weight reduction.”
Cultures Around the World That Eat a ton of Saturated Fat
There is also current data from populations in several areas around the world that confirms this point:
- The Maasai Tribe in Kenya eats a diet of meat, milk and animal blood (66% saturated fat) and has virtually no heart disease.
- The Eskimo tribes in the arctic subsist on whale meat and blubber (a diet of 75% plus saturated fat) and have very low or no rate of heart disease.
- The Tokelau of New Zealand consume a diet of 60% saturated fat from coconuts and fish and again have virtually no heart disease.
These people aren’t simply pre-disposed to heart health, studies show that when people from these tribes move to other countries and consume a westernized diet, they get heart disease in the same rates as people in these countries. It’s a lifestyle issue for most Westerners, not a saturated fat one.
5 reasons Why Saturated fat is important
1- Make the heart happy: The addition of saturated fat to the diet helps to reduce the levels of lipoprotein (a) in your body. LP (a) correlates strongly with the risk for heart disease and there are no current medications available that lower levels in the body, the only known solution is to eat more saturated fat. Saturated fat also helps (with other fats) to raise HDL (the good cholesterol).
2- Help you to lose weight: We all know that higher fat, low-carb diets help us to lose weight, we’ve all been doing it for a while now. Fat is generally satiating, far more than carbs, it will help keep you fuller for longer and access stored fat for energy easier (when eaten with a low-carb diet). A diet high in fat and carbs is not so great and will leave you sluggish and inactive.
3- Liver Health: As well as protecting the liver from toxic substances such as alcohol and chemicals, saturated fat has been shown to help the liver dump their fat cells. Clearing fat from the liver is key in the reduction of middle body fat storage.
4- Train your brain: The brain is made largely of fat and the majority of the fat in the brain is saturated. The Myelin Sheath that surrounds the nerves in the brain and ensures their proper function is also largely made of saturated fat and cholesterol. As such, consuming saturated fats is extremely important, especially during pregnancy and nursing as these are times of rapid brain development for babies.
5- Improve your immune health: Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil (myristic acid and lauric acid) play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. We need saturated fat to stay healthy.
1- Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725. Epub 2010 Jan 13. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM