My past articles have focused on broad generalities and recommendations on how to achieve vibrant health through quality foods, exercise, and testing yourself. I want to start getting more specific about foods and exercises and I can think of nothing better than to address the one thing that has been more misunderstood and inappropriately demonized than any other thing in the health and fitness industry: saturated fats!
Many people know very little about saturated fats except that we are told to avoid them and that they cause heart disease. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Did you know that medical doctors only receive 2-4 hours of clinical nutrition training and they are the ones we often go to for nutritional advice! The truth is that they know about as much about nutrition as you do and that’s why it’s important to educate yourself.
A simple review of the history of how saturated fats became mislabeled as well as the scientific explanation of their true function within the human body will show anyone that they are not something to be feared, but something to be embraced for vibrant health!
Let’s first start by listing what saturated fats are and what they are not.
SATURATED FATS ARE:
- Animal fats – in grass-fed beef/bison, organic/pastured chicken and pork, duck, lard, egg yolks, etc. Animals fed grains do not have healthy saturated fats.
- Whole fat dairy products – butter, yogurt, kefir, cheese, milk, cream from grass-fed cows only!
- Coconut Oil and Palm Oil
- A fatty acid whose carbon backbone is “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.
- Short-chain and Medium-chain fatty acids – easily digested and used for energy thus less likely to be stored as body fat.
- Stable – ideal for cooking in medium-high heats and for the occasional stir-fry since they do not easily oxidize from heat.
- Antimicrobial and Anti-fungal – builds immune system and protects us from harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
- Thermogenic – raises your metabolism and warms your body.
- Food for the Heart – your heart stores saturated fat around it to use as a fuel source in times of stress.
- Hormones and Cell Walls – a primary ingredient for making and balancing hormones and make up 50% of cellular walls.
- Solid at room temperature – Can be stored at room temperature without spoiling easily. Liquid when heated.
- Absorption of Vitamins and Minerals – Vitamins A, D, E, K and minerals such as calcium cannot be absorbed unless saturated fats make up a large proportion of one’s daily fat intake.
- Absorption of Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
- Liver Protection – protects the liver from alcohol and other toxins such as Tylenol.
SATURATED FATS ARE NOT:
- The Cause of High Cholesterol – High cholesterol is due to a plethora of factors that revolve around foods and chemicals that damage the arteries, damage the liver, and cause nutrient deficiencies. I’ll address this in a future post.
- Arterial Plaque – The composition of arterial plaque is around 74% unsaturated fats (vegetable oils/Omega-6) and polyunsaturated oils (Omega-3) and only 26% saturated fat.
- Trans-fats - a mostly man-made villain created by “trans”forming an unsaturated fat into a saturated fat by adding hydrogens to the carbon backbone in order to increase the shelf-life of food products. Some trans-fats occur naturally in plants and do not necessarily cause the same negative health-effects as man-made trans-fats.
- Processed lunch meats – these are processed saturated fats in the form of trans-fats. These meats also contain rancid unsaturated fats, and preservatives.
- Nuts and Seeds - most of the fats in nuts and seeds are unsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- Vegetable Oils – most of the fats in vegetables and their oils are unsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- Fish Oils – most of the fats in fish are polyunsaturated.
- Avocados – most of the fats in avocados are unsaturated.
I won’t go into a drawn out history lesson, but saturated fats were prevalent in the American diet and world at large for most of our history and high-cholesterol and heart disease were not! In fact, when the creator of the electro-cardiograph machine tried to introduce his product for large-scale use in the medical profession during the early 1900′s he was told there wasn’t a market for such a device. Not until several decades later did it become more and more needed as rates of heart disease rapidly rose. Little did they realize that the main cause of such a rise was due to the fact that saturated fats were being reduced in the diet and replaced with sugars, unsaturated fats (vegetable oils), trans-fats (margarine, shortening, butter-substitutes) and processed food products containing trans-fats and oxidized/rancid unsaturated fats.
The truth is that there has NEVER BEEN a scientific study that comes even close to implicating saturated fats as the specific cause of high cholesterol or heart disease. There simply isn’t a hard, provable connection. The study that started the whole demonization of saturated fats was done by Ancel Keys in the late 1950s and was titled the Seven Countries Study.
This study was a 20-year study of about 12,000 men between the ages of 40 and 59 from 16 communities in Italy, the Greek islands, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan and the United States.
The Seven Countries Study is said to “prove” that countries with the highest saturated fat consumption had the highest rates of heart disease.
Subsequent researchers had criticized this Seven Countries Study and pointed out serious flaws. But these criticisms were largely ignored by the media and medical community and the theory that saturated fats “cause” heart disease became widely accepted.
The Seven Countries in Ancel Keys study were said to have been chosen for their contrasting dietary patterns and the relative uniformity of their rural labouring populations.
However, a major criticism is that Ancel Keys had chosen to study only those countries where both saturated fats consumption and heart disease were high. He ignored other countries that ate similar diet but had low rates of heart disease.
What has happened since is the growth of the cholesterol lowering drug industry, the largest and most profitable sector of the prescription drug market. There is simply too much profit at stake for these industries to admit that there is no real connection between cholesterol and heart disease. Because of this, the “machine that is too big to fail” will always fight the truth and continue their tradition of misinforming the public and doctors alike.
In conclusion, there still have been no conclusive studies that have proven that saturated fats are the case behind high-cholesterol or heart disease. Even more important is that we focus on saturated fats for what they are: naturally occurring fats that G-d has created with many life-giving benefits. It is important to remember that each of us need different amounts of saturated fats and have different levels of tolerance. Pay attention to your metabolic type and how your body responds to foods so that you can enjoy the right amount. Now go put some grass-fed butter on those vegetables!
Nathan W. Jackson