The myths, lies, and misconceptions about saturated fat and your health.
In the last couple of years there has been a mistaken belief in society AND with MOST health professionals that saturated fat is bad for you. Lately there has been a shift and momentum is gaining among health professionals that it was a faulty research in the past about saturated fat, and that some new emerging research is showing why saturated fat may actually be more good for you than you would believe.
The “Fact” that saturated fat is bad for your health has never been proven by legitimate studies. First of all, did you realise that although doctors, nutritionists, fitness professionals, and the media all have told you that it’s a FACT that saturated fats are bad for you, this “FACT” has actually never been proven! It’s actually not a “fact” at all. It was a hypothesis! This goes all the way back to flawed research studies from the 1950’s which laid the blame on dietary fat intake for the increasing heart disease phenomenon.
However, there were major flaws in this study. For one, the conclusions used data from a small portion of the countries where data was available on fat consumption vs heart disease death rate. When researches have gone back in and looked at the data from all of the countries, there actually was no link between fat consumption and heart disease deaths. So the earlier conclusions were actually false.
Second, blaming of fat intake for heart disease was only one factor that was considered. There was no consideration of other factors such as smoking rates, stress factors, sugar intake, exercise frequency, or other lifestyle factors. Basically, conclusions which blamed heart disease deaths on fat intake were really just a shot in the dark about what a possible cause may have been, even though all of those other factors I just mentioned, plus many others, may be the bigger cause.
Unfortunately, these studies have been cited for over 5 decades now as “fact” that saturated fat is bad for you. As you can see, there certainly is nothing factual about it. Since that time, numerous other studies have been conducted trying to link saturated fat intake to heart disease. The majority of these studies have failed to correlate ANY risk at all from saturated fat. A couple of them made feeble attempts at linking saturated fat to heart disease, however, it was later shown that in those studies, the data was flawed as well.
Another issue with flawed studies is that many studies have lumped artificial trans fat intake together with saturated fat intake, and mistakenly laid the blame on saturated fat despite the overwhelming evidence that artificial trans fat is the REAL health risk. This is a HUGE mistake as there is a vast difference in how your body processes nasty artificially created trans fats vs the perfectly natural saturated fats that have been part of the human diet since the beginning of man.
Do we actually have evidence that saturated fat may actually be good for you instead?
Well, let’s consider a few examples…
Did you know that there are several well-known tribes in Africa… the Masai, Samburu, and Fulani tribes… where their diet consists mostly of raw (unpasteurized) whole milk, lots of red meat, and cows blood? The typical members of these tribes eat 5x the average amount of saturated fat compared to overweight, disease-ridden Americans. Despite their very high saturated fat intake, they display extremely low body fat levels, and heart disease and diabetes to natives of the tribe is virtually non-existent. Now most critics of this example will say that it must be related to superior genetics… however this is false, as when they studied tribesman who had moved out of their native lands and started eating more modern-day diets, their blood chemistry skyrocketed with heart disease risk factors.
This is true of certain pacific island countries inhabitants as well. Several studies have shown that certain pacific island nations had VERY high intakes of total fat as well as saturated fat from tropical fats such as palm, coconut, and cocoa. Tropical plants in general have naturally higher levels of saturated fats in their tissues due to the warmer climate. Despite super-high intakes of saturated fat, these island natives were typically very lean and heart disease was virtually non-existent. However, again, as before when researchers followed up with islanders that had moved away from their native island and adopted a typical western diet, the heart disease risk factors were through the roof.
Did you know that Saturated Fats Increase The Size of LDL Cholesterol. Now, Cholesterol is a molecule that is absolutely vital to life. Every cell membrane in our bodies is loaded with it. It is used to make hormones like cortisol, testosterone and estradiol. Without cholesterol, we would die… and our bodies have developed elaborate mechanisms to manufacture it, to make sure we always have enough. But a protein that carries cholesterol in the blood, Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), has been associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.
However, new data shows that there are subtypes of LDL:
- Small, Dense LDL: Particles that are small, dense and can easily penetrate the arterial wall.
- Large LDL: Particles that are large and fluffy like cotton balls. These particles are NOT associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats raise the large subtype of LDL… which means that the cholesterol-raising effects of saturated fats (which are mild) are irrelevant. In short, Saturated Fats only mildly elevate Large LDL, a benign subtype of LDL that is not associated with heart disease.
Also, a fact that is often ignored in the fear mongering against saturated fats, is that they also affect another type of cholesterol… HDL. HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is also known as the “good” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol away from the arteries and towards the liver, where it may be either excreted or reused. The higher your HDL levels, the lower your risk of heart disease… and saturated fats raise blood levels of HDL. The Bottom Line is that eating saturated fats raises blood levels of HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, which should lower your risk of heart disease.
A massive review article published in 2009 examined data from twenty-one studies (identified by searching MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and secondary referencing qualified for inclusion in this study) during a 5–23 y of follow-up of on a total of 347,747 individuals. They found absolutely no association between saturated fat and the risk of heart disease. Other systematic reviews that look at the evidence as a whole found literally no evidence of an association. Actually, the idea that saturated fat caused heart disease was a myth all along, based on flawed studies by biased scientists that were in love with their theories. Somehow this became common knowledge and both the media and health professionals accepted it as a fact that “artery-clogging saturated fat” was harmful. There is absolutely no evidence that eating saturated fat is associated with heart disease. It is a myth that was never proven.
Another fact worth noting in favor of saturated fat…
Saturated fat is composed of various different types… the 3 most common types are stearic acid, palmitic acid, and lauric acid.
Stearic acid is found in animal fat and cocoa in higher levels. Research continues to show that stearic acid has no negative impacts on heart disease risks. If anything, it’s either neutral or beneficial. In fact, your liver breaks down stearic acid into a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is the same type of fat that makes up most of heart-healthy olive oil. Bet you didn’t know that!
Lauric acid is beneficial as well. Not only has it been shown to increase your HDL good cholesterol levels significantly, but it is also lacking in most Americans diet and has even been shown to have some powerful immune-boosting effects potentially. It is even being studied currently in HIV/AIDS research to help improve immune function in patients.
Tropical oils such as coconut and palm are the best sources of the healthy saturated fat – lauric acid.
Palmitic acid is the other main component of saturated fat and has also been shown to increase HDL good cholesterol to the same, if not greater extent than LDL bad cholesterol, thereby making it either neutral or beneficial, but certainly not bad for you.
Lastly, saturated fats are much less likely to react with oxygen than unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturates, contain many double bonds and are therefore especially prone to oxidation. When unsaturated fats react with oxygen during high heat cooking, they form toxic byproducts and go rancid. Therefore, saturated fats like butter and coconut oil are better options when you need to cook something at a high heat.
With all of this said about saturated fat being not so bad after all, we need to pay more attention to those foods that actually HARM our body which we shall cover in a future article.