Why Saturated Fat is GOOD for you
You have likely heard saturated fat is harmful.
You’ve also likely been told it increases bad cholesterol levels, clogs arteries and causes heart disease. Therefore, you may have avoided all forms of saturated fat in your diet.
Until recently, this has been the case for most people.
Saturated fat was public enemy number one.
However, with the reduction of fat in the diet, people began to replace it with higher amounts of carbohydrates and opted for low-fat, high-sugar foods.
Many experts believe this high carb era ushered in the obesity crisis.
Around this time, people also began to replace saturated fats with unhealthy types of unsaturated fats. The high intake of polyunsaturated fats such as soybean or corn oil, which are high in omega 6’s, brought about even more health concerns.
New research insights have begun to shift these paradigms.
The “new” news is that saturated fat isn’t bad! No, contrary to the long-held belief, it is now actually deemed to be GOOD for you.
One of the biggest buzz terms these days in the health word is the idea of “healthy fats”. Can we now place certain saturated fats into this group?
The answer is yes.
What is saturated fat?
Fats are one of the three major macronutrients.
Fat provide energy and fuel for the body. In excess, fats are converted into stored energy in the body.
All fats, no matter the type, provide the same number of calories (9 calories per gram).
The composition of fat is a glycerol molecule attached to three fatty acids.
The fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated (characterized by their chemical structure), and this determines the type of fat that results.
Saturated fats are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms meaning they have no room for double bonds. Due to their lack of double bonds they are considered saturated fats and they typically exist as solids as room temperature.
On the other hand, unsaturated fats contain double bonds and therefore exist as liquids at room temperature.
Fats are a combination of different types of fatty acids. No fat is entirely saturated or unsaturated. Rather, they are mostly saturated or mostly unsaturated, which give them their unique solid or liquid-like compositions.
Saturated fats are typically found in meats, butter, dairy products, coconuts and coconut oil.
So why do people think saturated fat is bad?
Years ago, people began dying of heart disease. It became the number one cause of death (and still is today). Scientists searched for clues behind these skyrocketing rates of heart disease.
Research at the time had established that saturated fat raised cholesterol levels. People also knew that cholesterol played a role in heart disease. This then led people to assume that consumption of saturated fat caused heart disease. This assumption that brought about the low-fat era and such guidelines as those made by the American Heart Association to “reduce saturated fat intake to no more than 7% of total daily calories” was not based any human experiments.
Thus, recent evidence revealed that there has been no established experimental evidence to show that one (saturated fat) caused the other (heart disease)1.
What are the effects of saturated fat on cholesterol?
Saturated fat does raise cholesterol. That is a fact.
When fats are digested they are packaged into lipoproteins (called LDL and HDL). They are put into these vehicles to be transported through the watery blood stream because fats don’t like water.
LDL and HDL are proteins that carry fat and cholesterol in the body. LDL is generally referred to as “bad” because it gets deposited in the body. HDL is referred to as the “good” scavenger molecule because it goes around and scavenges excess cholesterol and brings it to the liver to be excreted.
Conventional doctors have long used the total cholesterol test. It is not a good, indicator test because it includes both LDL and HDL markers. If the test is high, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The test tells us nothing about the ratio of LDL and HDL. Yes, saturated fat raises LDL but it also raises HDL. This is something that doctors and others still forget to address.
New research has shown that LDL isn’t necessarily “bad” either. Studies have shown that are two types of LDL: small, dense, oxidized (this is the bad stuff) or large, fluffy, benign (the good). The small, dense LDL is detrimental because it can become damaged easily and lodged into artery walls causing inflammation and blockages.
Research has shown that saturated fat can be beneficial and change LDL size and shape from the small, dense form to the large, fluffy, benign type2,3.
This is exciting news. It shows that saturated fat can change the shape of LDL from a harmful type to a helpful one and protect against heart disease.
Here in our office we don’t focus on total cholesterol. We are concerned with the size, the type, and the particle numbers of cholesterol. We do the most advanced testing in the world here to identify your risk for disease. Come see us in our office or read my book to gain more insight.
Is saturated fat bad for your heart?
A novel study was published in 2017 in which they looked at what 135,000 people from 18 different countries ate over the span of 10 years4. The results drastically shifted thought patterns and brought about the notion that low-fat diets are deadly.
The study revealed that people who ate the least fat and the most carbohydrates had a significantly greater risk of mortality (28% greater chance of death)4. On the other hand, those who ate the most fat (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) had a significantly lower risk of death4. Additionally, a higher intake of saturated fats was associated with a lower risk of stroke4. The authors concluded that total fat and types of fat (i.e. saturated) were not associated with heart attack, heart disease or heart disease death4.
As stated before, saturated fat is good for your heart.
What are some of the new findings regarding saturated fat and health?
Not all LDL is the same
- New research has shown that there are two types of LDL: large, fluffy, benign types and small, dense, oxidized ones.
- The large, fluffy LDL particles are good for you and help your heart!
All LDL isn’t bad
- Saturated fat does raise LDL, but it also raises HDL and decreases triglyceride levels.
- Saturated fat can also change the size and shape of LDL from harmful (small and dense) to protective (large and fluffy).
The type of saturated fat you consume matters
- Certain types of saturated fats are better than others. Grass-fed beef tallow, grass-fed butter, grass-fed meat, eggs and coconut oil are exceptional sat fat sources.
- Don’t eat fried, saturated fat from a fast food restaurant. This type is detrimental to health.
Saturated aids in weight management
- It boosts satiety and as a result, it can help control waistlines. Fats keep us feeling fuller, longer and they don’t spike our blood sugar.
- An interesting point is that when the anti-fat campaign took place, the obesity epidemic began to climb.
Saturated fats are healthier than some unsaturated fats
- When saturated fat was vilified, Americans stocked their shelves with polyunsaturated ones (corn, canola and soybean oils) thinking these were healthier than butter. The opposite is true. These types of processed oils contain high amounts of omega 6’s, which are highly inflammatory and can contribute to heart disease rather than protect from it.
- The right type of saturated fat is healthy. Omega 3 fats are also healthy. Processed vegetable oil fats are not.
Balance your fats
- In the end it’s all about balance. Get in enough of the right type of saturated fats. Increase your anti-inflammatory omega-3 intake. Reduce processed vegetable oil use and swap it for heart-healthy cooking oils.
- Don’t consume anything in excess. Energy in should equal equal energy out
- Protein, fat and carbohydrates eaten in excess all get stored as fat in the body (the body’s preferred storage method) and contribute to weight gain and inflammation.
Does saturated fat cause heart disease or cancer?
Eating saturated fat does not directly cause heart disease or cancer.
The issue with health isn’t saturated fat. It is the type of saturated fat and the amount of fat (or any food) that one is eating.
Again, anything eaten in excess can be bad. Excess calories are stored as fat in the body and contribute to weight gain, obesity and chronic disease risk.
Since fat provides a high amount of energy, people who over eat and exceed their energy needs will gain weight especially if they are inactive.
Being overweight or obese causes the body to produce tags of inflammation saying, “Warning, we’ve got too much fat storage happening here”. It’s a notification that excess weight gain is not normal or healthy.
Higher inflammation (from being overweight or obese) is associated with increased risk for heart disease and cancer. Saturated fat is not the villain here.
Should anyone eat a diet low in saturated fat?
Individuals with the APOE4 genotype are at risk for hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol genetics).
If you inherited the APOE4 genotype, you might need to take special care to follow a specific diet avoiding saturated fats and other foods that promote alterations in LDL: HDL cholesterol ratios, as changes in this ratio are associated with increased APOE expression in the brain and heart.
Current research suggests that a diet lower in saturated fat and carbohydrates is best (as of now) for carriers of the APOE4 gene.
My approach is to follow organic Paleo food rules and get tested. If the test shows an issue, then we can tweak the fat/protein/carb ratios. Not all ApoE4 needs to follow low fat.
Why is saturated fat good for you?
- Fat is a major macronutrient and it provides a great source of energy to the body.
- It is also essential to absorption of vitamins and minerals.
- Fat is needed to build cell membranes (which protects cells), protect vital organs, and insulate the body from temperature extremes.
- Saturated fat can also raise HDL cholesterol, which is cardioprotective.
- It is also needed for brain and cognitive health.
What are the “bad” fats?
Avoid trans fats.
These have been artificially processed and are unstable in the body. They have been shown to promote inflammation and decrease HDL levels. They are associated with obesity and cancer and thus have been proven to be the “bad” fats.
What foods contain the most saturated fat?
- Red meat
- Coconut oil
- Dark chocolate
- Dairy products
Try consuming some healthy saturated fat!
- Use grass-fed butter or grass-fed meats
- Cook with heart-healthy oils like coconut oil
- Try out some organ meat recipes for dinner
- Make some egg frittata muffins for breakfast
Summary of information:
- Contrary to the long-held popular belief, saturated fat isn’t bad for you.
- In fact, the right sources of saturated fat can actually be good for you and can reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Opt for nutritious saturated fats such as grass-fed butter, grass-fed meats, coconut oil and eggs.
- Weinberg, 2004: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109703016310
- Dreon et al., 1998: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9583838
- Siri-Tarino et al., 2010: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20089734
- Dehgan et al., 2017: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32252-3/fulltext