Saturated Fat, it has been known to send chills down people’s spine. Clogged arteries, weight gain, death (Oh so dramatic). These are all things we have been taught and heard from others. And heard over and over again. I meet so many people that are terrified of fat. They are totally and completely fat phobic. And because of that fear they are afraid to change their diet. Does that sound like you? Or did this sound like you at one time in your life? I remember growing up we ate a lot of fat free or reduced fat foods. It was extremely common in the 80’s and 90’s!
In this article I will outline why I believe through much study, looking at the research and through personal experience with my own health and with patients why I believe saturated fat is healthy for us.
What is a Saturated Fat?
I want to start out with explaining to you what a saturated fat is. Put in a scientific way a saturated fat is a lipid (fat) which contains no carbon-carbon double bonds. It is fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are also necessary in our diet and to our bodies. They are a major source of energy and are the building blocks to healthy hormone production.
I also want to mention that saturated fats taste great and lead to levels of satiety and increased nutrient absorption. So far they aren’t so scary, right? I bet this info doesn’t make you want to avoid them. It may even be making you want to start eating them. I want to show to you with the help of science that saturated fats are really healthy for us. Let’s start thinking of saturated fats as saturated with essential nutrients.
Why did Saturated Fat get Such a Bad Name?
Saturated fats got a bad name back in the 1950’s when a scientist named Ancel Keys performed a study where he took rabbits and fed them animal fats (saturated fats). He noticed that they started developing high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Much of the fat-free diet craze was because of this study. One thing that is very often forgotten and a crucial piece of interpreting this study is that the natural diet of rabbits does NOT contain saturated fat and cholesterol. They are herbivores not carnivores! They aren’t supposed to eat fat and their bodies can’t handle it and process it. And as humans our physiology is specifically designed to handle animal products, saturated fats and cholesterol. The Ancel Keys study, in my opinion, should have been thrown out a long time ago. But I believe it became popular because food manufacturers could capitalize on this. Enter processed foods! We stepped away from foods that were created in nature and joined the ranks that man could outsmart God and create a better product than him. For example: vegetable oils and rancid hydrogenated oils.
In 1997 Ancel Keys made this quote:
“There’s no connection whatever between the cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood. And we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a rabbit.”
What do the studies say?
There are many studies that prove eating healthy saturated fat and cholesterol don’t have a negative effect on heart disease or mortality rates. One of the biggest studies done is the Framingham Heart Study. Gary Taubes is also a highly studied researcher on the topic of saturated fats and echo’s the truth that eating saturated fats have very little effect on blood lipid levels and does not increase the risk of heart disease or lead to an increased mortality rate. If you read the studies carefully you will see that heart attack risk has a lot more to do with inflammation than total cholesterol. 75% of your cholesterol is made in your liver anyways so the 25% that is influenced by diet is not a major player.
The Numbers Game
Our cholesterol numbers have become ingrained in us by our medical system. It’s like we live or die by the total cholesterol number. We have “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). But what does this all mean anyways? Our total cholesterol, by the medical definition, is supposed to be 200. And what happens if it is 205, they want to put you on statin drugs. Did you know that 50% of the people who have a heart attack and are hospitalized have normal cholesterol levels? And many of them are already on statin drugs. Our total cholesterol number doesn’t play into heart disease like we are taught. It is much more about your overall picture and ratios and particle sizes.
Now let’s look to the lipoproteins. In order for cholesterol to be carried in the blood it has to be attached to a lipoprotein (like HDL, LDN and VLDL). Let’s look into them a little closer. I agree that HDL is protective to our body and should be a higher number, at least above 50. And LDL’s get a bad name and I think should be examined more closely by a NMR test. It’s one of my favorite tests to run and read in practice. It is a test that looks at particle number and particle size. Let me give you an example. Imagine a highway and you have cars on the road and people in the cars. The people represent cholesterol and the cars represent particles. Say it’s rush hour traffic. What are you most worried about? The number of cars on the road or the number of people in the cars? Of course you are more worried about the number of cars. Nobody is stopped on the highway thinking “There’s too many people in all of the cars. If there were less people then the road wouldn’t be so crowded.” No way, it’s all about how many cars on the road! That means that we should be more concerned with the number of particles vs the cholesterol itself. Let’s take it a step further. We also need to think about particle size. The larger the particles the better. The smaller the LDL particles, the more likely they will stick to the wall of your arteries (inflamed arteries). That is where there can be problems. The more little particles you have and the more inflamed your arteries and body the more likely you are to have heart disease or a heart attack. In my opinion, this NMR test should be run on everybody. It truly has the potential to save lives!
Have you heard that low cholesterol is better than high cholesterol? I surely have. But that’s not true. Low cholesterol is even worse than high cholesterol! Low cholesterol can cause strokes, cancer, depression, aggression and hormone imbalance. It can also be linked to memory loss and a higher rate of heart attacks. If your cholesterol is too low, my recommendation is to start eating more fats and decrease sugars in your diet. I also believe that toxins can affect our cholesterol too and if a person’s body is really toxic it can affect their cholesterol numbers and cause low cholesterol.
Bringing it Together with the Cell and Cellular Inflammation
Our cell membrane is so important to our health and to have healthy cells that have healthy hormone receptors and import and export nutrients and waste like they are designed to. Our cell membrane is made up of two layers of fat. It is called the bi-lipid membrane. Our hormone receptors are also made of fat. Specifically cholesterol. And our receptors sit on something called a lipid raft, a raft that is made up of fat. Are you starting to see how important fat is to our cells? Happy cells = happy and healthy body.
They key to this whole cholesterol debate can be summarized with one word: Inflammation. This is what causes problems with our arteries and heart. Inflammation allows fats to stick to our arteries. Inflammation means unhealthy cells that don’t communicate well with each other. Inflammation is what we should worry about. (Read Article HERE). The foods that drive inflammation are sugars and grains. That is why I follow a grain free diet and I recommend it so strongly for others. Another way to combat inflammation is with eating healthy fats, like saturated fats. That nourishes the cell membrane and it allows for proper function of your cells.
Bring on a Food Revolution!
I believe we need a food Revolution. We need to change our mindsets away from being fat phobic and bring on the full health benefits of healthy saturated fats. I believe that we should consume 50%-75% of our dietary calories from fats. People that need a lot of healing in their bodies should eat more fat than someone who is maintaining health. Have fun with fatty foods! Don’t let anyone tell you that eating healthy doesn’t taste good. Just slather your food in fat because it tastes the best!
Healthy Food Sources of Saturated Fats
Before I give you this list of healthy saturated fats to include in your diet, remember that there are some foods that can contain a saturated fat but can be horribly toxic to our body. For example, a donut. There could be butter in the donut or the frosting of the donut (which is a saturated fat) but it is full of sugar, wheat and deep fried. Another example is a huge burger with a bun. The meat may be good for you but everything else on that burger, the bun, sauces and toppings contain wheat, sugar and toxic chemicals. Here are 8 healthy food sources of saturated fat:
- Coconut products, especially coconut oil
- Use coconut oil when cooking on the stove. It has a high smoking point so it stays healthy when heated up. I also add coconut oil to smoothies, add a big to chili or soups and bake with it. I try and get 3 Tablespoons into my diet per day. Coconut oil can actually help you lose weight. It is also healing to the digestive system, so if you have any digestive issues, make sure to get at least 3 Tablespoons of coconut oil in your diet per day. I also love shredded coconut, coconut flour and coconut butter. You can use all of these products with such variety you won’t get sick of coconut
- Animal fats
- Eat meats and eat red meats often. Just make sure that your beef is grass-fed and your poultry is free-range. Grass-fed beef has the perfect omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 4:1 to which feeds your cell membranes and also your brain and nerves/ nervous system
- Use it all the time! Put it on your veggies, spread a lot on your grain-free muffins, use it in baking. Butter contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) that feeds the brain and helps your body burn fat
- With Butter, make sure it is from grass-fed cows and ideally it is in the raw form.
- Red Palm Oil
- It is full of antioxidants and vitamin E. It has a high smoking point so it is perfect for stir fry’s or cooking your eggs
- Raw Grass-Fed Dairy Products (cheese, kefir, cream, milk)
- If you can handle dairy, this is a great source of fat. It also contains protein, fat soluble nutrients and probiotics. Raw and grass-fed dairy packs a big health punch
- Eggs are one of the closest things to a perfect food. Fat and protein. They are versatile and I think they are an amazing fast food. Hard boil them and you can take an egg anywhere with you!
- Nuts and seeds
- Raw or dry roasted are the best choice. That way you avoid unhealthy PUFA oils (inflammatory oils)
- Organ Meats
- Yep, from healthy animals. They are full of amazing fats and nutrients!!