Taped on my refrigerator in my home, is an old, tattered verse that I cut out of a magazine nearly a dozen years ago that so aptly sets the tone for this topic about saturated fats. It reads as follows:
"I Have an Earache..."
2000 BC: Here, eat this root.
1000 AD: That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 AD: That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 AD: That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 AD: That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 AD: That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root...
During my 32 years of experience consulting in the fields of natural/organic products and wellness, it has become apparent that so many things that are thought to be good and healthy, eventually are seen to be bad and unhealthy, and then miraculously many moons later, are once again proven to reign supreme at the top of the list of the most healthful, beneficial foods to consume.
The western world's knowledge and beliefs around the subject of saturated fats, were sadly shunned to this road too often travelled when in the 1920's, American agribusiness embarked on one of the most successful ad campaigns of all times ~ to steer the public away from the traditional saturated fats consumed by our ancestors (such as butter, coconut and palm oils, and animal fats like lard, tallow and suet), and instead, to embrace domestically produced unsaturated fats (such as soy, corn, canola, safflower and sunflower seed oils) which were cleverly touted to be safer, low cholesterol, heart-healthy alternatives. Hence, the medical establishment jumped onboard, and the fate of saturated fats was set into motion. The rest is now imprinted onto the history of a generation replete with the very conditions these 'superior' fats were supposed to prevent.
Eighty years and an entire generation later, the American mindset is finally coming full circle, and recognizing / remembering the basic foods of their ancestral roots. The truth has a persistent way of always shining its light through every adversity...
It is now understood that saturated fats do not create high cholesterol, do not contribute to heart disease, are not cancer-causing, do not draw from the body's reserves of antioxidants, and do not clog arteries.
On the contrary, it's now known that saturated fats play many vital roles in the body to help strengthen the immune system, promote healthy bones, provide energy and structural integrity to the cells, protect the liver, and assist the body's metabolism of essential fatty acids. Most importantly, saturated fats actually have cholesterol lowering properties and are the perfect dietary adjunct for a strong, healthy heart. As well, the short and medium chain fatty acids inherent in saturated fats have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
Below are commonly held misconceptions regarding the health benefits of saturated fats in the body. Whether you gravitate toward a raw food vegan lifestyle, or you prefer to include eggs, dairy and meat in your diet, it is important to understand the new (yet old) scientific research and decide for yourself what feels right in your own body. Truly consider the wisdom of the traditional diets referenced throughout our most revered spiritual texts, that have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be not only healthful, but life-sustaining across generations.
Consuming saturated fat causes high cholesterol.
Your body makes both saturated fats and cholesterol - approximately 2000 mg per day. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer. Cholesterol is the body's repair substance, manufactured in large amounts when the arteries are irritated or structurally weak. The body's natural healing substance then steps in to repair the damage - and that substance is cholesterol! "Blaming heart disease on high serum cholesterol levels is like blaming the firemen who have come to put out a fire, for starting it in the first place!" (quote by Mary Enig PhD and Sally Fallon, President of The Weston A. Price Foundation)
Saturated fats and cholesterol cause clogged arteries.
In a three-year study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers examined the diets and coronary artery conditions of 235 women in the United States with an average age of 66. It was found that women who had regularly eaten the highest amounts of saturated fats had the least amount of additional plaque buildup in their arteries. Also, women who ate more saturated fats had a healthier balance of good and bad cholesterol and more desirable blood concentrations of various kinds of fats.
Another interesting study is the ongoing Framingham Heart Study, in which researchers found that, "The more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol. It appeared that the people who ate the most cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories - weighed the least, and were the most physically active."
A revealing medical evaluation performed at the Wynn Institute for Metabolic Research in London regarding the kind of fat found in clogged arteries, showed that only about 26 percent is saturated fat. The remaining 74 percent is unsaturated fat, of which more than half of that is polyunsaturated fat. (Felton, CV, et al, Lancet, 1994, 344:1195)
Consuming foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol make people prone to heart disease.
It is now believed that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease but rather a potent antioxidant weapon against free radicals in the blood, and a repair substance that helps heal arterial damage. High serum cholesterol levels often indicate that the body needs cholesterol to protect itself from high levels of free-radical-containing fats. It is needed in a poorly nourished body to actually protect our bodies from a tendency towards heart disease and cancer.
The cause of heart disease is no longer attributed to saturated fats and cholesterol, but rather a number of factors inherent in modern diets, including an excess consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats. The onset of pathogenic plaque leading to heart disease, has now been associated with the disappearance of antimicrobial saturated fats from the food supply that once protected us against viruses and bacteria, such as tropical oils like coconut and palm, as well as animal fats like raw dairy, lard, tallow, etc.
In a study published over a decade ago on cooking oils in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association, a New Delhi hospital compared modern day polyunsaturated oils (such as sunflower, safflower, soy and corn oils) to coconut oil in relation to heart disease and Type II diabetes. The researchers found that while heart disease and diabetes had increased with consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable and seed oils, it decreased with traditional oils like coconut oil.
Numerous population studies have shown that people living in countries where large quantities of coconut oil and other saturated fats are consumed, have remarkably good cardiovascular health.
At first this observation confused many researchers, because they did not recognize the difference between medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) and other fats. New research however, has demonstrated that the MCFAs in coconut oil protect against heart disease.
Saturated fats are unhealthy for diabetics.
The body requires insulin to process carbohydrates, but NOT to process fats. And even though fat contains more calories than carbohydrates, it is actually carbohydrates that are stored in the body as fat.
Before the discovery of insulin, the only treatment for diabetes was a very high-fat, zero-carb diet. Because fats slow down the entry of sugar into the bloodstream, it is good for diabetics, and for everyone, to eat fats together with carbohydrates. Dietary fats assist in lowering the glycemic index of carbohydrate foods and help to stabilize blood sugar.
Saturated fats do not cause insulin resistance. Trans-fats are the culprits that cause insulin resistance, yet sadly researchers often confuse trans-fats with saturated fats. When people are told to stop eating saturated fats, unfortunately they can end up eating more trans-fats instead.
Consuming saturated fats (coconut oil, butter, lard, and meat fat) helps to protect against the damaging effects of polyunsaturated vegetable oils and trans-fats, which are relatively new to the human diet.
Saturated fats contribute to obesity.
It might sound odd to a large majority of people who think fat makes us fat, but coconut oil and other saturated fats actually contribute to weight 'loss' not weight gain. In a lab experiment, animals were fed either a low-fat diet with unsaturated oils, or a high-fat diet with coconut oil. The researchers found that while even small amounts of unsaturated fat caused weight gain, the animals that consumed coconut oil remained lean. This is because saturated fat increases metabolism, which then burns calories faster.
An example of this can be found in the people of the Yucatan. They consume high amounts of coconut as a staple food and their average metabolic rate is about 25 percent higher than people in the U.S.
It is healthier to cook with vegetable oils.
Saturated fats are stable and do not oxidize even at high heat cooking temperatures including deep frying. However, high heat cooking will definitely oxidize polyunsaturated oils and to a certain extent monounsaturated oils (such as olive oil), which then creates harmful free radicals.
Unsaturated fats exposed to high heat and oxygen during cooking or commercial food processing, undergo a chemical change known as auto-oxidation, whereby free radicals are produced that cause rancidity. Up until the early 1980's, restaurants and fast food establishments used saturated lard, lamb or beef tallow fat for all their sauteing and deep frying. Sadly today, restaurants almost exclusively use polyunsaturated oils like canola, soy and corn.