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Posted by on Feb 5, 2014 in Nutrition, Chewing It Over | 0 comments

Saturated Fats are NOT that Evil

Saturated Fats are NOT that Evil

anThe misguided American obsession against saturated fat began back in the late 1950’s with the American scientist, Ancel Keys, who launched the Seven Countries Study to analyze the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries. He concluded that the countries where fat consumption was the highest had the most heart disease, supporting the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease. Keys was later criticized for picking seven countries he knew in advance would support his hypothesis.

However, this observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades. In 1977 The Dietary Goals For The United States to reverse the epidemic of heart disease was published:

  • Eat less fat and cholesterol.
  • Less refined and processed sugars.
  • More complex carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits and grains.

These guidelines were supported by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) who. also. happened. to sell . grains….hmm.

confInterestingly enough the obesity epidemic started around the time these guidelines were published and the diabetes epidemic followed soon after. Patients at risk for heart disease were urged to swear off red meat and switch to fat-free and low-fat dairy products and the food industry, eager to please consumers by lowering fat, rushed to boost the flavor of their tasteless products with added sugar, trans-fats and glow-in-the-dark food chemicals.

In 2010 a massive epidemiologic meta-analysis proved that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) or CVD (cardivascular disease) [1]. Another study even showed that eating saturated fat changed the LDL from small, dense (very bad) to a more benign Large LDL, [2].

So as you can see, the idea that saturated fat raised the risk of heart disease was an unproven theory that somehow became conventional wisdom perpetuated by nutrition experts. Oh, did that line sound familiar? That’s because the same scenario played out for breakfast, touting it as the key to weight loss. Read more in here.  
Young doctor with boxing gloves

So, are saturated fats acquitted of all charges then?

Right now, there is a bit of a brawl among the big cheeses of the medical departments in Yale and Cambridge over this matter and you might as well listen to what other side has to say.

They agree that that saturated fat was wrongfully accused and is not the widow-maker once deemed, but advice against it’s full exoneration. Saturated fat is actually a class fats containing a diversity of members including, stearic acid as found in dark chocolate [3] and lauric acid, predominantly in coconut oil, both not only proven to be innocuous but healthful. However, they point to the conflicting studies on others, such as palmitic acid and myristic acid, which so far, appear to be questionable when consumed in large amounts; and contribute to inflammation and atherosclerosis.  So we learn that a judgment against the whole clan is not a good idea just yet, and if we stupidly vilified saturated fat, canonizing it might be just as stupid.

These scientist also point to the Blue Zones, population groups around the world that experience the longest lives and the most vitality, and high sat-fat diet is non-existent here.

faceWTF,  what do we do now?

Proceed with caution.

There is no need to obsess about cutting saturated fat, since history shows, we just find new ways to eat badly; and this potential is easily extended to cutting carbs, gluten, fructose, sugar, meat, grains, salt. And of course, cutting saturated fat never meant cutting ALL fat in the first place, which the health conscious try to do. Just look at the Mediterranean diet, with it’s high in omega 3 fats, which is nominated as a contender for the “ideal” diet for health and longevity.

Take into account the big picture rather than single factors. Diet is composed of numerous variables and it could be lower, or higher, in saturated fat and still be unhealthy either way. Focus on eating well by choosing wholesome foods like meat, coconut oil, cheese, butter, which  are natural, and natural foods include saturated fat.

If you eat “normally” or traditionally you’d be more likely to land your saturated fat intake in the “moderate” zone. Btw, the air quotes mean hard-to-define and controversial concepts.

But I will leave you with one last word, any particular effort to add saturated fat to your diet is not recommended, since there is no evidence of it’s long-term health effects just yet.

[1] Meta-analysis evaluating association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease
[2] Change in dietary saturated fat intake is correlated with change in mass of large low-density-lipoprotein particles 
[3] Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease

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