Debunking The Saturated Fat Myth
Until I “fell” into a low carbohydrate lifestyle, I would have told you that fat functions to make you fat. I also thought, like many experts, fat will negatively impact health. I understood that eating fat would cause heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a whole slew of horrible diseases.
Boy, was I wrong. After digging up research on fat and its health benefits for Dr. Atkins, I now know better. The research (and personal/professional experiences), supports the benign nature of saturated fat. (1) Yet, I agree that the combination of eating excess carbohydrates and eating fat is unhealthy.
Today, my nutrition practice is much different. I work to personalize nutrition plans and balance nutrients. I build on nutrition, not deprive people of it. My focus is on fueling healthy weight and optimizing health. Restricting calories, fat or even saturated is not part of a healthy eating mind set.
Like the dietary guidelines recommend eating less than 10% of calories from saturated fat without fair supporting evidence.
Admittedly, there is research that supposedly supports the negative impact of saturated fat on health. However saturated fat is lumped together with commercially-made unsaturated fats. Hydrogenated and trans are unhealthy and have been proven to raise health risk.
Saturated Fat Shortfalls In The Nutrition Guidelines
The Dietary Guidelines were updated for 2015-2020 (2). The public relies on these guidelines to make healthier choices. Unfortunately, the recommendations are misleading and confusing to say the least.
One example is the suggestion that saturated fat intake be less than 10% of total daily calories. “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats (3).” This was the conclusion after R. Chowdhury and his team of researchers teased through the data of 32 observational studies with 512,420 participants, 17 observational studies 25,721 participants and 27 randomized, controlled trials 105,085 participants.
In another 56 month long randomized trial Participants were assigned to two groups. One group ate high amounts of animal fats and margarines. The other group replaced half of the saturated fats with vegetable and corn oil. Consuming vegetable oil reduced total cholesterol levels by 14 percent. Interestingly, lower cholesterol did not make people live longer. In fact, the lower cholesterol fell, the higher the risk of dying (22 percent higher for every 30-point fall). The unsaturated fat corn-oil group did not have less heart disease or fewer heart attacks. (4).
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published “Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease”(5). The author discusses concerns that “the population may not benefit and may even be harmed, by the substitution of high intakes of carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, for saturated fat in the diet. There is insufficient data to support a benefit of replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate. There is no evidence supporting the restriction of saturating fat to 10% of total calories by the US dietary guidelines.”
Another example rests with the direction of: lowering “added-sugar intake” should be kept to less than 10 percent of daily calories. Lowering “added sugar” is not enough. Current recommendations should include a restriction on total carbohydrates and sugar as well. One hundred percent of any carbohydrate is converted into sugar. Any sugar whether natural or “added ” has the same effect on the body.
And a third example of confusing information exist within the guidelines itself; 2010 guidelines limit dietary cholesterol to 300 mg/day. The 2015 dietary guidelines states, “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider. Individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.”
Why would you eat as little cholesterol as possible? Blood cholesterol is not affected by what you eat (6).
What You Should Know About Saturated Fat?
Saturated fats play essential roles in the body. When you eat saturated fat from god-made food there are multiple benefits. Saturated fat: (7)
acts as brain fuel
helps lower cholesterol
helps the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and minerals
supports hormone function
provides cell membrane
acts as an antiviral and strengthens the immune system
acts to prevent cancer
Minimizing saturated fat will affect its role in all these functions.
It may be surprising to know that when saturated fat replaced carbohydrates, small dense risky LDL particles changed size to larger, less risky LDL particles. Therefore saturated fat lowered heart disease risk. (8)
When you eat saturated fat, it fuels the body systems that use it. So, the body functions optimally when its fed saturated fat along with a balance of other types of fat.
Saturated Fat Wrap Up
Saturated fat is not unhealthy and should be balanced with unsaturated fats as part of any healthy nutrition plan. Public health messages have misinformed people about the benefits and dangers of saturated fat. Fat-free foods that contain excess carbohydrates are more dangerous than god-made foods providing natural saturated fats.
Next week more about the specific benefits of saturated fat.
Have you had your saturated fat today?