Saturated fat is back, friends.
It’s hard to believe, right? After all, we’ve been hammered for the past 60 years with fat-free marketing, FDA recommendations, and American Heart Association warnings.
It’s difficult not to be skeptical. So we’re tiptoeing. We tentatively order the bacon cheeseburger. We guiltily poke our egg yolks.
We’re still unsure which fats are good for you.
But if you’re still ordering egg white omelets, listen up. You can reincorporate fat into your diet with confidence.
Here’s how science is on your side.
First, Why We Were Misinformed
It all started with the “groundbreaking” study from scientist Ancel Keys. His Seven Countries Study found a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease in seven different countries. Sound the alarm!
But Keys’ study was bogus.
He actually had reliable data from 22 countries, but he omitted data that fell outside the correlation curve, leaving only seven. And as a result, the next sixty years of nutrition policy was based on lies.
In the graphs above, Keys’ study (left) shows the seven countries’ data supports his conclusion: the higher the saturated fat intake, the higher the heart disease rate. The graph on the right incorporates the data Keys left out.
No correlation at all, bro.[Tweet ““The reality is that fat doesn’t make you fat or diabetic.” -Nina Teicholz”]
What Is Saturated Fat Exactly?
Saturated fat is made up of fatty acids: chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms filling the available bonds.
Dr. Mary G. Enig explains,
“Most fat in our bodies and in the food we eat is in the form of triglycerides, that is, three fatty-acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule. They are straight in form and hence pack together easily, so that they form a solid or semisolid fat at room temperature.”
Saturated fats are found naturally in animal fats and tropical oils. In addition, your body produces saturated fatty acids from carbohydrates (more on that later).
Why Saturated Fat Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease
There is no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. Period.
To give you an idea of the difference between Keys’ study and this one: Keys’ paper studied 13,000 people, this paper cross-analyzed data from 347,747 people across 21 independent studies. It’s legit.
So while sat fat doesn’t cause heart disease, it does affect cholesterol levels. But not in the way we thought.
LDL (so called “bad” cholesterol) has two types: type A, which is a larger, buoyant particle and type B, a harder denser particle. Type B is the LDL that forms fatty plaques in the arteries.
When you lower your sat fat intake, it reduces the amount of type A (the innocuous particles) in the blood, but does not reduce type B (the artery-clogging particles). Turns out, LDL(b) is controlled primarily through carb intake, not saturated fat.
The villain here is refined carbs and sugars, not bacon.
Carbs Are the Culprit
Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet wrote a brilliantly comprehensive piece about the sat fat witch hunt in the Wall Street Journal.
Her conclusion: “The reality is that fat doesn’t make you fat or diabetic. Scientific investigations going back to the 1950s suggest that actually, carbs do.”
The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. –Nina Teicholz
The trouble is that a high-carb, high-sugar diet stimulates lectins, an anti-nutrient that hardens cell walls, raises insulin resistance, and suppresses leptin, the hormone that stimulates satiety.
This study found low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets enriched in simple sugars increased fatty acid and triglyceride concentration in the blood.
Even the American Heart Association, who has publicly lynched saturated fat for decades, has conceded that sugar is the biggest contributor to heart disease.
It turned out that a reanalysis of the Seven Countries Study data many years later found that sugar intake correlated better with heart-disease risk than any other nutrient. -The Independent
Why Saturated Fat is Good For You
Saturated fat helps increase immunity through boosting production of white blood cells. Tropical oils like coconut and palm oil are high in myristic acid and lauric acid, two fatty acid chains responsible for raising HDL (“good” cholesterol) as well as chasing off infection with their strong antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Improves Sexual Function
Detoxes the Liver
Aids Calcium Absorption
Saturated fat plays an essential role in the metabolism of calcium. Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2 aid the incorporation of calcium into the skeletal structure, reducing risk of osteoporosis.
Vitamins A, D and K2 are needed together for normal calcium metabolism. Vitamins A and D are necessary for the production of the proteins osteocalcin and matrix gla protein (MGP). Osteocalcin attracts calcium into bones and teeth. MGP sweeps calcium out of soft tissues. To become active these proteins have to be switched on by vitamin K2 [found in saturated fat]. -Dr. William T Neville in the British Medical Journal
Facilitates Brain and Nerve Function
Saturated fat makes up 50 percent of our cell membranes. In fact, much of the neural processing happens across neurotransmitters that use fatty acid chains for messaging. Without proper fat content in our diets, our brain and nerves don’t have the raw materials needed to function.
Helps Burn More Calories
You thought fat makes you fat? Nope! Fat can help you lose weight. Balanced diets with up to 50 percent of calories from high-fat foods will make you feel fuller longer, more efficiently metabolize calories, and increase your resting caloric burn.
Read more on that in The Calorie Myth.
It’s the Source That Matters
This study published by the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the diets of 1.2 million people, and found no correlation between eating red meat and heart disease. Fist pump!
Instead, it was processed meat that caused problems. Those who ate more processed meat had a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and 19 percent higher risk of diabetes.
The Bottom Line
- Saturated fat in red meats and fatty oils will not hurt your health.
- It’s the purity and quality of your food that matters
- Feel free to incorporate more saturated (and monounsatured and polyunsaturated!) fat into your diet.
- But lay off the hot dogs and pepperoni – those highly-processed saturated fats also come laden with trans fats, chemicals, and added sugars. You don’t want that crap in your body, right? That center cut filet mignon, though? Bring. It. On.
Now, Where to Get the Good Stuff?
- Grass-fed beef
- All-natural bacon
- Grass-fed butter
- Raw coconut oil
- Unrefined red palm oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
Read more about the fat concentration of each of these sources in this great article from Authority Nutrition.
Don’t fear the fat.
Nerd out with more science here:
- Check out the lively discussion between doctors in “Observations From the Heart: Saturated fat is not the major issue” by Aseem Malhotra in the British Medical Journal
- A comprehensive overview of saturated fat and the best sources in The Skinny on Fats by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary G. Enig
- Check out Nina Teicholz’s Ted Talk below