In the new analysis, which combined the results of 21 previous studies, researchers found no clear evidence that higher saturated fat intakes led to higher risks of heart disease or stroke.
A number of studies have linked the so-called Western diet to greater heart disease risks; that diet pattern is defined as one high in red meats and saturated fats -- but it is also high in sweets and other refined carbohydrates like white bread.<!--Session data-->
The demonization of saturated fat began in 1953 with Dr. Ancel Keys’ publication of a paper comparing fat intake and heart disease mortality, and the misguided ousting of saturated fat has continued ever since.
The idea that saturated fat is bad for your heart became so ingrained in the medical and health community, anyone daring enough to question this dogma was automatically viewed as a quack, regardless of the evidence presented.
Instead, trans fats became all the rage and have since saturated the market.
But times are a-changing, and in many ways for the better.
Along with a new interest in reviewing the sanity of vaccinating against every microscopic foe under the sun, medical scientists have finally begun to take a hard look at the link between saturated fats and heart disease – only to find that there is none.
Additionally, by now many have realized that it’s the trans fat found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that is the true villain, causing far more significant health problems than saturated fat ever could.
Yet Another Study Finds No Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease
Over the years, researchers have repeatedly failed to find the link between saturated fat and heart disease that Dr. Keys initially thought he had discovered, and this latest study is no exception.
When they pooled data from 21 studies that included nearly 348,000 adults, and surveyed their dietary habits and health events for anywhere from five to 23 years, they found no no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.
Most likely, the studies that have linked the so-called “Western diet” to an increased heart disease risk simply confirm that sugar and refined carbohydrates are harmful to your heart health. Because although the Western diet is high in red and processed meats and saturated fats, it’s also alarmingly high in sugar and refined carbs like bread and pasta.
Another recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that a reduction in saturated fat intake must be evaluated in the context of replacement by other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates. Replacement of saturated fat with a higher carbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, can exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity, increase triglycerides and small LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol.
The authors state that dietary efforts to improve your cardivascular disease risk should primarily emphasize:
- the limitation of refined carbohydrate intakes, and
- a reduction in excess weight
What I found most encouraging in the Reuters article above was Dr. Eckel’s statement that “the thinking on diet and heart health is moving away from a focus on single nutrients and toward ‘dietary patterns’."
This is precisely the message that needs to get out. You simply cannot optimize your health while staring at individual ingredients or nutrients in your diet.
Whole foods – real food that has been minimally processed and manipulated – contain so many symbiotic micronutrients that work together to produce the end result. The moment you start taking these ingredients apart, you lose the overall nutritional value, and you change how the nutrients operate inside your body.
Take the Mediterranean diet, for example. It consists mainly of whole, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, along with fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats like virgin olive oil.
This type of diet has repeatedly been found to help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. And although it’s low in saturated fats, perhaps the most significant thing about the Mediterranean style diet is the absence of processed foods, which are loaded with sugars and dangerous trans fats.
So, essentially, a healthy diet is quite simply a natural diet of REAL foods. And that’s the type of “eating pattern” you’ll want to strive for, if you want to be optimally healthy.
Confusing the Facts About Saturated Fats
Part of the scientific confusion about saturated fats relates to the fact that your body is capable of synthesizing the saturated fats it needs from carbohydrates, and these saturated fats are principally the same ones present in dietary fats of animal origin.
However, and this is the key, not all saturated fatty acids are created equal.
There are subtle differences that have profound health implications, and if you avoid eating all saturated fats you will suffer serious health consequences. There are in fact more than a dozen different types of saturated fat, but you predominantly consume only three: stearic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid.
It’s already been well established that stearic acid (found in cocoa and animal fat) has no effect on your cholesterol levels at all, and actually gets converted in your liver into the monounsaturated fat called oleic acid.
The other two, palmitic and lauric acid, do raise total cholesterol. However, since they raise “good” cholesterol as much or more than “bad” cholesterol, you’re still actually lowering your risk of heart disease.
Yes, You DO Need Saturated Fat!
Foods containing saturated fats include:
- Dairy products
- Some oils
- Tropical plants such as coconut and palm trees
These (saturated) fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet, and they provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances.
When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes.
Saturated fats are also:
- The preferred fuel for your heart, and also used as a source of fuel during energy expenditure
- Useful antiviral agents (caprylic acid)
- Effective as an anticaries, antiplaque and anti fungal agents (lauric acid)
- Useful to actually lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)
- Modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid)
The Link Between TRANS FAT and Heart Disease
Now, it is still clear that there is some association between fat and heart disease. The problem lies in the fact that most studies make no effort to differentiate between saturated fat and trans fat. Additionally, the other primary processed food that typically is associated with trans fat is sugar, specifically fructose.
What Ancel Keys, and other researchers have failed to do in their multivariate analysis is control for each of these two variables. If researchers were to more carefully evaluate the risks of heart disease by measuring the levels of fructose, trans and saturated fat, they would most likely find the true answer.
You see, fructose and trans fat known to increase your LDL levels, or "bad" cholesterol, while lowering your levels of HDL, known as "good" cholesterol, which, of course is the complete opposite of what you need in order to maintain good heart health. It can also cause major clogging of arteries, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems.
Your body needs some amount of saturated fat to stay healthy. It is virtually impossible to achieve a nutritionally adequate diet that has no saturated fat. What you don’t need, however, are trans fats and fructose in excess of 15 grams per day. Since the average adolescent is now consuming 75 grams of fructose per day, one can begin to understand why we have an obesity and heart disease epidemic.
Contradictory Results SUPPORT Nutritional Typing
Studies also clearly show that despite great compliance to low saturated fat diets, there is a wide difference in biological responses. The question is, what does this mean? Does it mean the studies are flawed? And if so, which ones?
Interestingly enough, perhaps they’re all “right,” because these contradictory results actually support nutritional typing, which predicts that one-third of people will do very well on low saturated fat diets (which supports the studies showing that they work), but another one-third of people need high saturated fat diets to stay healthy.
Healthy Fat Tips to Live By
Remember, you do need a certain amount of healthy fat, while at the same time you’ll want to avoid the unhealthy varieties.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply eliminate processed foods, which are high in all things detrimental to your health: sugar, carbs, and dangerous types of fats.
After that, these tips can help ensure you’re eating the right fats for your health:
- Use organic butter (preferably made from raw milk) instead of margarines and vegetable oil spreads. Butter is a healthy whole food that has received an unwarranted bad rap.
- Use coconut oil for cooking. It is far superior to any other cooking oil and is loaded with health benefits. (Remember that olive oil should be used COLD, drizzled over salad or fish, for example, not to cook with.)
- Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce your modified fat intake, as it will teach you to focus on healthy whole foods instead of processed junk food.
- To round out your healthy fat intake, be sure to eat raw fats, such as those from avocados, raw dairy products, and olive oil, and also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.