The Truth About Saturated Fats!

Saturated fats (SFs) are a type of fat found in food whereby the fatty acid chain doesn't contain any double bonds between the carbon atoms. This means the fatty acid is fully saturated with hydrogen atoms and may contain between 3 and 36 carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain.

Foods containing fats have varying proportions of both saturated and unsaturated fats. Some examples of foods containing a high proportion of SFs include: cream, cheese, milk, butter, lard, fatty meats, chocolate, and various oils like, coconut, cottonseed and palm.

The Truth About Saturated Fats

Dietary recommendations to limit or reduce the intake of SFs have been given since the 1950's and are based on somewhat questionable research conducted by Dr. Ancel Keys, which said that SFs were associated with heart disease. Since then, virtually every medical and health organisation has promoted the recommendation to limit or reduce intake of saturated fat.

However, a more thorough review of the research indicates that there is no link between SFs and heart disease! In fact, it appears that certain types of SFs may actually lower heart disease risk!

Today, in Western countries, heart disease continues to be one of the main causes of death and the incidence of it has risen dramatically over the last 100 years. If it were true that heart disease resulted from a high intake of SFs in the diet then you would have expected to see a corresponding increase in the consumption of SFs over that period of time. However, the consumption of animal fats (which are a source of SFs) actually dropped, as did the consumption of butter (another source of SFs).

Often people will note the strong correlation between high triglycerides in the blood stream and heart disease and then say that the triglycerides results from a high intake of SFs. However, elevated triglycerides most often results from excessive consumption of carbohydrates, which then get converted into triglycerides in the liver. Therefore, the link between a 'Western Diet' and heart disease appears to be the result of a high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta. Furthermore, dieticians, who are supposed to be experts in nutrition, have been promoting a high intake of processed carbs for years. I discuss this in more detail in the articles titled, USDA Food Pyramid History and The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

It is also very interesting to note that population studies where cultures eat traditional diets including substantial amounts of animal products (which are high in saturated fat) but very little refined carbohydrates or vegetable oil, show reduced incidence of heart disease! Examples include Yemenite Jews, Northern Indian cultures, Masai tribes in Africa, Eskimos, certain groups in China, Georgians from the Soviet Union, Mediterranean societies and the Japanese.

The Benefits of Saturated Fats

There are many benefits in consuming saturated fat, which make it an essential part of our diet. Here are just some of the functions SFs have in our body:

  • Provide the building blocks for cell membranes
  • Provide the building blocks for hormones and prostaglandins
  • Are the preferred source of fuel for your heart muscle
  • Are a great source of energy
  • Are very effective anti-viral, anti-caries, anti-plaque, and anti-fungal agents
  • Are able to actually lower cholesterol (palmitic and stearic acids)
  • Modulates genetic regulation
  • May prevent cancer
  • Assist the bones in the uptake of calcium
  • They lower Lp(a), which is a compound that indicates a person's tendency to get heart disease
  • They have a liver-protecting effect
  • They assist the body with the proper utilisation of the essential fatty acids
  • Help to carry fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K
  • Therefore, it simply makes sense to include a certain amount of healthy fats (including saturated fat) in your diet every day. Some easy ways to include healthy saturated fats in your diet include, using butter instead of margarine as a spread, using coconut oil in cooking (olive oil should only be used cold, i.e. added to salads) and eating red meat, whole eggs, seafood or chicken.

    In saying this, it is certainly important to keep your intake of saturated fat in perspective. Since any sort of fat is a very concentrated sources of calories, if you want to lose weight, it is important to control your intake. However, there is no need to cut it out of your diet entirely as is often recommended by various medical groups and so-called 'health' organisations.

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    Great to read some truthful and positive information on saturated fats. I have been frustrated at reading so much information on the negatives of coconut …

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