A couple of things before we even get started…
- This article is meant to be an eye-opener of sorts with respect to the truth behind saturated fats and by no means the definite article.
- Obviously, if you have any health concerns, please talk to your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet.
For those of you who don’t have the time or patience or intelligence absorb the contents of this post…
Saturated fat (SaFa) is not harmful and there is no evidence that it causes heart disease. It is, in fact, healthy!
For rest of us who have nothing better to do, let’s grab a cup of coconut milk and sit back, ‘cos this is going to be fun!
A little introduction…
There are 3 kinds of naturally occuring fats and 1 frankenfat that we created. The naturally occuring fats are saturated fat (SaFa), monounsaturated fat (MUFa) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFa). When we consume a dietary fat (nuts, butter, canola oil, acocado, etc.), most times, we are consuming a mix of these three fats and different foods contain different ratios of these fats. For eg. Olive oil is 73% MUFa, 14-15% SaFa and 11-12% PUFa and coconut oil is 87-88% SaFa, 6-8% MUFa and 2-4% PUFa.
I really don’t want to get into the chemistry of these fats, but let’s try to keep this super simple. Fats are made up of triglycerides which are made up of glycerol and 3 fatty acids. Check out this figure…
Notice only this…
- SaFa have no double bonds in the chain.
- MUFa have one double bond in the chain.
- PUFa have multiple double bonds in the chain.
That’s all you really need to know for now.
Rule # 1: Do no harm
Though the whole point of food is to nourish you with nutrients, the first rule for any food is that it should not hurt you. If a food affects you, irrespective of how awesome it’s nutritional profile is, it should be considered off-bounds. Shrimp (prawns) for example, though is an awesome source of protein and micronutrients like tryptophan and selenium, is of no use to me because I am allergic to it.
So in our analysis of SaFa, the first step will be to see if it is harmful to us in anyway.
Remember those chemical structures and the double bonds? What they really mean is that the more double bonds there are in the chain, the more chemically unstable the fat and the more prone to oxidation the it is. While it is possible to safely store and use foods that contain such chemically unstable fats, when they do get oxidized, they result in free radical production. These free radicals, in addition to funding the anti-oxidant industry (acai berry anyone?), run around wild inside the body causing damage to cell walls, artery wall and everything else they come in contact with. Over time this oxidative stress results in premature aging, vascular injury, liver damage and much more.
If you’ve understood the whole oxidation thing, you should have two questions.
1. Which fatty acid is prone to oxidation?
Scroll back up to the part with the chemical structures. Which fatty acids have the most double bonds and which have the least? Yep! PUFa are extremely prone to oxidation and capable of producing free radical damage while SaFa are super resistant to oxidation!
2. When does oxidation occur?
While heat enables almost instant oxidation, extended exposure to light and air also results in oxidation. Hence the recommendation to not cook with oils that are high in PUFa and to store such oils away from light and moisture.
- SaFa are the most stable of fats.
- PUFa with the most double bonds are the most unstable. And yes, this means that your all powerful omega 3 fish/flax oil are extremele unstable t00.
- PUFa get oxidized when exposed to heat… and even light!
Rule # 2: Nourish the body
OK, I understand that SaFa are harmless, but are they beneficial? I mean, considering all the controversy around them, how about just sticking to MUFa and avoiding SaFa?
Firstly, here some things about SaFa that you need to know.
- 50% of all our cell membranes are made up of SaFa.
- The fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated and is the prefered source of fuel for the heart.
- Even adipose tissue, the fat you “put on” which is stored by your body for future use, is SaFa.
- What do you think happens when you go on a diet? Your body feeds on stored fat which is saturated fat. So whether you eat saturated fat or a high carb low calorie diet, your body is being fed saturated fat!
- Human breast milk contains high levels of SaFa (and cholesterol!). (Seriously, if SaFa are so bad for you, why would you feed your new born so much of it?)
So clearly, SaFa is not something foreign to the body. The body is very familiar with SaFa and hence extremely efficient in using it. That said, let’s move on to why you should eat SaFa.
- Consumption of saturated fat improves immunity and hence aids in prevention of infectious diseases.
- Saturated animal fats (dairy, red meat, organ meats etc.) come with plenty of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Saturated fat consumption reduces risk of stroke.
- Helps improve liver health by protecting it from alcohol and other toxins.
- Helps with asthma prevention
- Improves bone health by facilitating effective calcium absorption.
- (Coconut oil) Increases metabolism which helps with fat loss and maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
- Saturated fat consumption is associated with prevention and lessening progression of coronary heart disease.
But you know what? I’m not even close to qualified to explain the benefits of SaFa for proper functioning of the human body. So, in an effort to keep this post legit, I’m going to respectfully step aside and let some top notch scientisits, researchers and doctors do the talking!
Pretty incredible stuff huh? OK I know! There’s still a little something thats bothering you. Refill that glass of coconut milk and read on, ‘cos you’re going to love this part!
The heart disease and cancer scare
This section is going to be smaller than you expect it to be because all the hard work has already been done and I’m only pointing you towards it! That said, let’s look at the link between SaFa and heart disease and cancer.
How much is too much?
There are no established limits for SaFa and the ‘consume less than 10% of calories from SaFa’ is pure BS! But considering the fact that they are natural, not prone to oxidation, non-toxic and are critical for the normal functioning of the human body, I don’t see any reason to limit their consumption. But hey, who the hell am I to tell you how much of what to eat?! You have everything you need to know about SaFa in this post. Figure it out for yourself!
As for me, I’ll continue to devour my coconut milk and butter and cheese and paneer and bacon and cream and whole milk yogurt and stay the hell away from all vegetables oils as much as I can! How much SaFa do I eat? I don’t know! If you have been reading this blog for a while and/or follow me on twitter and/or are a member of my Facebook group, you will know that I don’t count calories and just eat high quality real food at portions that match my activity levels/goals.
Putting it all together
Honestly considering how pretty much all nutrition related recommendations are baseless in one way or the other, this is how I approach nutrition and it seems to work for me and others!
- Do not fear foods rich in SaFa and include nutritious foods like coconut, grass fed red meat and organic dairy liberally in your diet.
- Eat foods rich in MUFa (avocado, olive oil etc.) since there is plenty of data to prove that they are truly heart healthy.
- Stay away from fats that are rich in PUFa like vegetable oil, canola oil, soy bean oil, corn oil, peanut oil etc.
- Use only stable fats like coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard etc for cooking purposes and use MUFa rich avocado oil, olive oil and mustard oil as topping/dressing only.
I know this is a lot of information, but I guarantee you, if you read this post diligently taking the time to visit all the links provided, you will know the real truth behind saturated fats! And folks, if there is one post that needs to be shared with anyone and everyone you know, it is this one ‘cos by avoiding SaFa people are forced to over-consume vegetable oils and other PUFa which are causing unrepairable damage! Please do the needful… sharing buttons are below.