The first government dietary guidelines were put into place in the mid 1970’s after realizing that many senators were dying at a young age and that what they were eating was a possible factor.
They do have to be given credit for realizing the link between nutrition and health, however how what they decided to promote would prove to be a mistake.
Out of no real evidence or conclusive data the government recommended a diet high in carbohydrates and as low in fat as possible. This was the beginning of the “low-fat” trend and the beginning of the obesity epidemic.
Saturated fat was picked out to be a “bad guy,” egg yolks, red meat, coconut oil were all shunned for margarine and vegetable oils. Many marketers realized that putting the stamp of “low-fat” or “fat-free” on a food product would bring in lots of cash, and sadly, like so much in the nutrition industry, money can drive many recommendations and fads.
So I am here to tell you that NO, saturated fat is not the bad guy. Like so many fat sources, saturated fat has been pinned as the scapegoat for sugar, chemicals, and poor agriculture and processing practices.
So here are 5 Reasons why Saturated Fat is beneficial to your health…
1) Regulate Cholesterol Levels
If you have been told you have high cholesterol I am guessing you also believe (or have been told) that you need to stay away from saturated fats so you may avoid whole eggs, bacon, or red meat.
What if I told you that saturated fat can actually help regulate healthy cholesterol levels?
Recent studies that have analyzed low-carb diets that tend to also be high in saturated fat actually show that not only does eating saturated fat not raise your cholesterol levels but it can actually improve your heart health markers. A large meta-analysis showed that a diet lower in carbs and higher in saturated fat was associated with decreases in triglycerides as well as an increase in HDL cholesterol. (1)
2) Reduce your Risk of Stroke
Does eating saturated fat increase your risk of stroke? Research says otherwise.
A large study over 14 years following 58,000 men actually showed an inverse association with saturated fat and risk for stroke, meaning those that ate a bit more saturated fat in their diets had a LOWER risk of stroke.(2)
A large meta-analysis which looked at data including almost 348,000 adults from 21 studies found that there is no difference in risk for heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and the highest amounts of saturated fat in their diet(3)
This also can be seen in observation of other cultures. Other populations in the world such as the Masai in Africa and the Tokelauans in the southern Pacific eat massive amounts of saturated fat from sources like whole milks and coconut. However, these cultures still have low cholesterol and heart disease is not found. Once again showing that saturated fat itself can not be to blame for poor heart health and stroke.
3) Can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
Tell me when is the last time you just ate a whole stick of butter?
Gross, right? You probably have never done that nor would you be able to do that, but I am guessing you could eat that if it was combined with sugar and processed carbohydrates such as in cookies and pastries.
Fat does not make you fat, how many times do we have to say that before people will believe it! What DOES increase your weight is inflammation in your body and over-eating which is really easy to do when you create foods that combine sugar, fat and carbs that are like drugs to your taste buds and system.
If you simply look at fat by itself, it is difficult to overeat. Fat is very satiating, meaning it helps you feel full and send signals to your brain to stop eating earlier because you are nourished. As Mark Sisson puts it “Grass-fed pot roast, ribbed with yellow fat, connective tissue, and ample protein is far more filling than some crusty bread spread with butter. You’ll eat a decent slice of the former and be done, but you could easily polish off half a loaf of the latter with half a stick of butter and still be hungry. It’s difficult to overeat on a high-fat, low-carb diet.”
4) Critical to your Nervous System
Saturated fat is an important part of your nervous system, as it coats and “insulates” your nerves as a part of myelin sheath. This is very important for proper messaging through your cells and muscles. When you do not have enough of this fat coating you can become more prone to neurological disorders and damage.
5) Keeping your Brain Young and Smart
More than half of your brain is made up of fat and 1/3 to more than 1/2 of that fat is saturated. So you want a real fatty brain!
Of course you want to use healthy types of building blocks for this fat. Provide your body with fats from sources like coconut oil, which is about 90% saturated fat but has been shown to decrease inflammation and help with symptoms from brain degeneration such as Alzheimers and Dementia. It is also quick energy for your brain in muscles, eliminating the need for multiple digestive processes before it can be used.
It’s brain boosting benefits make saturated fat an especially important part of your diet if you are pregnant or nursing for proper and strong development of your little one’s brain.
What’s the Catch?
So what’s the catch? Can you just go out eating the steak and potatoes dinner at your local steakhouse every night?
What makes the difference is the Quality of saturated fat that you are eating.
You can get amazing sources of fat from beef, lamb, dark meat poultry or even pork, but if you are just buying the manager’s special than you may not be getting what you hope for. You need to look at the quality of the animal that you are purchasing, was it pastured and grass-fed? was it sourced ethically?
If the answer is No, then you may want to spend your money elsewhere. There are many, many reasons why pastured animal products are far superior to conventionally raised animal products ( I will reason in another post) but the fat content is one of them.
We store toxins, chemicals and stress hormones in our fat cells, you do not want to be consuming those from another animal. So spend your money on quality meat, it is far worth it.
You can also find saturated fat in plant products, such as coconut. Coconut oil, coconut meat and coconut milk are all wonderful sources of healthy fats, along with sustainable palm oil and cocoa butter .
So stop being afraid of fat and embrace it! Balance it with a large variety of vegetables and not only will it be good for your body but your taste buds will love it as well 😉