The myths, lies, and misconceptions about saturated fat and your health.
I've written many times in the last couple years about the mistaken beliefs in society about saturated fat and the false perception in the media AND with MOST health professionals that saturated fat is bad for you.
If you've seen in some of my articles, I've even showed you why saturated fat can even be GOOD for you in some cases, despite every health/fitness professional in the world just accepting the false belief that it's bad for you.
Note - I'm NOT saying that an "Atkins style" diet is good for you! Atkins style diets are NOT a healthy or balanced way to eat! Atkins style diets typically promote processed meats full of nitrates, nitrites, excess salt, and imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratios (since most grocery store meats are grain fed and not raised in a healthy manner). Also, Atkins plans typically have a lack of many other important food groups, nutrients, and antioxidants.
Rather, what you'll see in this article, is that saturated fat is a perfectly natural part of the human diet and has been for eternity... it is NOT the evil demon it has been made out to be!
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to FINALLY see a big name publisher have some guts to publish an article about why everyone in the world may be wrong about their beliefs about saturated fat.
I picked up a new issue of Men's Health magazine over the weekend, and they have a huge 6-page article in there about the faulty research in the past about saturated fat, and some new emerging research that is showing why it may actually be more good for you than you would believe.
I've got to give them credit... the article was VERY well researched and put together beautifully to summarize where the studies in the past have gone wrong, and why recent studies are showing that everyone may have been wrong for the last 5 decades about saturated fat.
I'd highly suggest you read the entire article if you can. If not, I'm going to try to give you a quick summary of the findings here since it was a long article...
The "Fact" that saturated fat is bad for your health has never been proven by legitimate studies
First of all, did you realize that although doctors, nutritionists, fitness professionals, and the media all have told you that it's a FACT that saturated fats are bad for you, this "FACT" has actually never been proven!
It's actually not a "fact" at all. It was a hypothesis! This goes all the way back to a flawed research study from the 1950's where a guy named Ancel Keys published a paper that laid the blame on dietary fat intake for the increasing heart disease phenomenon.
However, there were major flaws to his study. For one, in his conclusions he only used data from a small portion of the countries where data was available on fat consumption vs heart disease death rate. When researches have gone back in and looked at the data from all of the countries, there actually was no link between fat consumption and heart disease deaths. So his conclusions were actually false.
Second, his blaming of fat intake for heart disease was only one factor that was considered. There was no consideration of other factors such as smoking rates, stress factors, sugar intake, exercise frequency, or other lifestyle factors.
Basically, his conclusions which blamed heart disease deaths on fat intake were really just a shot in the dark about what a possible cause may have been, even though all of those other factors I just mentioned, plus many others, may be the bigger cause.
Unfortunately, Keys study has been cited for over 5 decades now as "fact" that saturated fat is bad for you. As you can see, there certainly is nothing factual about it.
Since that time, numerous other studies have been conducted trying to link saturated fat intake to heart disease. The majority of these studies have failed to correlate ANY risk at all from saturated fat. A couple of them made feeble attempts at linking saturated fat to heart disease, however, it was later shown that in those studies, the data was flawed as well.
Another issue with flawed studies is that many studies have lumped artificial trans fat intake together with saturated fat intake, and mistakenly laid the blame on saturated fat despite the overwhelming evidence that artificial trans fat is the REAL health risk. This is a HUGE mistake as there is a vast difference in how your body processes nasty artificially created trans fats vs the perfectly natural saturated fats that have been part of the human diet since the beginning of man.
Do we actually have evidence that saturated fat may actually be good for you instead?
Well, let's consider a few examples...
Did you know that there are several well known tribes in Africa... the Masai, Samburu, and Fulani tribes... where their diet consists mostly of raw (unpasteurized) whole milk, lots of red meat, and cows blood? The typical members of these tribes eat 5x the average amount of saturated fat compared to overweight, disease-ridden Americans.
Despite their very high saturated fat intake, they display extremely low body fat levels, and heart disease and diabetes to natives of the tribe is virtually non-existant.
Now most critics of this example will say that it must be related to superior genetics... however this is false, as when they studied tribesman who had moved out of their native lands and started eating more modern day diets, their blood chemistry skyrocketed with heart disease risk factors.
This is true of certain pacific island countries inhabitants as well. Several studies have shown that certain pacific island nations had VERY high intakes of total fat as well as saturated fat from tropical fats such as palm, coconut, and cocoa. Tropical plants in general have naturally higher levels of saturated fats in their tissues due to the warmer climate.
Despite super-high intakes of saturated fat, these island natives were typically very lean and heart disease was virtually non-existant. However, when researchers followed up with islanders that had moved away from their native island and adopted a typical western diet, the heart disease risk factors were through the roof. Hmm, once again, another example of people that started eating LESS saturated fat and more processed western foods and INCREASED their heart disease factors.
In fact, did you know that although saturated fat intake does increase your LDL bad cholesterol, it actually increases your HDL good cholesterol even further, hence improving your overall cholesterol ratio, which has been proven to be more important that just total cholesterol level (actually total cholesterol is an almost useless number... inflammation is the REAL problem, but that's a whole different topic).
Another fact worth noting in favor of saturated fat...
Saturated fat is comprised of various different types... the 3 most common types are stearic acid, palmitic acid, and lauric acid.
Stearic acid is found in animal fat and cocoa in higher levels. Research continues to show that stearic acid has no negative impacts on heart disease risks. If anything, it's either neutral or beneficial. In fact, your liver breaks down stearic acid into a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is the same type of fat that makes up most of heart-healthy olive oil. Bet you didn't know that!
Lauric acid is beneficial as well. Not only has it been shown to increase your HDL good cholesterol levels significantly, but it is also lacking in most Americans diet and has even been shown to have some powerful immune-boosting effects potentially. It is even being studied currently in HIV/AIDS research to help improve immune function in patients.
Tropical oils such as coconut and palm are the best sources of the healthy saturated fat - lauric acid.
Palmitic acid is the other main component of saturated fat and has also been shown to increase HDL good cholesterol to the same, if not greater extent than LDL bad cholesterol, thereby making it either neutral or beneficial, but certainly not bad for you.
So, if all of these researchers have tried so hard over the years to point the finger at saturated fat, but have continued to fail to show a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease risk, what are the REAL culprits for heart disease?
Well, here are the REAL causes of heart disease risk:
- Trans fats (artificially hydrogenated oils)... see my previous Trans Fats article here for a full explanation
- Heavily refined vegetable oils such as soy, cottonseed, corn oil, etc. (inflammatory inside the body, and typically throw the omega-6/omega-3 balance out of whack...remember, inflammation is the REAL cause of heart disease, NOT dietary saturated fat or cholesterol). Read more about healthy cooking oils vs unhealthy cooking oil
- Too much refined sugar in the diet (including high fructose corn syrup)
- Too much refined carbohydrates such as white bread, low fiber cereals, etc
- Stressful lifestyle
- Lack of exercise
- Other lifestyle factors
So why does it seem that so many attempts over the years have tried to lay the blame on saturated fat... do you think it might have anything to do with the muli-billion dollar vegetable oil industry, which has taken over for cooking oils for what used to be mostly animal fats and tropical oils in decades past...
hmm... do multi-billion dollar industries really have an influence on the way data is portrayed to the public? Of course they do! And don't even get me started on the cholesterol meds industry! Again, I digress.
I hope this article has opened your eyes about the truth about saturated fat and how you've been misled over the years.
The true FACT is that saturated fat is a neutral substance in your body, and even beneficial at times, not a deadly risk factor for disease. The REAL risk factors are what I listed above.
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