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Laura Dolson

Time to Stop Being Afraid of Saturated Fat

By January 17, 2010

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butterHow many times have we heard about the evils of saturated fat? So many times that most people take it as a given. Even people who have broken out of the "fat is bad" mentality, still usually think "saturated fat is bad"?

But is it? There have been a minority of voices consistently pointing out that the evidence for the dangers of saturated fat was weak at best. Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories carefully constructs how we came to believe that fat, and especially saturated fat, is to be avoided, basically because some people at a key moment in the evolution of nutritional policy "thought so". Since then, researchers have done study after study to try to prove it, and largely came up empty. For more information about this, see "What if bad fat isn't so bad" by Nine Teicholz of Men's Health on the msnbc site.

It doesn't even make sense, when you think about it. For example, we know without a doubt that people who have high triglycerides (fat in the blood), can get a rapid reduction with a low-carb diet. This is because the body takes the excess carbs (only a portion of which can be stored) and turns it into fat, much of it saturated. Why would our bodies make saturated fat if it was so awful?

Now, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (published online ahead of being in the journal itself) sheds light on the subject. The researchers went through all the studies looking at the relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease and stroke. They narrowed it down to the best quality studies which were all prospective and looked not at risk markers, but actually disease. The 21 studies looked at a total of 347,747 healthy participants, 11,006 of which developed cardiovascular disease or stroke during the course of the study.

The result? "...there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD." Also, "More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat" in the studies which reduced saturated fat. They point to some evidence that replacing with carbohydrates is deleterious, while replacing with polyunsaturated fats had a positive effect.

To me, this is a solid nail in the coffin of the "saturated fat is bad" maxim. I will be interested in whether this study is picked up in the mainstream press at all.

By the way, if you aren't convinced and you want to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your body, the thing to do is to reduce carbohydrates in your diet. Although research seldom tracks saturated fat in the blood, one study did, comparing a low-carb to a low-fat/high-carb diet. The low-carb group ate three times the amount of saturated fat as the low-fat group, but ended up with half the saturated fat in their blood as the low-fat dieters. As the lead researcher, Jeff Volek says, "It's not 'you are what you eat' - it's 'you are what your body does with what you eat'.

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Comments
January 17, 2010 at 11:32 pm
(1) ashleyweightlosscoach says:

Waoh. I never though of this before. Its clear already that there are good fats and bad fats but nutritional research can sometimes be confusing on the classifications. Obviously, there is still a long way to go.
slimming foods

January 18, 2010 at 1:59 am
(2) David Brown says:

So, if saturated fat does not clog arteries, what does? Dr. Bill Lands thinks excessive omega-6 fat intake contributes to heart disease in a major way. Watch this 37 minute presentation. http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?live=8108 Dr. Lands starts talking about omega-6 fats at about minute 12. Drag the cursor to the left slightly until minute 12 appears, then release your mouse button.

January 18, 2010 at 2:18 pm
(3) Steve Parker, M.D. says:

It’s a major breakthrough that the meta-analysis was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a prestigious establishment journal.

The anti-saturated fat tide may be turning at last.

-Steve

January 19, 2010 at 5:48 am
(4) Jan J. says:

I have felt this all along in my instincts, though I did have doubts from time to time due to being told by everyone, including doctors I somewhat respect like Dr Oz, not to eat them. I have never cut butter or fatty meats. Margarine never crosses my front doorjamb. Yet my cholesterol is exceedingly good. My health got bad with high BP and diabetes after I dropped the low-carb WOL a few years back, so I dropped only the sugar/carbs and never restricted the fat, and my cholesterol is better than ever! The doctor was very surprised that though my BP was very high and my blood glucose was in the 500s, my triglycerides and cholesterol were good, which he said was unusual. It all really makes sense when you think it through but I feel reassured even more to read it here!

January 19, 2010 at 10:35 am
(5) Susan says:

There’s a lot of info about this on Weston A. Price.org website. If too technical, mercola.com or drbenkim.com websites explain it in less technical language. I recently bought a book “21 Days to a Healthy Heart” by Alan J. ? Watson, which is an excellent book, well written with info on research studies about this subject.

January 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm
(6) Emily says:

I don’t eat a lot of saturated fats but occasionally I do. And I do believe that as long as you don’t abuse it, it’s ok eating it.

January 19, 2010 at 1:58 pm
(7) Micki says:

See:
“The physiology of vitamin K nutriture and vitamin K-dependent protein function in atherosclerosis” and look up vitamin D vis-a-vis CVD risk. These two hormonal and fat soluble nutrients have largely gone missing in the SAD.

January 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm
(8) Kab says:

Studies are informative (if done scientifically and too many aren’t) and good to keep us alert to what may benefit our health. However, sometimes with all the contradictory “evidence” (much of which is pure opinion presented as “fact”) out there, I must choose to make a personal observation of my own health responses to any suggestions.

So, on the subject of eating saturated fat and one’s health, this is my experience: Well over ten years ago, our doctor, a fat-phoebe, told my DH and I to cut out saturated fats because both our cholesterol was over 200. He gave us the typical low-fat diet that virtually cut out saturated fats and included careful amounts of “good” fats. This included avoiding “red meats” in favor of “lean” poultry and fish, including whole grains (switched to whole grain pastas, rices, breads, cereals, etc.) and of course, vegetables… in other words, what was touted as the absolutely healthiest way to eat and still is.

The result: In the following ten years, both of us gained over 20 more pounds, our BP and lypid numbers (except for the HDL) went up — my DH’s BP regularly running 150/95. Worst of all, by the end of that period, I developed full-blown diabetes with FBGL at 140 and PP BGLs in the 300s.

Not only did our health deteriorate, it deteriorated quickly and though we were eating fewer calories (because fat has twice the calories), we were rapidly gaining fat around the abdomen while losing muscle mass at the same time. I went from a size 14 (I had already been slowly gaining over the years) to a 1X (“large woman” size) almost entirely because of fat around my waist.

Some who would defend the LF-NO-saturated fats diet in the face of our experience would say these bad results would have happened even faster or greater had we not done a LF-NO-saturated fats diet at all. In other words, I guess they are saying our health would have been even worse if not for their ‘sage’ nutritional advice. But their prediction is dead wrong and I know because I don’t have to predict…

I know exactly what actually happened when we went against their and our doctor’s advice three years ago at ages 55 and 56, threw out the LF diet completely, and began eating LC…. ALONG with PLENTY of saturated fats (in fact, possibly more than we had ever dared to eat!) — Lipids improved (HDLs significantly as well as ratios), BPs dropped below 120/80 (and DH’s mother’s family all have high BP with heart attacks and strokes!). Best of all, my A1c stays in the 5s! We both lost about 30 pounds each as well. That came off quickly and stays off given a couple of pounds that come and go. Sometimes my BGLs seem to go up a little as well but if I stick with the LC, which I do, it comes back down. The important thing is that my A1c never goes above normal anymore even with these temporary fluctuations. And the BEST part of all — neither of us has ever had to take any meds to accomplish this. It’s been totally due to our diets.

Remember, besides a good amount of LC veggies, our meals consist of “bad” fats such as bacon, sausage, and eggs every morning, red meats that do NOT have the fat cut away, bacon lard for cooking, butter, heavy cream, and — this always amazes everyone who struggles with weight and cholesterol, etc. — my cream cheese dessert just about every night! From what I keep hearing in the real world from real people having similar results, I don’t think that we are an isolated case by far!

By the way, some more food for thought — We also reintroduced that “bad” sodium soon after we began LC with generous saturated fats. Guess what? Nothing happened! Our BPs are still very good and continue running a little below 120/80. We salt our foods generously and don’t buy anything “low-sodium” anymore either (which often seems to be included with the low-fat products anyway)…. Maybe salt is another innocent victim of the PC diet police? I wouldn’t be surprised. I haven’t found any good, scientific evidence to prove it’s harmful to eat it in normal amounts. Once again, it just seems to be based on popular notions of “healthy diets” that are not questioned and put to the test.

Kab

January 27, 2010 at 12:41 am
(9) mary titus says:

I use so much saturated fats…finally! I stopped being afraid of it once I began my low carb journey several years ago. THe longer I am on my low carb diet the more ketogenic I make it. I have always loved fats but I fought the desire to consume fats because they were so “bad”. Now I really see how healthy it is. I am the poster child of a person who benefits from saturated fats.I just hope others begin to turn around and hop on the train that has carried us through history. The mighty low carb train that uses saturated fats for fuel.

January 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm
(10) Caveman Sam says:

Makes sense to me. Not only does your liver turn excess carbs into saturated fat but your bodies cell linings are made up of primarily saturated fat. Your brain is mostly made of saturated fat too. Bacon is delicious for a reason. We evolved to enjoy the taste of things that are good for us.

August 31, 2010 at 5:59 am
(11) DennisA says:

Maybe someone can start letting cholesterol of the hook as well. This vital ingredient of cell metabolism has been vilified to sell statins to people who don’t need them. It has always been the case that in all these food scares, they forget about the digestive system. The idea that “fat” is circulating in your blood stream is quite bizarre, or that your blood will become super saturated with salt if you eat more than 6gms a day. There really is no valid scientific evidence that cholesterol is a causative agent in heart disease and for men over 47 and women in general it can’t even be demonstrated to be a risk factor. Yet the margarine mfrs and the drug suppliers make millions out of it.

August 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm
(12) Chad says:

Two points, make of them what you will:

1) The above mentioned meta-analysis was funded in part by the National Dairy Council. As far as I know the majority of saturated fat in north american diets are from dairy. So a clear conflict of interest. While not always a bad thing, this should at least raise a flag or two before declaring the saturated fat/heart disease link dead based on this one meta-analysis.

2) Anytime a new study comes out, the media should hold off on reporting on it until other researchers have had a chance to comment, particularly in the case of a meta-analysis, where researcher bias can so easily influence the results, and where the authors have a conflict of interest (e.g. study is supported by a party that has something to gain or lose based on the outcome of the study). In this particular instance, another researcher has commented, pointing out some flaws in the meta-analysis, see:

http://www.ajcn.org/content/92/2/458.full

November 27, 2011 at 7:09 am
(13) Vik says:

Found this out myself a few years ago. My overall cholesterol showed to be 340 before my diet. I used to OD on sodas, white breads, chocolates cakes. And always looked out for high fat.

So i decided to do the exact opposite for the hell of it. I OD’d on bacon eggs every morning, all of the meats i could eat and green vegetables and no bread, rice, starch or sugar. Only drank water and milk. And used to have as many fruits as i wanted. 4 months after this diet i had lost 50 lbs, lost more than i wanted to i was about 25 lbs overweight not 50 lol. And when my dad checked my overall cholesterol was 185. Now no one in my family even checks for LDL we just check for triglycerides.

August 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm
(14) joe says:

I slightly dissagree, research is constantly biased. When it is those studies are de-bugged and never make it to the mainstream because of their flaws. I do have to point out that from a simple biology standpoint that it is harder for the body to break down these bonds. The molecular science behind this is not a myth.

Everything in moderation has ALWAYS been the answer. To much of one thing in your diet is never a good,

December 10, 2012 at 11:00 am
(15) Roma says:

With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation?
My site has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help protect against content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate
it.

January 19, 2013 at 9:16 pm
(16) trajayjay says:

So in order for saturated fat to not be harmful, you have to give up carbs. Well, that’s kind of a bummer, because butter is usually paired with a carby food, like toast, or rice, or noodles,

June 11, 2013 at 9:58 am
(17) L.R.S. says:

PART I

I cannot agree with the results of the research. My personal experience has shown me a much different picture.

Much of my life I ate what ever I wanted, and I love BBQ ribs, steak, chips, Big Macs, fries, and just about every other thing that is loaded with saturated fat. I never seemed to have a problem with it.

However, once I turned forty I began annual physicals, complete with cholesterol screenings. THIS IS WHERE THE PAST CAUGHT UP WITH ME.

As I have a very high metabolism and am very active, I never really gained weight. In fact, when I graduated high school and entered service in the US Marine Corps, I required an “Under Weight Waiver.” The Marine Corps placed me on “Double Rations” where I basically ate twice what everyone else did. Often causing me to become physically ill. I gained twenty-five pounds in twelve weeks of boot camp; Parris Island, SC – Platoon Three Thousand Thirty Five.

Continued -

June 11, 2013 at 9:59 am
(18) L.R.S. says:

Part II

Over the years since I have only gained another twenty pounds and am now considered “Ideal weight” at 155 lbs for my 5’6″ frame. I remain healthy and extremely fit. My physique resembles what you would expect a front-line fighter to look like, despite the fact that I am now forty-seven.

My annual physicals showed that I am in very good health, with the exception of high cholesterol; very high! Unacceptable to me. My Doctor wrote me a script for cholesterol lowering medication, which I left in his office. He and I spoke about proper diet and exercise. As he pointed out, “It is obvious you have no problem getting enough exercise, so lets talk about diet.” Which we did.

My wife, a registered nurse, and I searched the internet for dietary options. Foods I could live with and that had low or no saturated fats and cholesterol. We found several that would do for my tastes.

My first step was to eliminate ALL red meat from my diet. No more ribs for me either. I removed many of the processed foods as well. And Mc Donalds took me off their Christmas card list as well. I eat mostly a vegan diet. Some fish and chicken roasted without the skin, and NO DAIRY. I always was an oatmeal eater so I continue that daily. I even add oatmeal to things like re-fried black beans watered down with a cup of water to a cup of re-fried beans and a bit of hot sauce to make a great thick soup; very good.

My results are amazing! My cholesterol numbers dropped by 53 points in three months. No medications are required by me as a result. I maintain the activity level I always have and I still eat out with family and friends. I make smart decisions and avoid saturated fat and cholesterol at every choice.

In my opinion, telling people that saturated fat is not a killer is irresponsible. Where saturated fat is, so is cholesterol.

June 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm
(19) Mike S says:

@ L.R.S – You are misunderstanding this. The foods you named are pure junk and contain much more than just some saturated fat. They are super high in bad carbs and also contain a lot of trans fats, which are and will always be, bad for you.
Your diet was just horrible and had nothing to do with saturated fats. Also, red meats are not bad for you in moderation. Grass fed is always better as well.
If you increase the good fats (including saturated) while really reducing your carbs, you will succeed in not only losing fat, but having more energy than you thought possible.

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