The Time Has Come: You Can Eat Saturated Fat Now

For years I used to read the latest nutrition research.

After a while I became jaded and fatigued by the constant disagreement and disparity between study after study. To this day, new research continues to contradict old research.

Yet what bothered me the most, was that those who were paid to give out nutritional guidance would continue to offer the same formula – in parrot-like fashion. It was rare to hear that nutrition was complex and bewildering, and maybe the experts didn’t have all the answers.

What You Were Told

Somewhere in the 60s and 70s, under the guidance of the American Heart Association, fat was seen as the enemy.

Over time a titanic shift occurred in our attitudes towards food. Fat was out, carbohydrates were in. We were given a food pyramid and told to eat bread, pasta, and avoid fat.

The food and diet industry joined hands, eliminating fat and adding sugar. These foods were given a health halo.

Then things started to get confusing. There were all kinds of different fats. It seemed that some were okay, but some were bad. We were told to avoid saturated fats, and eat processed vegetable oils.

Entire foods fell in and out of favor: Eggs were to be avoided. No, wait, maybe they were okay. Uh, actually they might be quite good.

And how we began to worry and stress about food.

diabetesrates

What’s happening with Diabetes? (the split between Type 1 and Type 2 is about 5%/95%)

Artery Clogging Saturated Fat?

It seemed that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol was the problem. Apparently it caused heart disease.

However an increasing body of research is showing something different.

  1. The human body and its interaction with dietary nutrition is far, far more complex than we ever imagined.
  2. Cholesterol is also far more difficult to understand than first thought.
  3. Maybe saturated fat was never the problem.
  4. Shockingly, the very advice to eat more refined carbohydrates and reduced fat intake could be a major contributor to our growing waistlines and alarming levels of obesity.

One large UK study looked at 72 different studies and found that there was no clear evidence that lowering saturated fats reduced heart disease. The lead researcher said that “refined carbohydrates, sugar and salt are all potentially harmful for vascular health” (BBC).

(Caveat: In true nutrition fashion, there are debunkers of the debunkers, with some questioning the meta-study’s methods.)

I think it’s time to stop being afraid of food. It’s a hard habit to break.

  • Go after whole foods, and stop worrying about fat.
  • Eat eggs and avocados.
  • Don’t be scared of coconut oil.
  • Put some butter on that potato (yes the butter will slow blood-sugar spike from the potato).

Don’t forget that fats are a more calorie-dense food group than proteins and carbs, so don’t go overboard.

Focusing on a single nutrient or food group as the source of all our health and obesity woes is a mistake.

Fleeing from sugar is not the cure-all: we must maintain an “entire life context” if we hope to improve health outcomes.

 

8 Comments

  1. Ryan

    Ultimately, I think topics like this are a distraction, only applicable to people who aren’t active and are eating too many calories from low-quality food, and people who are doing that are going to have problems anyways.

    I don’t think people who are exercising reasonably hard and eating a varied diet of “real”/nutritious food in an amount that will maintain their activity level at a healthy weight really need to worry about this stuff.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Thus the reason we have this site… we want to reach out to the former you mentioned which are by far the majority out there. We do appreciate those like you, who do have their healthy eating sorted that are helping us spread the word and who are supporting people new to a healthier eating lifestyle. We really want Healthy Eater to be a gateway for people to begin making positive changes. So again, thanks for reading and offering your insight!

      Reply
  2. Ted

    Didn’t the study also point out that eating saturated fats with refined carbs is where the problem lies?

    For instance eggs with sautéed veggies good but eggs with toast not so good. Steak with salad and broccoli good, steak with dinner roles and french fries not so good.

    During the news segment I watched the doctor explained it by saying that the refined carbs cause the sticky type of cholesterol to elevate where as without carbs the beneficial “pillow-like” cholesterol elevates when eating saturated fat.

    This would explain why there was no difference in heart disease rates, (which Daniel pointed out below) between pre nonfat movement to post nonfat movement. Americans have always loved bread and pre 1960 ate it with every meal thus the whole combining of saturated fat with refined carbs deal.

    I would definitely agree that this issue is far more complex than we once thought.

    My rule of thumb. I eat a lot of veggies, chicken, eggs, and fish and just a little red meat, bread, and sugar in my diet.

    Reply
    • JamesF

      So bread with slathers of lard is out?

      Reply
  3. spectra311

    Processed carbohydrates are toxic to your body and they cause the inflammation that makes cholesterol so dangerous. I’ve been eating saturated fats for years on its own with no problems

    Reply
  4. Daniel Wagle

    David Katz, who is Director of the Yale Research Prevention Center wrote a very convincing critique of the Chowdhury study here. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/what-to-do-when-your-food_b_5620522.html

    One major point he makes is that if replacing saturated fat with refined sugar doesn’t show a health benefit, then that doesn’t prove that saturated fat is good for us.

    “The actual findings of the meta-analysis being used to fan the flames of this contention are as noted above; our heart disease rates were just as high with a higher intake of saturated fat as they are now with a higher intake of sugar. If no change in heart disease rates with less saturated fat and more sugar means saturated fat is good for us, then what’s good for the fatty goose should be good for the sugary gander. It also must mean that no change in heart disease rates with more saturated fat and less sugar means that sugar is good for us, too. Oops.’

    The best thing to replace high saturated fat animal foods with is NOT refined sugar, or possibly not vegetable oils either but rather WHOLE plant foods, which might include whole plants with healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and avocados. Katz stated,

    “Consider, for instance, the Lyon Diet Heart Study. This, unlike Keys’ observational work, was research with all the requisite bells and whistles: a randomized, blinded, controlled clinical trial. Hundreds of European adults at high risk for heart disease were randomized to either a traditional northern European diet with lots of saturated fat, or a Mediterranean diet with less meat and more plants, and rich in monounsatured fat and omega-3 among other features. The Mediterranean diet reduced major cardiovascular events by over 70 percent. Other studies have shown much the same.”

    Katz also cited this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22412075, which demonstrated, “Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, CVD, and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.”

    Katz is not a total Vegan and the point is NOT that a person cannot eat ANY saturated fat whatsoever. The point is to limit how much one eats. If a person eats red meat, don’t eat it everyday and only small portions of it.

    Plantpositive.com also has good refutations of this Chowdhury study.

    Reply
    • JamesF

      By no means do I think that the meta-analysis was pointing people to eat more saturated fats… let alone eat more meat or animal fats.

      The takeaway from me is that in our attempts to frame food groups as “bad” leads the food and diet industry to start messing with foods.

      Also, that it’s naive just to blame saturated fats as the reason for heart disease. The issue is just far too complex for that.

      I know people who avoid avocadoes because of all the fat, and yet turn around and eat “healthy” muesli bars.

      We don’t need to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction.

      Reply