It is a common misconception that eating fats will make you fat and a healthy diet is low in fats. Fats and in particular saturated fats have been vilified and blamed for various illnesses especially cardiovascular diseases. But if you’re looking to have plenty of energy and live a long and healthy life, saturated fats are essentials for your diet, and this is why.
When did the low fat diet become popular?
This idea that eating low-fat, fat-free or ‘skinny’ is healthier than full fat food, originated from the work of a physiologist called Ansel Keys. He did a study, first published on 1978, on seven countries who ate a fat diet and linked this to a high rate of heart disease. However, he essentially cherry picked these countries (out of 22) to favour his study. He excluded countries like Denmark, Norway, France, which have a relatively high fat diet and relatively low cases of heart disease. This is known in France as the French paradox. He also didn’t differentiate trans-fats and excluded the link between sugar and heart disease.
Following these studies, nutritional guidelines were developed and promoted to the general public. It then became a common belief that eating fats is simply not good for you.
Of course some industries, and in particular the sugar industry, jumped on this opportunity to promote their low-fat alternatives – full of sugar. Vegetable oils also became more popular and with the overuse of processed trans-fats.
“I’ll have a skinny latte with sugar please.”Sugar vs. Fat – which will win?
Different types of fats
Fat is one of the macronutrients the body needs to survive. It is also a major source of energy to the human body. There are two types of natural fats and trans-fats, which have been processed:
- Saturated fats – these come essentially from animals products (skin, fatty meat, butter, ghee, eggs, full cream dairy products) and also coconut oil and dark chocolate.
- Unsaturated fats – these can be split into monosaturated (olive oil, peanut oil, avocado and most nuts) and polysaturated (sunflower oil, cold-water fish, seeds).
- There are also trans-fats – these are hydrogenated vegetable oils, which you find in fast food, deep fried food, industrially made cakes/pastries and chocolate. These have been artificially processed and are unstable. This means they go rancid when exposed to oxygen or heat and become a poison to the body. They are linked with obesity and cancer and should be avoided as much as possible.
Saturated fats are very stable because every atom of carbon has a hydrogen atom attached to it. They’re usually solid at room temperature and hard to break.
In comparison, unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, have double bonds between carbon atoms, as there are less hydrogen atoms than carbon. Because of this, they are unstable and the molecule can easily bond with an atom of oxygen. This means they can get oxygenated and become rancid. This process happens usually when the unsaturated fats are exposed to oxygen or heat. Once they go rancid, they’re a poison for the body and can trigger health issues such as inflammation.
For this reason, it is much better to cook with butter or ghee for example then vegetable oil.
The benefits of natural saturated fats
Saturated fats are essentials for the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body. They helps build cell membranes, protect vital organs, and are also needed for brain and cognitive health. So they are very important to build up our immunity and our intestinal and metabolic health.
Saturated fats also increase satiety levels making feel fuller for longer, and they do not spike blood sugar level. You feel that you have more energy and no more cravings.
What is important when eating saturated fats, is to choose products from animals that have been grass-fed and preferably organic. The quality of food from animals that have been raised industrially, indoors and in poor conditions, fed grain and antibiotics, is incomparable to food coming from animals which have been raised mostly oudoors, eating a wide range of grass with different mineral and nutrient composition and without any chemicals.
So the key here to be healthy is to eat ‘natural fats’ like what our ancestors would have done. This is good for the environment, because animals raring freely on the land helps the ground absorb carbon (see our blog that explains about regenerative farming). And you can be sure that the food you eat will be rich in nutrients too. Obviously all products (butter, eggs, unpasturised dairy products) issued from animals living in these good conditions will be rich in nutrients too.
What about cholesterol?
Cholesterol also got a bad name for similar reasons as saturated fats. We’ve been led to believe that there are good cholesterol (HDL or High Density Lipoproteins) and bad cholesterol (LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein). First, HDLs and LDLs are not cholesterol at all, they’re transporting cholesterol from the liver to the arteries (LDLs) or the other way round (HDLs).
Blaming high levels of LDLs for causing plaque in the arteries and leading to cardiovascular diseases is like blaming firefighters for the fire. Reducing the number of firefighters won’t treat the source of the problem that is causing the fire. Similarly, our arteries can become inflamed for various reasons (such as stress, smoking, eating processed food, refined carbs and rancid oils). LDLs carry cholesterol but also CoQ10, vitamin E, beta-carotene and other substances that are important materials needed by the body cells and the immune system.
Having a high cholesterol level could simply mean you’re burning a lot of fat, not that this fat is clogging your arterial walls. There are a number of publications with detailed studies that debunk this myth about cholesterol. A good book to read to learn more about this is “Statin Nation” by Justin Smith.
Sugar, trans-fats and processed food are the culprits for the rise in obesity, cardiovascular, degenerative and other diseases. Unfortunately natural saturated fats are unfairly taking some of the blame.
Saturated fats are vital to keep us healthy, boost our immune system and have plenty of energy. Make sure you use ‘natural’ saturated fats such as:
- Grass-fed butter, ghee (clarified butter)
- Grass-fed and organic meats
- Coconut oil (ideal for cooking if not using butter)
- Organ meat as they contain a lot of nutrients