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By Dr. Shilpi Bhadra Mehta

At the supermarket, do you yearn for the juicy rib eye but reach for the lean sirloin? Do you even consider the whole milk or just go straight for the skim? Do you stand clueless in front of the mammoth cooler of endless butter substitutes, wondering which one is supposed to be “healthiest” this week? Maybe you splurge a little when you get to the bacon because, well, it’s bacon, but that just means you have to cut that extra fat somewhere else. The bottom line: do you fear fat?

We’ve become so accustomed to eating low fat that the low-fat products are oftentimes more prominently displayed in our supermarket aisles now. So what do we need to know about saturated fats, and how do we move past our fear of them?

Facing Your Fear: What You Need to Know about Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods, such as beef, cheese, pork, butter, and dairy products; in some oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil; and even in dark chocolate.

Despite the claimed benefits of decreasing saturated fats in the diet, these benefits have never been realized, and recent studies are showing the links connecting saturated fats and heart disease simply aren’t there.

The bad reputation saturated fats have endured are based on research by Ancel Benjamin Keys in the 1950s. His research was weak and unreliable at best, and there were many inaccuracies in his methods.

First, his sample was not random and was too small. “Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn’t suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany” (Teicholz, 2014).

Second, the timing of the study was poor. “Furthermore, measuring the islanders’ diet partly during Lent, when they were fasting and not eating meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat” (Teicholz, 2014).

Third, the sample was simply flawed. “Four of Key’s handpicked seven countries actually had the highest levels of margarine consumption (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2009)” (Jbvisser, 2013).

Unfortunately, this deeply flawed study has set the stage for seven decades of ingrained consumer belief that fat must be feared. In fact, a diet low in saturated fats causes a decrease in our beneficial HDL cholesterol and this can lead to obesity and heart disease. The Framingham Heart Study (1948) actually showed “a positive relationship between falling cholesterol levels and mortality (Anderson, Casteli & Levi, 1987)” (Jbvisser, 2013). So our lack of consumption of fat may actually predispose us to those conditions and diseases—obesity, heart disease, and others—we are trying to avoid by not consuming it.

The decrease in the consumption of saturated fats has led to an increase in the consumption of vegetable oils (trans fats) and processed carbohydrates, and these are the real evils we should fear.

The First Evil: Processed Carbohydrates

The list of processed foods containing carbohydrates is never ending: pastas, cakes, pizza, grains, cereals, breads, chips, juices, soft drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, and so on. What’s important to understand is that carbohydrates are carbohydrates whether they are refined or unrefined. Tuna on whole grain crackers may sound healthier, but as for the carbs, you’re simply trading one evil for another, and over time, both will wreak the same degree of havoc on your body.

Some of that havoc inflicted from carbohydrate consumption includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Adopt a low-carb diet utilizing healthy fats, including saturated fats, and oils. But be careful, not all oils are healthy.

The Second Evil: Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils are trans fats that produce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and should never be consumed. However, these oils form the basis of the average American diet. “Now these oils represent 7% to 8% of all calories in our diet, up from nearly zero in 1900, the biggest increase in consumption of any type of food over the past century” (Teicholz, 2014).

Diseases known to be caused by the consumption of vegetable oil include cancer, gallstones, psychological issues, cellular dysfunctions, and an increased risk of myocardial infarctions.
One of the worst offenders is margarine.

Margarine was shown to cause infertility, heart disease, cancer, and more. The fact that margarine is still sold on the shelf in supermarkets is shocking. How many people suffered and died prematurely based on the faulty knowledge of this product? Nobody was held accountable—no one lost their jobs, credibility, or went to jail.

Many large institutions (medical associations, governments, etc.) promoted laboratory-created man-made margarine in the 1970s or 1980s as superior to butter, coconut oil, and palm oil, which are thousands of years old (saturated fat).

Not All Oils Are Created Evil

Butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil, and many other oils are the good oils.
“Olive oil is far and away the preferable oil for non-cooking applications. For cooking, I am squarely in favour of the saturated fatty acids like butter, lard, coconut oil and bacon fat. Saturates are much more tolerant of heat and are, therefore, the preferred cooking fats” (Wortman, 2013).

Avocado, olive, palm, and coconut are NOT vegetables but are actually naturally fatty fruits, so the organic cold-pressed versions of these oils are a great option. Traditionally, coconut, mustard, palm, and olive oils are cold pressed and can be made without modern machinery.

The Massai of Africa

The Massai of Africa consume a low-carb, high-saturated-fat diet that includes predominantly grass-fed dairy, meat, and blood and one liter of raw or fermented milk per day per person.
Pasteurized or unfermented dairy foods have different effects on the body, such as an increase in IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which is associated with acne and cancer. Modern dairies milks pregnant cows, producing way too much hormone in the milk for human consumption while traditional cultures do NOT milk pregnant cows.

This extreme example of the Massai diet shows that a traditional culture when following a traditional lifestyle has far lower rates of cancer, heart disease, autoimmunity, psychiatric disease, etc. than many modern cultures. What often kills traditional cultures is infant and maternal mortality, warfare, severe injury, infection, and parasites (which modern medicine is great for).

The Massai and Eskimo populations eat 80% carnivorous diets, while the Kitavans in the Pacific Ocean islands eat 60–80% plant-based, mostly carbohydrate-rich foods (sweet potato/yams and coconuts) and about 20% seafoods. Whatever fresh food they can eat based on climate and availability is better than our modern processed foods. What do they share in common? Socialization, movement, low exposure to pollutants, NOT consuming industrial-lab-created Frankenfoods, such as vegetable and seed oils (soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, canola from the grape seed) and grains. These have all skyrocketed in modern diets.

Saturated Fat Is Nothing to Fear

There’s no need to fear rib eye, whole milk, real butter, or bacon. There are no links connecting saturated fats to obesity and heart disease. Eliminate processed carbohydrates and vegetable oils (trans fats) from your diet, and increase your consumption of traditional, whole, and natural foods, including saturated fats, to achieve the ultimate health benefits.

Anderson, K. M., Castelli, W. P., & Levy, D. “Cholesterol and mortality. 30 years of follow-up from the Framingham study.” Journal of American Nutrition Association. 1987 Apr 24;257(16):2176-80.

Jbvisser. “Clearing Controversy on Saturated Fat, Cholesterol & Heart Health.” Jules’ Fuel. 2013 Apr 7.

Shanahan, Catherine and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition. Bantom Books, Hawaii, 2009.

Teicholz, Nina. “The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease.” The Wall Street Journal. 2014 May 6.

Wortman, Jay. “Good Fat, Bad Fat.” Dr. Jay’s Blog. 2013 Mar 7.

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