Let’s take a closer look at saturated fats.
As I write this I’m still astonished that the much-maligned saturated fats (coconut oil, butter, palm kernel oil, flesh fats) are so helpful in a variety of situations and the polyunsaturated vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, walnut, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed, peanut, and canola) are not so good.
Saturated fats and heart disease
In a study published in the Journal of clinical epidemiology, Dr. Fife reports that all the research on saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats that related to heart disease showed they found no positive correlation between saturated fat consumption and heart disease and in later studies the conclusions were that saturated fat may indeed be protective!
Along these lines, consider this: Barry Groves in his book Natural Health and Weight Loss reports that the traditional Inuit (Eskimo) diet as studied in the 1950s was a very low carbohydrate/ high fat diet which included whale, salmon, some berries, and some digested stomach content from these animals’ stomachs. On this diet, Inuit blood cholesterol levels were very high but triglycerides were low and the Inuit people had no obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes and no cancer- I repeat-high cholesterol but no heart disease! This correlates with what Dr. Barry Sears, author of The Zone reports in his book The Anti-Inflammation Zone. He asserts that focusing on the triglyceride/high density lipoprotein ratio (TG/HDL) rather than following cholesterol levels is important and concludes that the TG/HDL ratio is very predictive in forecasting heart disease, diabetes, and diseases of inflammation. According to Dr. Sears, a 2001 study found that those who had a low TG/HDL ratio, even if they smoked, were sedentary, had high LDL (bad) cholesterol, or hypertension-had half the risk of developing heart disease than those with a high TG/HDL ratio who had no other risk factors for heart disease.” Further, he reports that Harvard Medical School studies showed that patients with a high TG/HDL ratio can be up to 16 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those with a low TG/HDL ratio!
Saturated fats and cancer
Dr. Fife continues that Researchers looked for a link between saturated fat and cancer and found that saturated fat had a protective effect against cancer rather than a causative one when compared with other oils. “Polyunsaturated oils were identified as causing cancer and the higher the degree of unsaturation the greater the risk.”
Saturated fats and stroke
Dr. Fife adds that saturated fats help to prevent strokes in both humans and animals. Studies from Japan in the1980s found a relationship between increased dietary fat and a decrease in death from ischemic stroke in humans. Also, in a 20 year study at Harvard Medical School, involving middle aged men that participated in the Framingham Heart Study, the conclusion was that saturated fat lowers the rate of stroke and that the highest incidence of stroke was associated with the most polyunsaturated fat intake.
All these authors report that saturated fats have the following benefits:
1. Our cell membranes are largely made up of fats. They require the right fats to maintain the integrity and stiffness of the cell or else they soften and begin to “leak”. Since 50% of every cell membrane is saturated fat, cholesterol and other saturated fats are necessary for optimal functioning.
2. Saturated fats support the immune system. An example is lauric acid. This fatty acid is found in coconut oil (and mother’s milk) and is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral.
3. Saturated fats help calcium absorption hence avoiding osteoporosis.
4. Saturated fats help protect the liver from toxic effects of alcohol, drugs and toxins.
5. Saturated fats have positive effects in many health categories such as improving energy, weight loss, cancer prevention, reducing inflammation, skin health as well as beneficial effects on the heart (fat is its primary energy source,) lungs (surfactant), kidneys (cellular communication) and hormones (cholesterol is the precursor molecule ending up in the production of progesterone, cortisol, Dhea, estrogen and testosterone.)
What are these surprisingly good fats?
1. Coconut oil and non-hydrogenated palm kernel oil up to 99% saturated/monounsaturated, 1-3% polyunsaturated.
* It’s well known that the populations in Polynesia and Asia who live on coconut products and oils do not suffer from heart disease, cancer, and degenerative diseases. Dr. Enig reports that coconut oil helps weight loss because it contains medium chain fatty acids that are metabolized differently and suggests taking 1 Tbs. 10 minutes before eating your meal. There are whole books on the subject and I suggest you do some reading on them. Since trying coconut oil, I use it for cooking or for melting it on rice, or on breads with a little sea salt for a terrific tasting healthy snack.
2. Butter and clarified butter (ghee)-94%saturated/monounsaturated (butter is4% unsaturated)
For years, I have been using ghee for frying at any temperature because of its great taste and because it oxidizes less during the heating process due to its high degree of saturation. It is easy to make at home. Take 4-8 sticks of unsalted, organic butter preferably from a grass fed cow and bring them to a minimal boil and let it simmer. The hissing sound is the sound of the water boiling out. Once the hissing sound stops the ghee is finished. Be careful not to burn it by overcooking it. After cooling a bit, skim off the milky portion on the surface. Pour off the liquid golden oil (this is the ghee) into an earthenware or metal container. The milk solids on the bottom may be discarded or eaten separately. The Ghee will solidify at room temperature and may be kept in or outside the fridge. (We keep it in)
3. Olive and Sesame oil. Olive oil has 91% saturated/monounsaturated (mostly monounsaturated), 9% polyunsaturated.
I use it for low temperature frying and in all my salads. It helps prevent cancer and tastes great. Research that looked at more than 60,000 women in Sweden from age 40-76 years found that over the course of about 4 years, those who ate the largest proportion of oil from monounsaturates suffered the lowest risk of breast cancer. “According to the researchers, if two women ate the some amount of total fat calories the one who ate 10 more grams of monounsaturated fat per day cut her chance of breast cancer in half – 50%! This amounts to 1 T. of olive oil.
4. Flesh sources such as beef /lamb/pork approx. 95% saturated/monounsaturated, 3-5% polyunsaturated.
Please note that this compares to our human body fat (97% saturated/monounsaturated with 3% polyunsaturated fat. No, I’m not suggesting we eat human fat! I am suggesting that those who live on grass fed, free range animals products all over the world in various countries and cultures do very well (living long lives, able bodied etc.) because they consume such small amounts of polyunsaturated oils, and the saturated fats in their diets help protect the unsaturated fats from free radical oxidation. But be careful and note that if you consume regular flesh, fowl, or poultry that is not “grass fed”, you actually consume an animal that was probably raised on soy and corn and its oils are more “vegetable” like and therefore more unsaturated and more likely to result in the oxidative-free radical damaging process that we are trying to avoid.
Even as I write this Im still amazed that everything we have been taught through the years does not hold up to the ancient wisdom of the food traditions over the world. Excitedly, I asked around, both at home and at work. Here is what they said:
1. A patient’s relatives in Poland who stuck with grass fed chicken, milk eggs and fats had no problems with cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
2. Our consultant internist’s eyes lit up as he described how his family, back in Iran, went for the fattest parts of the sheep they could find and all were healthy.
3. Our friend’s 92 year old grandmother who lives in the mountains of Romania and tends to her cows and chickens, is able bodied and independent and living on the the high saturated fatty foods of her grass fed animals. She states that when the people leave the mountains and go to the cities, they eat differently (processed, hydrogenated, vegetable oils sugar etc) and come down with diabetes, heart disease, cancer etc.
Therefore, I recommend everything in moderation. Please take a close look at your diet and consider removing the unhealthy fats in your life by doing the following:
– Cook with a stable oil that will not oxidize during the heating process such as olive or coconut oil or ghee. The polyunsaturated oils will likely become oxidized during cooking or exposure to open air and then oxidize any foodstuffs that they come into contact with.
– Read labels carefully. When you find polyunsaturated oils such as safflower or sunflower or canola or cottonseed oil added to bars or chips think of these oils contaminating the neighboring foods by beginning the oxidation process thus bringing us down the road to inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, cancer and age related degenerative changes.
– Consider the evidence that cholesterol is not the villain and is needed since it’s necessary for vitamin d, hormone synthesis, bile formation, and cell membrane structure and discuss this with you doctor.
– Consider the evidence that high triglycerides may be a more accurate predictor for heart disease (caused by sugar intake!) and ask your doctor to study your triglyceride/hdl ratio with you.
– Read, research, experiment with your diet and enjoy the process!
Dr. Bruce Fife author of Eat Fat, Look Thin
Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon author Eat Fat, Lose Weight
Dr. Barry Sears author The Anti-Inflammation Zone
Dr. Barry Groves author Natural health and Weight Loss