Saturated Fat = BAD.
Or does it? Is it possible that saturated fat may be good for us?
We have all been taught that saturated fat is responsible for the increasing incidence of heart disease in our country, one of the biggest killers of both men and women today. It is a common understanding, a given, the zeitgeist of 20th century North America.
Believe it or not, I’m not the first one to question the idea. In fact, I’m pretty slow on the uptake! There has been ample information available, for decades, showing that saturated fat is not to be feared. That it is, in fact, a necessary and beneficial component of the diet.
If that is the case, how have we become so misled?
Saturated fat comes from animals and tropical plants: meat, fish, dairy, eggs, palm and coconut oils. Prior to the 20th century, animal fat was a major component of our diet.
In 1911 things began to change when Proctor & Gamble initiated the marketing of Crisco (the first trans-fat) as a healthier, plant-derived alternative to animal fats. Before this, Crisco was used in candle and soap making. With the advent of electricity, candle sales dropped and P&G decided to try a new advertising angle. Discrediting the use of saturated fat improved the sales of their product.
In 1913 a researcher by the name of Ancel Keys published The 6 Country Study, demonstrating a correlation between high cholesterol consumption and increased incidence of heart disease. He later published The 7 Country Study, further supporting his findings. His study was preceded by research on rabbits fed high cholesterol diets. The Framingham Heart Study followed. Both supported the hypothesis. We were hooked on the idea that increased cholesterol à increased atherosclerosis à increased coronary artery disease and increased rates of mortality (in other words, if we eat more cholesterol we are more likely to die). This became known as The Lipid Hypothesis.
Based on The Lipid Hypothesis, medical doctors began to recommend a “heart healthy” low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
Mary Enig is just one of the many reputable scientists who have been refuting the low fat-high carb theory of “healthy eating” since the 70s. She has argued that cholesterol does not cause coronary heart disease. She has shown on numerous occasions that there is no data, whatsoever; to support the idea that saturated fat is bad for us.
Case in point:
- The Study on Rabbits fed cholesterol was bogus. Rabbits are herbivoires. We are not. Cholesterol may clog the artery of a rabbit but it does not clog the arteries of healthy omnivores.
- The 6 Country Study, omitted data from 16 other countries that would have complicated Keys’ results. Had he included the data from all 22 countries studied, Keys would NOT have been able to create a direct correlation between cholesterol consumption and rate of heart disease. In fact, the countries with the highest dietary saturated fat consumption had the lowest incidence of heart disease.
- The 30 year follow-up of The Framingham Heart Study found that there could be no link between high or low cholesterol and the incidence of heart disease. The data showed that for every 1% mg/dl decrease in cholesterol levels per year there was an 11% increase in all-cause mortality.
Saturated fat is necessary for the health of cell membranes, the regulation of hormones, the protection of the liver, lungs, and optimal functioning of the immune system. Saturated fats, such as coconut oil and butter, can improve overall health and body composition.
99% of our evolutionary history has been spent eating a diet of meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and berries. It has only been since the age of agriculture (10,000 years ago) that carbohydrate consumption increased and fats were reduced/eliminated. In that tiny period of time, we have become shorter, more obese, and more prone to chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Our DNA has not had the opportunity to catch-up with our new way of eating. We need to return to our Hunter-Gatherer Diet (also called The Paleo Diet or The Primal Blueprint) if we are to make changes in the health trends affecting our country today.
I’m not suggesting that vegetarians/vegans are misguided. There remain a number of reasons (particularly ethical, environmental and economical) to reduce animal consumption. As a naturopath and environmentalist, I understand the issues with meat farming and consumption. I am also not suggesting that bacon and processed meat becomes the mainstay of the Canadian diet. Not all saturated fats are created equal, nor are all meats.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny the facts. We are omnivores by design. Our genomes prefer a diet higher in animal foods and fat and low in carbohydrate. We have been fed the wrong information for too many years. Incorrect medical dogma continues to encourage a diet that is causing waistlines to grow, heart disease to increase, libido to drop and the overall health of the population to decline.
Feel unsure? Follow the Primal Blueprint/Paleo Diet for a month. See how you feel. See how it changes your body composition. See how it changes your views on food and health. You can decide for yourself!
Now, don’t get me started on poor old salt…….
Written By: Dr. Jillian Murphy