Do you ever feel like you are being stalked by the nutrition police?
The reality is that saturated fat isn't what clogs your arteries.
Even if you take a fist full of supplement pills each and every day, somebody is going to advise you that you need to avoid "artery clogging" saturated fat. But the reality is that saturated fat isn't what clogs your arteries.
The concern about saturated fat began about the time of the Korean War. The United States suffered very heavy losses for several years, and Army doctors seized an opportunity to learn about the health status of young American men. They found that many of the troops were killed in the war suffered advanced atherosclerosis in their early 20's, and included that American youth had to be suffering coronary artery disease.
What the scientists never considered is that maybe it's the youth unfortunate enough to have heart disease who could run for cover when bullets were flying. Probably, and there is no way anyone will ever know, it is the few young soldiers who had coronary artery disease who were most likely to be killed in action.
Then researcher Ancel Keys studied fat consumption and heart disease in his Seven Countries Study. In seven countries, an increase in saturated fat coincided with an increase in heart disease. Actually, Keys studied twenty-two countries, but the results in the other 15 countries were inconvenient. Keys discovered that in countries where people were no longer living under famine conditions during wartime, people had more to eat and more people died of heart disease. The reality is that they were dying of starvation before the study and there were no doctors or clinics where heart disease could have been diagnosed.
Keys made the cover of Time magazine, the greatest publicity in the world in the pre-Internet era, and his ideas became mainstream-without scientific validation. But even in that era, scientists knew that some societies where people ate mostly fat, such as the Inuit in Arctic Canada and the Masai in Kenya, had very low rates of cardiovascular disease.
What are Saturated Fatty Acids?
On a molecular level, a saturated fatty acid structure is a chain of carbon atoms, all of which are bonded to four other atoms or chemical groups. There is no room to add anything to the molecule without changing its structure. This makes the saturated fat susceptible to damage from heat and air. Saturated fatty acid examples include butter, bacon fat, lard, and the fats in meat, poultry, and fish.
What are the Benefits of Saturated Fat?
In the human body, saturated fatty acids make up about half of the membranes protecting each of our cells. And in food, saturated fatty acids carry vitamins, A, D, and K2 into the bloodstream.
One study even found that high-fat cheeses reduced heart disease because of their content of vitamin K2, but no one has packaged them as a supplement.
But don't saturated fatty acids cause heart disease? Look at the chart below. The line going up the page measures the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease each year. The line going across the page measures the percentage of saturated fat in the diet.
France has the highest percentage of saturated fat in the diet. It has the lowest rate of death from cardiovascular disease.
Azerbaijan has one of the lowest percentages of saturated fat in the diet. It has the highest rate of death form cardiovascular disease.
Saturated fat doesn't raise triglycerides. (Eating too many carbohydrates is what raises your triglycerides.) Saturated fat does increase LDL cholesterol levels, but there's more than one kind of LDL cholesterol. The kind of LDL cholesterol made from saturated fat is fluffy and light and doesn't stick to the lining of your arteries.
So What's Not to Like About Saturated Fat?
Foods that are high in saturated fat taste good. We eat too much of them. Even if your arteries are clean as a whistle, it's not good to weigh 400 pounds.
And even those essential fatty acids, the omega-3's and omega-6's, have calories. You can't eat enormous amounts of saturated fat without detrimental health consequences. But you don't have to worry that saturated fat is somehow poison.