So you might have come across my recent post on the revelation that saturated fat isn’t as ‘bad’ as everybody thought. Yes, many have argued that saturated fat is actually pretty good for you for some time, but it’s evidence based research that matters, NOT peoples opinions. However, more and more research is emerging that supports the use of saturated fat sources in our diet, so is it now time to drop the stigma attached to foods such as butter, red meat and full fat milk?
Yes and No…
We live in a society that finds it very easy to latch onto something and run with it indiscriminately. I envision people reading posts like this with gusto and enthusiasm, not thinking of the other implications of downing copious amounts of myoglobin in red meat, excessive calories from high fat sources and the addition of trans fats during certain cooking processes. Yes saturated fat may well be better than first thought, but it is prudent to maintain balance with anything nutrition related. Consequently I am keen to embrace the new evidence supporting saturated fat, but even keener to ensure people do it responsibly.
Brief history of why saturated fat was thought to be bad
Heart disease…It was this chronic condition that was linked to saturated fat. In fact, saturated fat was almost exclusively blamed for chronic heart disease, atherosclerosis, and basically anything related to an unhealthy heart. Saturated fat was and still is calorific, it delivers 9kcal per gram, more than double that of carbohydrate per gram. So excessive amounts of saturated fat will expose you to weight gain, this holds true now, but this is the case with any source of fat, even the polyunsaturated, healthy fat that comprises olive oil! The issue studies had with saturated fat was the notion that it effected cholesterol levels, meaning bad cholesterol (LDL) could become oxidised and deposit in the arteries. These fatty deposits caused oxidative stress, furring and narrowing of the arteries, as well as increasing blood pressure and overall strain on the heart!
Why the sudden change!?
Why the change, and why should we bother listening this time? Recent studies have failed to find any solid evidence that saturated fat is in fact the causative factor. They even contradict previous beliefs that saturated fat made you fat, so much so that it is even suggested that eating the right kind of fat may be good for health, as well as helping you to lose weight…yes, lose weight! The problem with the previous research is that the cohorts (groups of people) used for the study were very selective to say the least. Countries like America were compared to Japan, which are known for their stark differences in fat intake, obesity and heart disease (America far exceeding that of Japan). These studies often left out Germany, France and other European countries who had high fat intakes, and yet demonstrated relatively low incidents of heart disease….Hmmmm!
What is to blame now then?
Well, most of the evidence and trends point to sugar! Sugar (particularly refined sugar) combined with a sedentary lifestyle widely considered to be one of the main causative factors. This however is not a new suggestion, in fact a well known British researcher by the name of Professor Yudkin postulated that sugar was the problem decades ago, but this was snubbed despite compelling evidence to support it… if people had bothered to invest in it. Alongside this was trans fats, these types of fat are made via a process known as hydrogenation involving hydrogen being pumped through oil whilst at very high temperature. Quite the opposite to saturated fat then, much clear evidence exists that suggests trans fats damage cardiovascular tissue. Hydrogenated fats were found in most shop bought cakes and biscuits until they were removed in 2007. So you can see that allocating blame to one single food source/ component is futile, but two stand out in front as the main contributors to heart disease…sugar and trans fats.
Nutritional U- turn
It is well understood that protein and fat are satiating, they make you feel fuller for longer, especially compared to carbohydrate. Low fat diets were all the hype not so long ago, and although fat is calorific, the carbs that you replace it with are not very good at filling you up meaning you may find yourself snacking more. Ironic then that a teaspoon of butter added to your potatoes may actually slow the release of the natural sugars in white potato, helping you to minimise the risk of weight gain. It is still agreed that polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as those found in oily fish and avocado respectively are good for heart health. They have repeatedly been found to reduce the rate of blood clotting, and in turn minimise the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat doesn’t appear to be detrimental to health, but does it mean it’s something we should consume freely, no, because the calories that accompany may well increase heart disease risk. Obtain a balance of food groups and nutrients by consuming a variety of food sources of meat (or meat alternative), starchy carbs, dairy and of course fruit and veg…and you won’t go far wrong.
Siri- Tarino, P, W., Sun, Q., Hu, F, B, & Krauss, R, M. (2009). Meta analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Mail Online, (2014). I was wrong - we should be feasting on FAT, says The Fast Diet author DR MICHAEL MOSLEY. Retrieved 17th July, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2695030/I-wrong-feasting-FAT-says-The-Fast-Diet-author-DR-MICHAEL-MOSLEY.html