The Truth About Saturated Fat

The Truth About Saturated Fat

For over 50 years, saturated fats have been demonised due to their supposed links to obesity and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). We have been thoroughly conditioned to believe that butter, cream and animal fats are plaque-building poisons and that margarines and monounsaturated vegetable oils are the safe alternative. Despite this dietary dogma we continue to become more obese and heart disease remains our largest killer. Something is wrong with this equation and the greatest flaw in the “killer fat” hypothesis is the fact that our Great Grandparents consumed almost double the amount of saturated fats and yet CHD and obesity were a non-issue!

Feasting on Fat

I vividly recall frequent visits to my Grandfather’s dairy farm as a child. Breakfast consisted of thick, raw cream ladled onto the steaming porridge followed by bacon and eggs accompanied by toast adorned with slabs of butter. The bacon was sliced from a side of pork hanging beside the coal range stove and the 3 cm strip of fat was savoured down to the rind. Morning tea was fresh scones with cream and jam, and lunch was cold meat from the previous night’s roast on heavily buttered bread. Afternoon tea was shortbread with any left-over scones and the evening meal was always a roast that was soaked in gravy made from the fat in the oven pan. Cold drinks during the day invariably involved fresh, raw milk. It was a smorgasbord of supposedly artery-clogging delights and yet no one was overweight and heart disease was a rarity.

Manipulation Breeds Desecration

Calorie conscious consumers now wade through supermarket shelves that are laden with low fat, no fat “healthy” alternatives, shunning the full fat foods in favour of flavourless substitutes. 50% of the milk sold in Australia is now fat-reduced and yet research does not actually prove that embracing this watery excuse for real milk is a productive abstinence. In fact, the opposite may be true. Studies involving consumption of low fat milk are suggesting serious issues in relation to these bastardised, processed foods. In the famous Nurse’s Health study, involving over 80,000 women, one or more serves per day of low fat milk was linked to a 32% increased risk of ovarian cancer. In another study, full fat milk drinkers were 50% less likely to develop ovarian cancer. In a UK fertility study involving 18,000 women with problems based upon lack of egg release, two or more serves of low fat milk was associated with an 85% increase in infertility.

There are several possibilities that help explain why manipulation of this whole food may be counterproductive. Full fat milk contains a remarkably protective fatty acid called Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA. CLA is a powerful, anti-cancer, immune supporting fat, which is lost in low fat milk. Similarly, there is a problem with the removal of fat soluble vitamin D, when the fat is stripped from the whole food. Vitamin D is increasingly recognised as a potent protective agent that is deficient in over 70% of the Australian population. In low fat milk there is a double whammy. The absence of vitamin D generates poor calcium uptake, which suppresses formation of calcitrol, the hormonal form of vitamin D.

Turning a Friend into a Foe

Cholesterol is a much-misunderstood nutrient that also becomes collateral damage in the manufacture of low fat milk. Cholesterol is not a poison that must be eradicated to ensure heart health, it is a critically important nutrient responsible for the production of bile and, in combination with sunlight, is required to make Vitamin D. It is used to strengthen cell membranes and it is an immune booster and antioxidant. Cholesterol is also a primary building block for the production of sex hormones (hence the loss of libido associated with the cholesterol lowering drugs). New research suggests that cholesterol is protective of brain cells, particularly in relation to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Serotonin receptors in the brain need cholesterol to function properly. Why, then, are the cholesterol lowering drugs now the largest selling pharmaceuticals and why do we hear so much about the good cholesterol (HDL) and the "bad" cholesterol (LDL)? The fact is that Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) are much smaller than High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) and hence they have a far greater surface area. They are not some purposeless blood contaminant but rather a vehicle for the cellular delivery of vitamin E and key carotenes like lycopene and beta-carotene. Interestingly, it is also the presence of these nutrients that prevents LDL from oxidizing. The problem is that these very small LDL particles are more susceptible to free radical attack and the associated oxidation that can convert a nutrient into a liability. Oxidised LDL sticks to artery walls and becomes a major health issue. However it is not the LDL that is inherently "bad" but rather our lack of Vitamin E and carotenes that sponsors the oxidation of this nutrient.

The second source of dangerous oxidised LDL is not related to our lack of antioxidants but rather it is linked to our consumption of food containing this contaminant. One of the most pervasive sources of oxidized LDL is skim milk powder and herein lies yet another problem associated with low fat milk. Many of these fat-reduced products involve the use of skim milk powder to improve their texture and palatability. Low fat milk may deliver less calories but it is a seriously troublesome source of plaque-building, oxidised LDL.

Margarine vs Butter

If low fat milk has proven a poor nutritional choice in comparison to the full fat alternative, then how does margarine compare to butter. Saturated fats involve fatty acid chains that can slot together to form a solid form like butter or lard. This solidity is not possible with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated vegetable oils because their unsaturated fatty acid chains form a kink that is called the “CIS” formation. The kinked chains cannot mesh together in the same fashion to become solid. When it was decided to create an alternative to butter the challenge became how to straighten out the “CIS” formation so it could form a solid fat. This involved partially saturating the double bonds by adding hydrogen until the desired consistency was achieved. Unfortunately, during this process the high temperatures involved tended to convert the remaining CIS double bonds to an alternate configuration – known as trans. Trans fats are rare in nature and largely toxic to the human body. Fats are incorporated into the cell membranes where they facilitate cellular messaging and communication. When trans fats replace the CIS formation, cellular miscommunication is the outcome and many cellular biologists argue that miscommunication is, in effect, disease. Certainly, consumption of trans fats has now been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, macular degeneration, immune system malfunction, sterility, birth defects, lactation difficulties and bone and tendon difficulties.

Partially hydrogenated plant oils are used in processed food to increase product shelf-life and decrease refrigeration requirements. They have the right consistency to replace animal fats such as butter and lard at a lower cost. These partially hydrogenated oils contain 30% transfat and are used in fast food, snack food, fried food and baked goods. They account for, by far, the largest amount of trans-fat consumed.

Butter, by contrast, is a rich source of short chain fatty acids that are proven protectors, particularly against pathogens in the digestive tract. It contains luxury levels of the fat soluble heart protectors, vitamin A and vitamin E, and it is one of the richest sources of selenium (a hugely important antioxidant mineral that most of us lack). Nutritional anthropologists have shown that butter has been an integral component of the health and longevity of some of the most robust peoples on the planet. Butter contains high levels of the profoundly cancer protecting compound, CLA, and if you are lucky enough to be able to source raw butter, there is another huge benefit. Raw butter contains high concentrations of a compound called the “Wulzen factor”, an anti-stiffness nutrient that protects from arthritis. Wulzen, the Dutch researcher who discovered this substance, found that it also protected from hardening of the arteries, calcification and cataracts. Unfortunately the “Wulzen factor” is destroyed during the intense heat involved in the pasteurisation process.

What are The Good Fats?

We all need good fats in our diet. Our brains are 60% fat by dry weight and the membranes of all ten trillion cells in our body are made primarily of fat. Many of us are now aware that the Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) in our bodies and food need to be in balance to be effective. The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats should ideally be 2:1 (in favour of omega-6), but in this country, the imbalance has ballooned out to 20:1 (while in the US it is 26:1). Fish oil capsules are essential supplementation for most of us, as are plant foods that are rich in omega-3 fats. The best options by far are flaxseed oil (used as a salad dressing or a supplement) and chia seed (ChiaTone™ from NTS) consumed daily. ChiaTone™ is an amazing source of minerals and antioxidants and it contains 62% omega-3 fatty acids. It actually has three times more antioxidants than blueberries, more iron than liver, 5 times more calcium than milk and 17 times more magnesium than broccoli. Chia also promotes healthy bowel function due to a very high soluble and insoluble fibre component. However, a major source of overconsumption of omega-6 fats is linked to our choice of cooking oil and the big question remains “what oil should I cook with?”. There are four reasons why your choice should not be an unsaturated fat.

Four Reasons To Scrap Unsaturated Cooking Oils

  1. Reclaiming EFA balance – most of us suffer an omega six excess which sponsors inflammation, so we need to pull these omega 6-dominated oils from our diets. They are found everywhere, including in all fast foods, most commercial cakes and biscuits and, of course, in most of the multiple vegetable cooking oils lining the supermarket shelves.

  2. Avoiding trans fats – many of the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, including the canola, sunflower and safflower oils that are so widely favoured by the food industry, have been partially hydrogenated to extend their shelf life. Trans fats are an inevitable consequence of hydrogenation. Polyunsaturated oils are notoriously unstable and, ideally, they should not be stored or used for cooking.

  3. Dumping the easily damaged – Most of the unsaturated cooking oils have relatively low smoke points so they are easily damaged during cooking. This means that they are rapidly oxidised on the stove and the food in which they are cooked features high levels of free radicals. This problem is seriously magnified during the constant reheating involved in commercial deep-frying. Even the all-popular olive oil should really only be reserved for stir-frying for very short periods. Olive oil is a great oil for salads and dipping but it should be consumed raw as it has a low smoke point and is easily oxidised.

  4. Unsaturated fats can make you fat – overconsumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils is very hard on the thyroid gland. A slow metabolism and rapid weight gain are two of the consequences of a sluggish thyroid. Decades ago, American livestock producers found that the fats in soy and corn could compromise the thyroid and increase weight gain with less food. These two inputs remain the staples of commercial meat production when you are seeking more weight for less cost. Unfortunately we have ignored the obesity link to consumption of polyunsaturated fats in humans. Thyroid malfunction is absurdly common in the Western world, as is associated weight gain.
    So if the common cooking oils are off the list, with what do we fry our food? The answer is saturated fat, and the healthiest sources come from the fruit of certain palms. Check out the article entitled “Getting The Good Oils".

Disclaimer: Information in this article is a guide only and you should seek professional medical advice prior to undertaking mineral supplementation.