Does saturated fat make you fat? It seems we’ve been taught for so long that this fat is bad and contributes to weight gain, but is that really the truth?
Dr. Mary Enig, a scientist that dedicated her career to the study of lipids at the University of Maryland, claimed that,
“the real problem is that recommendations to avoid saturated fats almost invariably result in people consuming more trans fats.
There is no question that the trans fats have been shown to have a detrimental effect on the incidence and treatment of type-2 diabetes.
The saturated fats, on the other hand, have no effect when appropriate comparisons are made. Very good studies indicate that trans fats interfere with insulin receptors and therefore with insulin resistance. The saturated fats do not.
So, basically, a switch to a more processed diet over the course of the past 100 years, diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity started to rear their ugly head. Coincidence? Not really.
The Many Roles of Saturated Fats
To help you to understand how important saturated fat is to the human body, take a look at only a few of the many functions that it serves in the body:
Saturated fats present in the diet help to lower lipoprotein (a), a marker that when raised in the blood increases one’s risk for heart disease.
Saturated fats (the medium-chain fatty acids) promote fat loss, especially in the abdominal area.
Saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively absorbed into bones.
Saturated fat protects the liver from medicines and alcohol.
The lungs contain palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid that helps prevent asthma.
The brain is mostly made of saturated fats and cholesterol. Without enough saturated fat in the diet, your brain will not perform optimally.
Saturated fats are needed for the proper utilisation of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
Looking at the above list makes you realise just how important saturated fat is for preserving the delicate balance of the body. Not only is saturated not harmful, it is essential for the proper functioning of cells, tissues, and organs.
If Saturated Fat Does Not Make You Fat, What Does?
It is a major misconception that more fat in the diet makes you fat. Other factors and variables within the diet need to be considered.
For example, there are weight loss programs out there that tell you that you are allowed to eat as many carbs as you want (like pasta), but that you must severely limit the amount of fat that you eat. They promote processed low-fat foods with high sugar content and low fat cooking sprays (whose first ingredient is butane, by the way) in place of healthy oils like olive oil.
Many people may lose weight on these severely fat-restricted diets, however, they also accumulate issues of increased signs of ageing, inflammation, hair loss, and digestive issues.
This example was given to show that modern-day humans find it completely acceptable to eat butane, but are quick to blame real, whole foods like olive oil as the main predictor of weight gain.
Food Quality Matters
The weight-loss industry has made us believe for a long time that if you eat less food and less fat, that you will lose weight and be healthy. However, one major element that is often overlooked is the quality of the diet (in other words, a diet filled with processed foods versus a diet from real food).
If a diet is predominantly made up of processed foods that are packed with trans-fats, added sugar, additives, and genetically-modified foods like soy and wheat, this increases inflammation within the body, decreases the intestines’ ability to absorb the right amount of nutrients from food needed for optimal functioning, and ultimately destroys the metabolism. When this happens, weight loss becomes a lot more difficult.
Saturated Fats Can Help You to Lose Weight
Medium chain fatty acids predominantly found in foods like coconut oil have been studied to assess their effect on weight loss. These types of fatty acids are not metabolised like other fats. To make it simple, they are broken down in a similar fashion to carbohydrates and therefore can be used for energy (without the blood glucose-stimulating effects of carbohydrates). Studies have found that medium chain fatty acids like coconut oil can help to reduce the percentage of body fat, especially in the abdominal area.4,5
Saturated fats (yes, even butter! As long as it’s grass-fed!) in conjunction with a diet from real, whole foods can improve intake of fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E, and K and contribute to your overall health.
If you want to lose weight, your first plan of action should be to completely clean your kitchen from all processed foods and to replace it with organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats and poultry, and wild caught fish. The antioxidant and nutrient-boosting properties of these foods will decrease inflammation and help repair your metabolism.
"No link found between saturated fat and heart disease," - NHS
Researchers have looked at large amounts of data and say they have found no significant link between saturated fat and heart disease.
Nutritional guidelines generally encourage low consumption of saturated fats, found in butter, cream, cheese and fatty cuts of meat, as these were thought to be linked to increased cholesterol in the blood and an increased risk of heart disease.
In contrast, unsaturated fats, found in fish and plant sources, have been encouraged (to a certain extent) as these are thought to have a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels.
This latest study finds that the evidence for these guidelines may not be definitive.
Researchers pooled the results of 72 studies that had looked at the link between fatty acids and coronary disease (including heart attack, coronary heart disease and angina).
They found no significant evidence that saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease and no significant evidence that omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats protect the heart.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, Erasmus University Medical Centre and Harvard School of Public Health. It was funded by the British Heart Foundation, Medical Research Council, Cambridge National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre and Gates Cambridge.