Updated: Sep 30, 2022
The link between saturated fat/dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk is misguided at best. It’s based on old, faulty information that has been over hyped by media for more than 50 years. The fact is saturated fat has not been shown to cause heart disease. New research is emerging that it is not only beneficial but also a requirement for good human health.
Roughly half of our cell membrane structure is composed of saturated fat making it essential to many bodily functions. Not only that, but saturated fats are shelf-stable and resistant to heat damage (unlike many other fats regularly consumed in the standard modern diet).
All in all, saturated fat is a fantastic source of energy – either from your own body stores (that spare tyre!) or the butter/ rib eye steak you’re eating. Tuck in and put your caution and concerns where it is actually warranted – Grains, sugars, industrially process seed oils and modern convenience foods!
Quick facts about Saturated Fats
All potential bonding sites on the carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain are occupied by hydrogen; hence the term "saturated."
Roughly half of our cell membrane structure is composed of saturated fat.
Saturated fats contribute to critical metabolic functions, including enhanced nutrient absorption, immune function, and hormone production and protection against oxidative damage (our cell membranes are made out of saturated fat).
Saturated fat is a fantastic source of energy. It has been the primary fuel source (from animal products) of calories for humans throughout evolution – for the past 2.5 million years.
All hunter gatherer diets contain medium to high levels of meat, fat and protein. Some modern-day traditional societies such as the Inuit and Maasai contain very high levels of meat/ fat (saturated) and are a picture of good health.
Saturated animal fats, like butter or fatty organ meats, contain huge amounts of essential fat-soluble vitamins (K2, A, D, among others). They are amongst some of the most nutrient dense foods about.
Saturated fats. ie, Animal foods (meat, eggs, butter, cream) or certain tropical oils - coconut and palm - are extremely temperature stable and thus resistant to oxidative damage when they are exposed to heat, light, or oxygen. This makes saturated fats such as butter, lard, and coconut oil the preferred choices for cooking.
When we eat excess calories/ carbohydrates our body stores these for later use – this usually appears as the spare tyre or gut. This body fat is saturated fat!
There has never been a single scientific study showing that saturated fats, by themselves, are unhealthy.
There have been many studies and meta- analysis studies showing that there is no correlation between dietary fat intake or cholesterol intake and heart disease.
Saturated fat has been wrongly demonised in recent times. Much of this started with the infamous Ancel Keys and his Seven Countries Study in the 1950’s. Keys published that he had found a correlation between heart disease and increased fat consumption. However, it has now come to light that he omitted much data from this study, which does not prove a connection. Unfortunately, by the time this had come to light, he had become “famous” and the hypothesis had gained much traction. With this as the assumed stating point, much flawed science followed on.
New research is emerging and potential troubles arise when saturated fats are consumed in the presence of excessive carbohydrates, amongst other dietary and lifestyle factors.
The true catalysts for heart disease is oxidation and inflammation. This occurs from adverse dietary habits and lifestyle practices that are unrelated to saturated fat or cholesterol intake, but closely related to excess carbohydrate intake/excess insulin production and excess intake of easily oxidized polyunsaturated fats (cheap industrial oils eg. Rapeseed oil)
Some other lifestyle practices that promote oxidation and inflammation in the bloodstream are smoking, poor stress management, insufficient sleep, and chronic, overly stressful exercise patterns.
"Ancestral diets, refined by millennia of natural selection, have proved their worth by supporting humankind for 2 or 3 million years or more. A longitudinal study, par excellence with a global distribution." Quote from Uncivilised Genes, Gustav Milne