Humans have been eating saturated fats for hundreds of thousands of years.
Here are the top 8 reasons not to fear saturated fats.
Cholesterol is a molecule that is absolutely vital to life.
Every cell membrane in our bodies is loaded with it. It is used to make hormones like cortisol, testosterone and estradiol.
Without cholesterol, we would die -- and our bodies have developed elaborate mechanisms to manufacture it, to make sure we always have enough.
But a protein that carries cholesterol in the blood, low density lipoprotein (LDL), has been associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.
However, new data shows that there are subtypes of LDL:
- Small, Dense LDL: Particles that are small, dense and can easily penetrate the arterial wall (, , ).
- Large LDL: Particles that are large and fluffy like cotton balls. These particles are not as well associated with an elevated risk of heart disease (, ).
Saturated fats raise the large subtype of LDL -- which means that the cholesterol-raising effects of saturated fats (which ) are mostly irrelevant (, ).
Bottom Line: Saturated fats only mildly elevate large LDL, a benign subtype of LDL that is not well associated with heart disease.
A fact that is often ignored in the campaign against saturated fats, is that they also affect HDL cholesterol.
HDL (high density lipoprotein) is also known as the "good" cholesterol.
It transports cholesterol away from the arteries and towards the liver, where it may be either excreted or reused.
The higher your HDL levels, the lower your risk of heart disease, and saturated fats raise blood levels of HDL (, , ).
Bottom Line: Eating saturated fats raises blood levels of HDL (the "good") cholesterol, which should lower your risk of heart disease.
A massive review article published in 2010 examined data from 21 studies and a total of 347,747 individuals.
They found absolutely no association between saturated fat and the risk of heart disease ().
Other systematic reviews that look at the evidence as a whole found no evidence of an association (, ).
No, the idea that saturated fat caused heart disease was a myth all along, based on flawed studies.
Somehow this became common knowledge and both the media and health professionals accepted it as a fact that saturated fat was harmful.
Bottom Line: There is no evidence that eating saturated fat causes heart disease. It is a myth that was never proven.
A stroke is caused by a disturbance in blood flow to the brain.
Strokes can damage brain tissue and are among the most common causes of disability and death in western countries.
In fact, strokes are the of death in middle- and high-income countries, right after heart disease.
There are several studies showing that saturated fat consumption is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, although it isn't always statistically significant (, ).
Bottom Line: Stroke is one of the leading causes of death. Several studies show that saturated fat consumption is associated with a reduced risk of stroke.
Saturated fats are much less likely to react with oxygen than unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturates, contain many double bonds and are therefore especially prone to oxidation ().
When unsaturated fats react with oxygen during high heat cooking, they form toxic byproducts and go rancid.
Therefore, saturated fats like butter and coconut oil are better options when you need to cook something at a high heat.
Bottom Line: For high-heat cooking, saturated fats are the best choice because they are more stable and don't react with oxygen as easily.
There are many healthy foods that are naturally rich in saturated fat. These foods tend to be highly nutritious and contain an abundance of fat soluble vitamins.
Prime examples are meats, eggs, organs and high-fat dairy products. The key here is to eat animals that ate foods that were natural to them, such as grass-fed cows.
Grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and dairy from grass-fed cows are much more nutritious than their "conventionally" raised counterparts. They are especially rich in fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, E and K2 (, , , , ).
Bottom Line: Natural foods that contain saturated fats are usually very nutritious and especially rich in fat soluble vitamins.
We often hear that "high fat diets" make you fat.
It's only half-true, though.
These diets are fattening -- but it's because they usually contain sugar and refined carbs as well, not just a lot fat.
Diets that are high in fat but also low in carbs actually have the opposite effect.
Low-carbohydrate diets, which are usually high in saturated fat, actually make you lose more weight than diets that are low in fat. They also improve most biomarkers of health much more than low-fat diets (, , ).