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Want to Get Healthy? Eat Saturated Fat
For decades, saturated fat was the enemy of good health causing high cholesterol, heart disease, and more. However, recent studies have uncovered benefits of saturated fat that could improve your cholesterol levels. Find out more below.
What if everything you know about fat is wrong?
For decades, researchers and health professionals thought fat was the source of problems like high cholesterol and heart disease. Consequently, they advised patients to cut as much fat from the diet as possible. However, new studies have uncovered that it is not fat as a whole that is bad, but rather, the kind of fat that you do eat.
One fat that was previously thought to be the demon of the fat world may, in fact, be one of the best fats for your health. Find out more about this unusual and controversial topic below.
Sally is a registered dietician. For years, she recommended that her patients consume low-fat dairy and cut out as much saturated fat as possible. She herself followed this same diet for years. She followed this diet because her family had a history of high cholesterol, and her numbers were always on the high side.
A few years ago, she changed the way she ate. She started to eat foods grown locally; eating foods like grass-fed beef, local bacon, higher-fat milk, dark chocolate, and other local foods. She cut back on crackers, granola bars, and packaged snacks. Contrary to what popular medicine would believe, on her next checkup, Sally’s cholesterol levels had dropped. Her total cholesterol was down 10 points, her bad cholesterol levels had plummeted, and her good, HDL cholesterol levels were higher than they had been in the past. Sally accomplished this by reducing her consumption of sugar, process foods, and by upping her saturated fat intake.
According to commonly-held beliefs, saturated fats are just as bad as the deadly and dangerous trans fats, which are linked to an increase in health problems like heart disease, high cholesterol, strokes, and other health problems.
However, the reports that saturated fat is damaging to cholesterol levels may be drastically misunderstood. How? Take a closer look at the scientific studies outlined below.
In 1998, a study from the Women’s Health Initiative found that eating less saturated fat had no positive impact on lowering a person’s risk for heart disease or stroke.
In 2010, a study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” released the somewhat stunning information that there is not enough proof to link saturated fat to dangerous cholesterol levels, heart disease, or stroke. This study was so large, it examined data from 21 studies and over 350,000 people.
So, why would consuming more saturated fat lower cholesterol levels if it doesn’t change heart disease risk on its own? Basically, the trouble occurs when saturated fats (or any healthy fats) are replaced with alternatives like sugar or simple carbohydrates. Sugar and refined carbs raise triglyceride levels and lower HDL cholesterol.
A study published in “The New England Journal of Medicine” in 2006 found that individuals on a low-carb diet had better cholesterol levels than those on low-fat diets. Fewer carbs and sugar releases less insulin, which can reduce fat storage, boost the metabolism, and control hunger all at once.
In the 1950s and 60s, when the link between fat consumption and an increased risk for high cholesterol and heart disease was found, researchers believed that we could reduce our risk by cutting out fat. The correlation seemed reasonable- if fat causes high cholesterol, eliminating it should lower cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case. Most food manufacturers found that removing fat removed the flavor from foods. No one wants to eat flavorless foods, so food manufactures started to replace fat with sugar to make food items taste better. Fat also helps control appetite, so by removing the fat, consumer started to eat double what they consumed before. This made the average calorie consumption of a typical American over 1,000 calories higher that of the consumption rate from 1910.
According to the USDA, the sugar consumption of the average person has increased by 40 percent since 1950. Other Health Benefits of Saturated Fat Saturated fat can provide many other benefits in addition to reducing cholesterol. Take a look at the numerous benefits of this hated fat below:
The trouble with the association between saturated fat and an increased risk for heart disease is what we replaced saturated fat with. A diet high in saturated fat (or any fat) is not the healthiest thing in the world, and could contribute to an increased risk for disease. However, omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oils) do increase heart disease risk directly. This is because PUFA oils are more likely to go through lipid peroxidation, which is when the oil is attacked by free radicals. This is because the oils oxidize quickly when heated (when refined or cooked at high heat).
A 2013 study published in “Advances in Nutrition” found that although PUFA oils oxidize quickly, saturated fats are difficult to oxidize, which makes them more usable by the body. Saturated Fat Could Reverse Fatty Liver Disease Fatty liver disease not caused by alcohol abuse is a common side-effect of the modern diet. Researchers have theorized that a diet high in PUFA oil and sugar contributes to this problem.
A 2013 study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that when PUFA oils were replaced with medium-chain-triglyceride fats (MCTs), fatty liver disease was prevented. Saturated Fats Provide Beneficial Nutrients Saturated fats are high in nutrients like vitamin A, omega-3 fats, B vitamins, essential minerals, vitamin D, and many other essential nutrients. Additionally, many of the vitamins and minerals that we eat are fat-soluble, and require the use of a healthy carrier fat for the body to effectively use the nutrients.
Consuming vegetables and fruit with a small amount of saturated fat can maximize nutrient absorption.
MCT oils, found in many sources of saturated fat (coconut oil is the most popular MCT oil) can support the immune system and boost metabolism. According to a 2002 study published in “American Society for Nutritional Sciences” MCTs lead to greater energy expenditure because they are more easily absorbed in the body. This also boosts the metabolism by making it easier to absorb nutrients and create energy.
Additionally, MCT oils have a satiating effect. Animals fed a diet high in MCT oils gained less weight because they felt fuller, longer.
In 2013, a study published in “Advances in Nutrition” examined the role of saturated fat in the production of sex hormones. The researchers found that when study participants reduced their saturated fat intake, the production of sex hormones dropped. This could be one cause of the numerous fertility problems seen among modern men and women.
Calcium, vitamin D, and numerous other bone-building nutrients are fat-soluable. In order to use the vitamins effectively, saturated fat is necessary. Nina Planck, author of the book "Real Food: What to Eat and Why" states that saturated fat is one of the best carriers for essential bone health. She suggests that the best way to build strong bones is the old-fashioned way, with pure, whole milk full of healthy saturated fats and other bone-strengthening nutrients.
Your lungs are covered in a thin layer of surfactant that help them function properly. What makes up this covering? Saturated fats. If the body does not have enough saturated fats in the diet, it will use other sources of fat to make the lung covering. This can lead to the development of lung problems and breathing difficulties, according to Mary G. Enig, PhD and saturated fat expert.
Saturated fats have received bad press for decades, and it is based around one study conducted by Ancel Keys who was a diet researcher in the 1940s and 50s. He collected data from several studies around the world that seemed to prove that a diet high in saturated fat would lead to an increased risk for heart disease and other heart problems caused by high cholesterol (called the lipid hypothesis: that high lipid levels lead to increased risk).
In the study, Keys looked at Japanese men living in Hawaii, Japan, or Los Angeles. He discovered that men ate the least amount of fat on a traditional Japanese diet and the most on the typical American diet. Men with the highest fat intake had the highest cholesterol levels.
This lead to the entire revelation of the low-fat diet craze. Numerous studies have examined how diets high in fats can lead to a host of problems. The trouble with most of these studies is that many of them do not differentiate between saturated fat and trans fat. Trans fats are incredibly toxic, and can cause many health problems, including high cholesterol.
Natural saturated fats, on the other hand, have healing properties. Additionally, most people who have a diet high in saturated fat in the modern world consume most of them through junk foods. These people are also likely to eat diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. This will naturally raise cholesterol levels and increase risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Your cholesterol levels are simply an indication of the overall health of your body. If your body is sick, you will have higher cholesterol levels. Therefore, the best way to lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease is to heal your body. You can do this by switching to healthy fats, avoiding junk food, and supplementing with cholesterol-soothing supplements that will help restore your cholesterol balance until your body is regulated.
While your body adjusts, you may find it helpful to take additional supplements that will provide vital nutrients and help lower your cholesterol levels. Just make sure to eat these supplements along with a source of healthy saturated fat so you can maximize the absorption of these nutrients.
According to The Mayo Clinic, Health.com, and a study from the University of Kuopio in Finland, the following supplements may be beneficial in lowering cholesterol:
Researchers and dieticians around the world are learning that the right kinds of saturated fat (never trans fats) can be beneficial to our health. Some experts have gone so far as to suggest that 50 percent of your total fat intake be saturated fat.
While it is still extremely beneficial for individuals with high-cholesterol to cut back on their total fat intake, refined carb intake, and sugar intake, cutting back on saturated fat may only hurt your progress. A diet full of cholesterol-lowering vitamins (from fruit, vegetables, and supplements) and the right kinds of fat will help control your cholesterol levels and significantly reduce your chances of seeing heart disease and other health problems according to the studies listed above.
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