…So Saturated Fat is good for you now!

 

THE STORY

SCIENTISTS recently announced that decades of nutritional advice prompting people to reduce saturated fats in their diet, opt for grilled chicken, snack on low fat cheese and reduced-fat crackers, have been misguided and that far from causing clogged arteries, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, saturated fat is, if anything, neutral rather than actively bad, if not actually beneficial to health.

The advice to cut saturated fats, lead to the production of processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates with high levels of transfats and polyunsaturated fat (soy, corn and canola) which are cheaper than the traditional fats consumed by our ancestors (butter, coconut, palm oils and animal fats- lard, tallow, suet) and now we discover causes the very conditions the medical establishment were trying to prevent. Meanwhile, rates of obesity, people living with heart disease and diabetes continue to climb.

Numerous tests have shown there is in fact a correlation between people who eat a high amount of unsaturated fat and these debilitating diseases, and that those who eat the most cholesterol and saturated fats, weighed the least and were the most physically active.

The Maximum Fitness nutritional model has always maintained that the best diet will consist of plenty of home cooked food, mainly vegetables and high protein meat and fish, a combination of oils and fats and lots of lovely grains and pulses, using fruit as snacks and additional protein and nutritional supplements for athletes and serious sports people. Once you understand where your fuel comes from and why processed food is pointless in providing energy, eating the right food becomes easy.

WHO’S WHO?

The Foods Standard Agency and other government bodies have told us that diets high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood and having high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. The British Heart Foundation maintains that reducing cholesterol through cutting down on butter, lard, pies, cakes and biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, cheese and cream is most likely to prevent the risk of developing diseases. It is universally recommended we should reduce fat intake to 30% of total energy and maintain a saturated fat intake at less than 7% of daily intake, (men are advised to eat no more than 30g of fat a day and women should eat no more than 20g). Today, we are accustomed to looking out for ‘saturates’ or ‘sat fat’ on the label with high saturated fat products  (more than 5g per 100g) colour coded red and low, (1.5g per 100g) colour coded green.

The experts who are calling to end 40 years of advice to cut saturated fat include Chair of Britain’s National Obesity Forum, Professor David Haslam, Paediatric Endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco, Professor Robert Lustig, Cardiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Timothy Noakes, and interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital in London, Aseem Malhotra. They say the food industry has compensated for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar, which also contributes to heart disease and point to evidence that in fact saturated fat has been found to be protective and that refined carbohydrates and sugar are actually the culprits.

WHAT’S WHAT?

The problem is that recommendations to eat a low-fat diet were based on short term trails that looked only at people’s cholesterol levels, not at whether they actually had heart attacks. It is also problematic to classify fats merely as saturated and unsaturated, as this fails to take note of the nuances within each category and the properties of specific essential fatty acids.

There are more than two dozen kinds of saturated fats of which palmitic, myristic, stearic and lauric are the four major types according the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The committee itself has stated that stearic acid (found in dark chocolate) should not be considered a ‘cholesterol raising’ fatty acid and yet  continues to recommend cutting back on saturated fat and doesn’t mention stearic acid. Confused? Read on!

At first glance, palmitic acid (found in palm oil, butter, and eggs) and myristic acid (found in cheese, milk, butter, and beef) increase inflammation and LDL cholesterol (low density lipo-proteins promote fat to be stored under the skin). But this rise in LDL volume is at least partly due to an increase in the size of each LDL particle in the body, which may not be as dangerous as an increase in the number of particles. These saturated fats also raise HDL in the process (high density lipoproteins scavenge for cholesterol and help transport unneeded fats back to the liver for digestion) so the net effect may be neutral, not bad. Meanwhile lauric acid found in coconut oil has been found to have anti-bacterial / anti-viral properties which support a healthy immune system and facilitate brain function.

Saturated fats play many vital roles in the body to help strengthen the immune system, promote healthy bones, provide energy and structural integrity to the cells, protect the liver, and assist the body’s metabolism of essential fatty acids. The short and medium chain fatty acids inherent in saturated fats also have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract. Dietary fats assist in lowering the glycemic index of carbohydrate foods and help to stabilize blood sugar. Most importantly, saturated fats actually have cholesterol lowering properties, contrary to the guidelines.

A Journal of the American Medical Association study recently revealed that a “low fat” diet -compared with a low glycaemic index (GI) diet (lower GI carbohydrates include pumpkin, squash and brown rice)- showed the greater drop in energy expenditure and increased insulin resistance – which is a precursor to diabetes. Scientists looked at deaths associated with each of the following eating patterns: those high in trans fat, high in saturated fat, high in sodium, low in fruits and vegetables, and low in omega-3 fatty acids (from fish). Diets high in saturated fat had the least number of cases of mortality.

WHY SO?

The reason cutting saturated fat from your diet is a flawed eating plan is more to do with what you eat in place of it. Cooking polyunsaturated oils and to a certain extent monounsaturated oils (such as olive oil), on a high heat causes the oils to undergo a chemical change known as auto-oxidation, whereby harmful free radicals are produced that cause rancidity but saturated fats are stable and do not oxidize even at high heat cooking temperatures including deep frying. Up until the early 1980’s, restaurants and fast food establishments used saturated lard, lamb or beef tallow fat for all their sauteing and deep frying.  Today, we eat more processed meats than we have done at any other time in the course of human history and restaurants almost exclusively use polyunsaturated oils like canola, soy and corn.

The onset of atherosclerosis leading to heart disease, has now been associated with the disappearance of antimicrobial saturated fats from the food supply that once protected us against viruses and bacteria, such as tropical oils like coconut and palm, as well as animal fats like raw dairy, lard, tallow, etc and their replacement with polyunsaturated vegetable oils and refined or processed coconut oils and meat fats, which contain hydrogenated oils and transfats found in convenience items and are relatively new to the human diet.

Numerous population studies have shown that people living in countries where large quantities of coconut oil and other saturated fats are consumed, have remarkably good cardiovascular health. In 1992 researchers reviewed some of the epidemiological and experimental data regarding coconut-eating groups and noted that people living in the Pacific Islands and Asia, whose diets are naturally very high in unrefined coconut foods, show surprisingly low incidences of cardiovascular disease. Likewise the people of the Yucatan, consume high amounts of coconut as a staple food and their average metabolic rate is about 25 percent higher than people in the U.S.

HOW NOW?

Low-fat versions of packaged foods, loaded with refined carbohydrates, sugars and salt, now flood the market but the main culprits are starches, such as potatoes, refined carbohydrates and sugars—in other words, poor-quality carbohydrates. When people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates, they are unlikely to improve their health and may worsen it.

The advice to reduce saturated fat sometimes steers people away from foods that contain good fats that are actually healthy so we should aim to replace refined carbohydrates and processed foods in the diet. Rather than reducing saturated fat, replacing refined grains and starches with a serving of whole grains every day, scientists estimate would decrease heart-related deaths by 10 percent more; while adding an extra serving of fruits and vegetables a day would reduce heart disease mortality by 15 percent more than reducing saturated fat.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO NEXT?

1. Do not miss meals: Over a period this has been shown to lower metabolic rate and how quickly your body uses calories.

2. Reduce fast food processed snacks and replace with fruit, nuts and raw vegetables.

3. Maintain a regular muscle toning and strengthening programme at Maximum Fitness Gym and ensure you keep your plan updated with one of our trainers. A regular weights programme provides stimulus to help your bones and joints as well as muscles to become stronger and create an ongoing regenerative effect between sessions and maintain a good ratio of HDLs to LDLs in the blood.

4. Eating fresh and nutritious food  and drinking plain water regularly helps to teach your body to process foods more efficiently and promotes efficient metabolism of nutrients. For a full set of recommendation on healthy eating see our eating plan here or ask a member of Maximum Fitness staff to give you a food diary to complete.