In this page we'll try to clear up an important question. What is saturated fat? If it seems like a question that isn't particularly relevant to your situation, please reconsider and stay with us. In terms of overall health, understanding the answer to this one question may be a pillar that ties so many other parts of an interconnected system together.
We've written about specific challenges to long-term health in other pages at books-empower.com. You can find those postings in the page directory. But I thought that maybe some background into this "what is saturated fat" mystery might add to the value in those pages.
Years ago a study was performed by Dr. Ancel Keys. It was called "The Seven Countries Study." From that effort, much of the thought process behind the supposed dangers of saturated fats directed medical recommendations. Dr. Keys looked at rapidly rising heart attack numbers and surmised that excess fat intake was to blame.
This page isn't about criticizing past research. Any effort to fix a health problem has value. But over time, as we learn more about specific cause and effect situations, there are opportunities to make positive course corrections. This is one of those instances.
Dr. Keys may have been heading in the right direction, but newer research indicates that he painted the causes with an overly broad brush. The resulting reaction led to prescribed drug use exploding in an attempt to "cure" a problem that wasn't really there.
The mainstream medical establishment tied saturated fat intake into rising cholesterol levels. Then they drew a straight line from these cholesterol levels to the increasing number of heart attacks in the western world. The next step was a multi-billion dollar industry that brought us statins. And a new set of new side effects.
We now know that not all fats are equal. We now know that there are healthy fats that actually improve our overall health. Even more importantly, we know that the direct role of higher cholesterol in heart attacks was overstated.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra is a London-based interventional cardiologist who has put together some fascinating work into this question of what is saturated fat and whether it has been incorrectly blamed for heart attacks for far too long.
As we've learned from other physicians, the far more dangerous choices are trans fats and polyunsaturated fats, He states, "What’s interesting is if you look in the United States, between 1961 and 2011, 90 percent of the calorie intake has been carbohydrates and refined industrial vegetable oils,"
He adds, "The heart disease epidemic peaked between 1960 and 1970. It started to rise about 1920. When we look at our data, it’s quite clear that the so-called fats responsible for that are trans fats and very likely polyunsaturated vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids.
We know now that they oxidize LDL and are pro-inflammatory. The other issue was smoking. Smoking was very high. When smoking reduction occurred from regulatory efforts, heart attack admissions dropped very rapidly. That’s because just 30 minutes after smoking, platelet activity increases.
A quick example: Helena, Montana 2002 brought in a public smoking ban. Within six months, there was a 40 percent reduction in hospital admissions for heart attack. When the law was rescinded, the hospital admissions came back to preceding levels.
When you combine all those things, it’s very clear. The dietary factors-trans fats, refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and smoking-are probably the three most important factors."
We've written about the low-fat diet craze that swept across our nation in response to the incorrect answers to the "what is saturated fat" question. Excess empty carb intake and greatly increased sugar consumption added to the deteriorating health in America as obesity levels rose.
We've quoted Dr. Chauncey Crandall on many occasions here at books-empower.com. I've also added his great book "Fix It" into the list of classic books located in the left margin of every page. He believes in attacking our health problems at the source. Far too much money is spent in chasing symptoms, rather than changing patterns that cause disease.
Dr. Malhotra is another physician who is focused on prevention. He states, "As an interventional cardiologist, we can do life-saving procedures with people who have heart attacks through heart surgery. But to be honest, rather than saving them from drowning, I’d rather they wouldn’t be thrown into the river in the first place. This is really where my focus has shifted."
He also believes that overmedication is a major issue here. "Part of that is because there are very powerful vested interests that push drugs,..They even coax academic institutions and guideline bodies. People aren’t getting all the information to make decisions, whether or not they should take medications ...This is a major problem, especially [since] we’ve neglected or detracted from lifestyle changes, which are going to be much more impactful on your health and without side effects."
This next quote from Dr. Malhotra is so enlightening that I've placed it in a call-out box. He was advising a patient about the importance of improving his diet. Following this experience, Dr. Malhotra spearheaded a successful campaign to cut out junk food from UK hospitals.
Here are some interesting numbers from Dr. Joseph Mercola.
* "In the 20th century, the average person probably had less than 1 pound a year of refined, processed omega-6 vegetable oils."
* "By the 1950s, probably about 50 pounds a year."
* "By year 2000, it increased (to) about 75 pounds a year."
Saturated fats are high in omega 3. Trans fats and unsaturated fats are very high in omega 6. It is this imbalance that helps to drive up cardiovascular system related deaths.
Perhaps this is overly simplified, but based on what we now know, guidelines to avoiding heart disease include...
* Reducing belly fat. Obesity leads to many of the heart-related problems that fill up hospital wards and cemeteries.
* High blood pressure. Better diet, including healthy saturated fats and better exercise can reduce this danger.
* Elevated triglyceride levels
* Insulin resistance. Again from Dr. Malhotra, "If you target insulin resistance through the right kind of diet and lifestyle changes, stress reduction, right kind of exercise, that’s going to have the biggest impacts on your health."
Avocados are an example of healthy saturated fat. Coconut saturated fat in the form of coconut oil used in cooking is another great example. If you are cooking with high heat, use coconut oil. Olive oil is a saturated fat that can be used in many ways, including cooking if you plan on using lower heat.
Organic butter from grass fed cows is another healthy saturated fat. Butter was cast as a villain for years, primarily because of past assumptions and by slick advertising from companies that made millions of dollars selling trans fat poison. Dark chocolate and nuts are more good options along with organic, grass fed, lean meat from antibiotic-free animals.
What is saturated fat? It is a collection of foods that provide certain health benefits that can lead to a vibrant, energized life. Like all things, it is also just one small part of an integrated process.
Saturated fats are not the demon child they were made out to be. Moderation is key as with all things, but there is a place for natural, saturated fat in a healthy eating regimen. Here is a link that details why we don't need to fear saturated fat.
If you're looking for a way to cut through the confusion surrounding the answer to "what is saturated fat," go directly to our section about the Mediterranean diet. These pages will help you formulate a plan.
Better diet, better knowledge, better exercise and better relaxation all work as a powerful team. Drug companies don't profit as well, but it isn't our job to keep their financial statement healthy.