From the day we can understand what foods are good and bad for us, we were told that fat – and specifically saturated fat – is evil and we should avoid it at all costs. We were blessed with an image of fat clogging our arteries like gunk clogging a U-bend.
Whether we actually understand the types of fat or not, the word ‘saturated’ conjures up images of the grim reaper lurking in the mist ready to claim his next clogged up victim.
This is a massive and complex subject that could take me much time to thoroughly research and present. But, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll likely know that I like to keep things just like myself… simple.
In a previous post, I ask you to forget everything you know about what you should and shouldn’t eat and just use common sense. Think about what our ancestors would’ve eaten for millions of years before this world of Shops and fast-food. When we’re told that animal fat is bad for us, does that really make logical sense considering we’ve been eating it for millions of years?
That said, we do need to have a (very) basic understanding of fats.
The Basics on Fats
Fats are actually called fatty acids and are made up of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen molecules. The backbone is made up of carbon chain of various lengths, the shortest being one carbon and is called acetic acid – or to you and me – vinegar.
There are 2 types of fats or fatty acids we’ll look at here… Saturated and unsaturated.
- Saturated with hydrogen – meaning that all the carbon molecules in the chain have 2 hydrogen atoms attached.
- This makes saturated fats stable and less prone to oxidization.
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.
- Our body turns excess glucose into saturated fat (not unsaturated) to store in our fat cells.
- Breast milk is very high in saturated fat.
- Unsaturated with hydrogen – at least two carbon molecules in the chain have only one hydrogen atom attached resulting in a double bond with the next carbon molecule in the chain.
- This makes unsaturated fats less stable and more prone to oxidization.
- There are two types of unsaturated fats… Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)
- One (mono) double bond between one hydrogen and the next in the chain.
- MUFAs are liquid at room temperature and solid in the fridge.
- More stable than PUFAs but not as stable as saturated fats.
- The most known MUFA is oleic which is found naturally in the oils of olives, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocado.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)
- Two or more (poly) double bonds between one hydrogen and the next in the chain.
- PUFAs are liquid in room and fridge temperature.
- The least stable of the fats – they are easily oxidized by light, heat and oxygen exposure.
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are PUFAs
- Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids meaning our body cannot make them, so we need to consume them for optimal health.
- Omega 3 is mostly found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, kippers, herring, trout & sardines.
- Omega 6 is found in abundance in Canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, peanut, and corn oil. All of which are highly processed manmade oils.
The Contradictory Guidelines
If we follow the dietary guidelines of consuming no more than 30g of saturated fat if your male or 20g if you’re female, this seriously limits the amount of animal products we can eat in a day. For example, one ribeye steak of 291g has 28g of saturated fat.
We’re also recommended to eat 1 portion of oily fish per week. Around 140g – the recommended portion size – of mackerel gives us 10g of saturated fat (8g PUFA and 11g MUFA). Fry that in a tablespoon of coconut oil and you’ll bump that up to 22g of saturated fat in one meal not counting any sides you may add.
Coconut oil fact – did you know this health-promoting plant-based oil has the highest concentration of saturated fat than any other food known to humans? It contains a staggering 87% saturated fat (1.8% PUFA, 6% MUFA).
Baffled? Let’s add to the confusion… if I asked you which would be lower in saturated fat between a pork chop and a tablespoon of olive oil, what would you say? Well, a pork chop has 1.5g and a tablespoon of olive oil is 1.9g. Yet, we’re advised to limit our consumption of fatty cuts of meat.
The layperson – who hasn’t considered this subject – would likely believe that a ribeye steak is full of saturated fat and lacking in the so-called ‘health-promoting’ unsaturated fats that we’re encouraged to consume. This is far from the truth – a typical ribeye steak of 291g has 28g of saturated fat 3g PUFA and 30g MUFA. So it has 5g more unsaturated than saturated fat.
In fact, every edible substance on the planet – with the exception of sucrose – contains all three fats of varying amounts and proportions.
Our body can make most fats with the exception of omega 3 and 6 which are known as essential fatty acids. Essential because if we don’t consume them, we’ll eventually perish. The fat that our body makes and store in our fat cells are the dreaded saturated fat. (can you sense the sarcasm?)
A Quick Omega 3 & 6 Interlude
The ratio of omega 6 to 3 is important according to this review. It suggests that the ratio evolutionary would’ve been around 1:1 but in our modern diet of increased omega 6 (from seed and vegetable oils) and reduction in omega 3 consumption ratio is somewhere between 15:1 and 16.7:1.
This dramatic skewing of the ratios is said to promote diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases with the reduction of the ratios reversing them.
Vegetable and seed oils and spreads are also highly prone to oxidization before it enters our mouths due to its unstable nature. As Chris Kresser wrote this his informative article…
“The polyunsaturated fatty acids in industrial seed oils are highly unstable and oxidize easily upon exposure to heat, light, and chemical inputs. When industrial seed oils are exposed to these factors, two harmful substances—trans fats and lipid peroxides—are created. Trans fats are well known for their role in the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; in fact, for every 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats, your risk of heart disease is nearly doubled! Lipid peroxides, on the other hand, are toxic byproducts that damage DNA, proteins, and membrane lipids throughout the body. The accumulation of lipid peroxides in the body promotes aging and the development of chronic diseases.”
Despite this, the NHS website advises to reduce saturated fat by…
“try reduced-fat spreads, such as spreads based on olive or sunflower oils.”
Back to Saturated Fat…
Interesting fact… dairy is the only food group that has higher saturated fat than unsaturated.
Simple truth… All fats are essential for human life, without them, we would die.
In fact, over millions of years, our body’s have evolved and developed an exquisite lipid (fat) transport system. This system is extremely complicated but on a ridiculously basic level; blood is water-based but needs to transport fat used for energy and fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol among other things around the body. The liver works its magic and makes lipoproteins that are then able to carry the ‘hydrophobic’ molecules around the body in the blood.
Fat and Us
Without adequate fat, we get sick easily… Yes, fat helps maintain our immune system.
Without fat, we can’t absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.
It’s our primary energy source – why do you think our bodies have developed a fat-storage system?
Fat insulates our internal organs.
It regulates our body temperature.
And fat helps in maintaining healthy skin and hair.
So, with fat – and especially saturated fat – being so essential so us humans, why have we been taught to fear it so much and told to reduce our consumption as much as physically possible?
We Should Look To Our Ancestors
When we look back to what our ancestors would’ve eaten – with only animals and some seasonal fruit and vegetables on offer – would they have cut the fat off their steak? I very much doubt it. To be honest, fat makes us feel full and satiated. I believe our ancestors would have gobbled the fatty cuts of the animal up.
Somewhere in the recent history (within the last 100 years), I think we’ve gone off track when it comes to many nutritional recommendations… fat being one of the biggest. It was likely one of the first detours from a truly healthy diet that lead to many more along the way.
For example, according to Dr Zoe Harcombe, diets generally have an average of 15% protein content, so when we reduce the fat down, the carbohydrates automatically go up which leads to a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.
Anyone who’s an advocate for the Eatwell guide would suggest this is absolutely fine and if you’re struggling with weight and health, you’re lacking control over what you shove in your gob and you need to peel yourself off the sofa and get your running shoes on you lazy so-and-so.
But on the other hand, there will be plenty of type 2 diabetics that’ve put their T2 into remission going completely the opposite direction with a high fat, low carb diet. Eating to satiety – because fat makes you feel full – and exercising if you feel like it because it’s healthy, not as a tool to lose weight.
Mother Nature Up To Her Old Tricks
If, at this point, you still believe that saturated fat is bad for our health, I can’t deny you may well be right. But, if it is so bad, it would be such a shame…
…You see, animal foods are the most nutritious foods on the planet in the most bio-available form for the human digestive system to extract all that goodness.
So, it’d be like Mother Nature playing some evil trick…
…For us to get the nutritional benefits of meat, we need to take the health-threatening risk of consuming much more saturated fat than we are recommended to consume with the potential to suffer the dire consequences of heart disease or cancer or whatever other diseases fat’s been accused of inflicting.
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps…
Or… Perhaps the powers-to-be went on a tangent, lost their way a little. Perhaps they found some cholesterol in clogged up arteries, and made the assumptions that the cholesterol and saturated fat that we eat somehow causes heart disease. It sounds logical, no?
Perhaps, based on this logical hypothesis, multi-billion pound industries were born selling low-fat products despite a lack of robust evidence to back the claims.
Perhaps, those scientists and clever people who backed the theory were too invested to admit they were wrong.
The juggernaut had built up too much momentum to turn back around and now we’re living in a world of increasing disease and obesity despite many following the dietary guidelines and pounding the treadmills.
Perhaps, we’re in quite the mess, aren’t we?
Let’s Use Common Sense
We rely heavily on guidelines that we’re advised to follow, and the nutritional guidelines are no exception. We expect these guidelines to factual and based on solid science, so why would we question them?
But, if we did question them, used a bit of common sense and asked ourselves… ‘what are we actually designed to eat?’ It doesn’t take long to realise that our ancestors would’ve only had limited food options before this world of plenty and endless choices we live in now.
My opinion is that these clever people that use facts and figures, studies and graphs, can get a little too clever for their own good, and the good of others. Sometimes we need to question them, especially when it affects our health and the health of our loved ones.
So, ask yourself… ‘is fat found in meat, that we as humans have been eating for millions of years, really bad for our health?’
Have a nutritious day!
There you have it! Just a reminder that I’m no doctor, dietitian or any other profession for that matter. I’m simply a bearer of information for you to do what you want with; question it, research it, erase it from your mind, you are in charge of you.