Monday, November 24, 2014

Are Saturated Fats Bad for You?

“It was 1944 and WW2 was raging.  A young mother was wasting away with an infection diagnosed as tuberculosis.  Antibiotics were unavailable.  Her doctor prescribed (1) isolation, (2) bed rest, (3) exercise eventually, and (4) a diet high in fat.”  High fat diets were recommended by the medical profession in those days.  This young woman was the mother of author and medical doctor, Dr Rex Russell.  She went on to recover and lived to be a great grandmother eating plenty of saturated and unsaturated fats as part of her diet.

Several weeks ago I quoted an article from the NZ Herald which stated "The message that should be out there is - replace saturated fats with vegetable fats and also eat less free sugar [table sugar] and refined carbohydrates”.  Really?

What are Saturated Fats?
The macro nutrients are fats, carbohydrates and proteins.  This means we consume these as our 3 main fuel sources to give us energy for daily living. Fats and oils are therefore one of our main fuel sources.

Saturated” means that the fat molecule has no double bonds in it.  Look at the illustration below.  Every carbon atom is happily linked to the next one – the carbon is saturated.  Saturated fats are usually solid at room temp.  Think of clotted cream, butter, coconut oil, fat around the outside of meat, or the inner marbling fat.

Unsaturated” means the fat molecule has one double bond (mono-unsaturated) or even several double bonds (poly-unsaturated) between carbon molecules.  Those double bonds can be broken more easily to form new molecules. These fats are usually liquid at room temp.  We call them oils and some examples are olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and corn oil. Oil found in salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines. Oils found in nuts and other seeds.

In reality all fats or oils are comprised of a mix of saturated and unsaturated fat molecules.  Butter is mostly saturated fat but contains some unsaturated fats.  Olive oil is mostly unsaturated fats but contains some saturated.

What has history said about fats? 
  • In the 1930s – 40s medical experts declared that fats were good for us.
  • During the 1950s there was an increase in occurrence of heart disease. Experts began to be concerned that dairy products and animal fats were the cause.
  • The 60s – 80s ruled that monounsaturated fats (fats with only one double bond) were bad for us. Olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts were seen as unhealthy. Polyunsaturated oils were synthesised and “Margarine” was born.
  • Nutritionists recommended low-fat/high carbohydrate meals based on lots of grains.
  • Now, in the mid 2000s we’ve come face-to-face with the problem of obesity. However there is a solution in the wings - separating fats from carbs. BUT a warning: we mustn’t go overboard we still need to be aware of healthy eating principles.

Is there a problem with Saturated Fats?
Saturated fats have been assumed to cause heart disease by raising cholesterol in the blood.  No experimental evidence has ever directly linked saturated fat to heart disease.” I’m quoting here from research evidence sourced from “Authority Nutrition”
  • This includes a review of 21 studies with a total of 347,747 participants, published in 2010. Their conclusion: there is absolutely no association between saturated fat and heart disease
  • 76 studies (both observational studies and controlled trials) with a total of 643,226 participants. They found no link between saturated fat and heart disease.
  • The Cochrane Collaboration, which combines data from numerous randomized controlled trials. According to their review, published in 2011, reducing saturated fat has no effect on death or death from heart disease
However, they found that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduced the risk of cardiac events (but not death) by 14%.
This does not imply that saturated fats are “bad”, just that certain types of unsaturated fats (mostly Omega-3s) are protective, while saturated fats are neutral.

  1. Saturated fat, like butter and coconut oil is excellent for cooking because of its high heat point.  These fats are less susceptible to damage from heat and light.
  2. Foods that contain saturated fats tend to be healthy and nutritious.
  3. Diets higher in saturated & unsaturated fats, but lower in carbohydrates can even cause weight loss.

Next Time: The state of the fats we consume makes a big difference.  The fact is that fats are required for good health.  Some fats heal and some fats cause great problems for our health. What is it about fats that cause them to be dangerous for consumption?
  • The "bad fats" that you should avoid!
  • Are you using "rancid oils"?
  • What are "trans fats"?
As always, not being fanatical, just learning to be wise.

Best regards,

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