“Fat Is Your Friend” Pt. 1: [Saturated] Fats Are Good For You

This post is Part 1 in the “Fat is Your Friend” series. 

I have heard so many say, “fats are good for you, you just have to eat the RIGHT kinds of fats.” When they say this, they are most of the time referring Olive Oil and nuts and avocados, but they are almost NEVER referring to Saturated Fats.

Well, I am here to say: Nevermind popular opinion… Saturated fats are good for you!” Good for you and your heart! Do your own homework and you, too, can find the same conclusion. Here is my homework in a nutshell: (most of this is taken from the book, Nourishing Traditions and the book, Eat Fat, Lose Fat.)

Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.

There are three types of fatty acids:

  1. Saturated- These do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes. They form a solid or semi-solid fat at room temperature. Found mostly in animal fats and tropical oils. Your body also makes them from carbohydrates.
  2. Monounsaturated- Your body makes these from saturated fatty acids and uses them in many ways. Tend to be liquid at room temperature. Like saturated fats, they are relatively stable, do not go rancid easily and hence can be used in cooking. The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in our food is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil as well as the oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.
  3. Polyunsaturated- The two most frequently found in our foods are omega-6 and omega-3. Your body cannot make these fatty acids and hence they are called “essential.” We must obtain our essential fatty acids or EFAs from the foods we eat. These remain liquid, even when refrigerated. They are highly reactive, go rancid easily (particularly omega-3 linolenic acid) and must be treated with care. They should never be heated or used in cooking.

Politically Correct Nutrition is based on the assumption that we should reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources. Fats from animal sources also contain… da da dum… cholesterol, presented as the twin villain of the civilized diet. (I will talk about cholesterol in a later post… for now… FAT!)

The politically correct guys tell us that polyunsaturated oils are the ones we want- the ones that are the best for us- and that saturated fats cause cancer and disease. This misinformation has caused profound changes in western eating habits. At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, and small amounts of olive oil. Today, however, most of the fats in the diet are polyunsaturated, primarily from vegetable oils derived from soy, as well as from corn, safflower and canola. Bad, bad, bad. But do you notice that you still hear about heart attacks ALL THE TIME? Usage of animal fats and saturated fats in general has gone down, but heart disease has increased. So does it make sense that they keep blaming saturated fats? Let’s use our brains (and start nourishing them with healthy saturated fats!).

Excess consumption of polyunsaturates has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain. One reason they cause all of these problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture as in cooking and processing (extraction, hydrogenation, homogenization).

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most polyunsaturates in commercial vegetable oils are in the form of omega-6 with very little omega-3.  Deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with asthma, heart disease and learning deficiencies. For the optimal production and balance of prostaglandins (hormones that act locally, within the cells), you need a good balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, with no more than 2-3 times more omega-6 than omega-3. In the modern diet, the ration is more like 20 to 1, as a result of the high consumption of vegetable oils containing mostly omega-6 fatty acids. (Good sources of Omega-3’s: Wild Salmon, egg yolks (from pastured chickens) and flax oil in small amounts.)

But back to saturated fats, which Americans are always trying to avoid. They are not the cause of our modern diseases. In fact, they play many important parts in body chemistry.

Fats and Your Brain

60% of the brain is composed of fat. Phospholipids (which contain about 50% saturated fats) help make up the brain cell membranes. They contain 2 fatty acids and one protein-like component. Thus you nourish your brain cells when you eat saturated fats, and when you don’t eat enough saturated fats, the chemistry of your brain may be compromised. In a recent study, rats given vegetable oils low in saturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids had more strokes and shorter life spans.

Fats in the Cells

Every cell membrane is ideally made up of about 50% saturated fat. When we eat too much polyunsaturated oil and not enough saturated fat (or carbohydrates that the body turns into saturated fat), our cells don’t function correctly. The cell membranes need to be saturated for the cell to have the necessary “stiffness” or integrity and to work properly. If they don’t get enough saturated fat, they actually become “floppy” and cannot work properly.

Fats in Your Bones

For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated. This is one of the reasons osteoporosis has become such a problem these days.

Fats and Your Liver

Saturated fats protect the liver from toxins like alcohol and Tylenol. Today liver problems have become more common.

Fats and Your Heart

Saturated fats provide energy to the heart in times of stress. Saturated fats are the hearts preferred food and there is a concentration of saturated fat in the tissues surrounding the heart.

Fats and Your Lungs

Lungs cannot work without adequate saturated fats in the diet. The fatty acids in the lung fluid are normally 100% saturated. When people consume a lot of partially hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils, trans fatty acids and polyunsaturated oils are put into the phospholipids where the body normally needs saturated fatty acids. As a result the lungs cannot work effectively. Notice the rise in asthma, especially in children.

Fats and Your Kidneys

Omega-3 fatty acids, saturated fats, and cholesterol all work together synergistically to maintain normal kidney function, which is critical for managing blood pressure and filtering toxins from the body.

Fats and Your Hormones

Hormones are the body’s messengers, acting on the brain, nervous system, and glands and affecting thousands of bodily functions. They require the right kinds of fats. Your body cannot make stress and sex hormones without vitamin A, provided exclusively by fatty animal foods such as liver, shellfish, and cod-liver oil. In contrast, the wrong kinds of fats (trans fatty acids, etc..) inhibit the production of stress and sex hormones, leading to problems with glucose balance, mineral metabolism, and reproduction.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Fat is Your Friend” series: Cholesterol and Heart Disease