Fats on Fleek 3: The BIG "FAT" Myth
Saturated fats and cholesterol, we have been told for generations to avoid both. Are saturated fats really the root cause of cardiovascular disease? As it turns out, it's not as simple as vilifying saturated fats for our cardiovascular woes.
The Man, The Myth
This big fat confusion came from research conducted in the 1950's by American physiologist and researcher, Ancel Keys. In 1955, Keys presented his "Fat Hypothesis" to the World Health Organization. He believed that saturated fats raise cholesterol, therefore increasing risk of cardiovascular disease. Soon after, the American Heart Association began to promote a low fat diet as the sure fire way to prevent heart disease.
Why then, have the rates of heart disease not decreased? Why then is heart disease still the second leading cause of death for Canadians.
Well, Good ol Ancel got it a bit wrong and while monitoring saturated fat intake, he ignored other critical data such as the quantity of refined sugar in the diet. While it is true that some saturated fats raise cholesterol, the type of saturated fat and the type of cholesterol it affects is really the key. Saturated fat does indeed raise LDL (bad cholesterol) but it also raises HDL (good cholesterol). In contrast an excess of refined sugar in the diet lowers HDL. It is the ratio of LDL to HDL that is a for more important biomarker for cardiovascular disease and heart attack than LDL alone.
Fats, What Are They Good For?
We require a variety of unsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats for good health. Saturated "Phats"... if I spell it with a "PH" it means the good kind of fat right? 90's jokes aside, saturated fats are required for the following:
- Saturated fats are responsible for healthy, strong cellular membranes for every living cell in your body. Improper formation of cellular membranes can hamper essential cellular functions, cause malformation of the cell and even reduce the exchange of nutrients between the cell and its environment.
- Saturated fats and healthy cholesterol provide the building blocks for hormones, and hormone-like substances.
- Act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Are required for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A and for mineral absorption, nutrients essential for supporting eye and skin health among other functions.
- Act as antiviral agents (caprylic acid).
- Required for calcium to be effectively incorporated into bone.
- Saturated fat has been shown to protect the liver from alcohol and medications, including acetaminophen and other drugs commonly used for pain and arthritis.
- Helps lower LDL cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids).
- Modulate genetic regulation and help prevent cancer (butyric acid).
- Saturated fat plays a key role in cardiovascular health, reducing lipoprotein (a), which correlates to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Required for neurological function (brain health) and proper nerve signaling.
- For proper functioning of the lungs. The surfactant that coats the air sacs of the lungs is made of 100% saturated fats, replacement of these critical fats by other types of fat makes for faulty surfactant and potential breathing difficulties.
- Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil (myristic acid and lauric acid) play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, possibly increasing risk of infection.
Consider The Source
Many proponents of a plant based diet tout a diet low in saturated fat as the ideal, however I'm hear to tell you that's not entirely the case. It is important to consider the source of your saturated fats, but not to avoid them. Saturated fats from processed meats and fast foods (long chain triglycerides) will have a completely different effect than say, the medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil, coconut butter or avocado. In recent years, studies have shown that medium chain triglycerides such as lauric acid actually have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. Saturated fats from a Big Mac on the other hand will not have this protective effect. Nor will it improve lung health, or immunity. Fats make food taste good! Below, find a list of plant based fats to include in your diet and fats to avoid.
- Nuts and seeds in their whole forms such as almond, cashew, macadamia, Brazil nut, chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds.
- Good quality oils such as olive, coconut, ethically sourced palm oil and coconut butter.
- Whole food sources of saturated fats such as cacao butter, dark chocolate, olives and avocado.
- Processed vegetable oils such as safflower oil, canola, peanut oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated oils, margarine, shortening, corn oil and cottonseed oil.
Now you're well on your way to having your fats on fleek! don't skimp on this vital macronutrient, make sure to have around 25% of your dietary intake come in the form of high quality fats.
Moral of the story, eat the whole avocado, don't be shy!