The Truth About Fats in Our Diet
While misinformation is always present in every aspect of society, we as nutritionists must make every attempt to filter through current wisdom to find the truth. One significant area of confusion today is on the subject of dietary fats. In particular, saturated fats from animals have been widely maligned and stigmatized as the source of clogged arteries, high cholesterol, and heart disease. I wish to dispel this common assumption promulgated for the most part by manufacturers of vegetable oils.
Today we classify fats as saturated, and mono or poly-unsaturated. Each of these forms play different roles in the body including tissue repair, energy production, and hormone production. When we eat naturally raised animal protein, we obtain a complete compliment of all of these fats in a good ratio. They are processed by the body via the lymph system and finally dumped into the blood stream after being used to their fullest extent by the cells of the body.
Animals raised in feed lots and other unnatural confined areas do not have a natural healthy ratio of these fats because of the unnatural food they are fed. Additionally, these animals are infused with antibiotics and growth hormones, which are also stored in fat tissue making it even more detrimental.
Of most importance to us though is the apparent connection of saturated fat intake to heart disease. A close look at these studies shows a completely different picture. In studies where saturated fat has been identified as the problem, researchers ignored other lifestyle and dietary components of their subjects. These include the consumption of excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates, smoking, alcohol, drugs, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, and lack of exercise.
When these factors are incorporated into study results, an entirely different picture unfolds. Saturated fat intake actually increases HDL levels and decreases LDL and triglyceride levels. A meta-analysis of 27 studies on the effect of dietary fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins revealed that all dietary fatty acids elevated HDL when substituted for carbohydrates but the effect diminished with increased unsaturation (higher amounts of unsaturated fats vs. saturated fats) of the fatty acids.
Dr. Diana Schwarzbein in her book “The Schwarzbein Principle,” when reflecting on her personal treatment of thousands of patients, concluded that eating saturated fat does not create a negative cholesterol profile or any of the assumed health problems traditionally associated with an abnormal cholesterol count. She quotes “Eating saturated fats should be a part of your balanced diet while, at the same time, your focus should be on reducing all the factors that increase insulin levels.” These factors are refined sugar and grain products.
In conclusion, naturally sourced fats of any configuration are not detrimental to health and in fact are essential. It is the fats which have been manufactured by man,(especially the vegetable oils) or altered by man (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) which should be eliminated from the diet along with all refined carbohydrates.
Rick Wagner, M.S., C.N.
See Also: Fats: Myths and Truths