If you’re confused about what food are good for you today, but bad for you tomorrow, you’re not alone.
Take fat, for example. One day, all fats are bad. Then we’re told we need healthy fats. Another day, the perception of what’s considered ‘healthy’ fat is under scrutiny. Here’s the skinny on saturated fat.
The Truth About Saturated Fat
Just a few decades ago, fat was the enemy, especially saturated fat as found in butter and other animal-based food products. They’re the kind of fats that solidify at room temperature, which is due to their atomic makeup; the carbon cells are completely covered, or saturated, by the hydrogen cells.
Foods that contain saturated fats include:
– Red meat
– Cheese and other dairy products
– Palm and coconut oil
Saturated fat was thought to cause high cholesterol and ailments like heart disease. However, new research has shown that a diet that includes saturated fat and reduces carbohydrates actually has the opposite effect, especially in women over the age of 50. This has led to the rise of low carb and paleo diets.
The benefits of saturated fat has been studied by researchers, dietitians and journalists like Nina Teicholz, whose book, The Big Fat Surprise, summarizes nine years of research on the subject of saturated fat and women’s health.
The conclusions reached by many who’ve viewed the data are that there is no conclusive evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease or obesity when eaten as part of a balanced diet. In fact, over the period between the first recommendations by the American Heart Association demonizing fat in 1961 and now, heart disease, obesity and related conditions have increased.
How Did Saturated Fat Become the Enemy?
The big turning point came after the release of the so-called “Seven Countries” study conducted by Ancel Keys. This research – and false conclusions – looked at diets around the world. Keys determined that the seven countries with the highest rate of heart disease also consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat.
What the study overlooked, and what turned out to be the real cause of adverse health effects, was that people in these countries also ate the highest amounts of processed carbohydrates and sugar. The problem was that Keys went in with a hypothesis about the correlation between fat consumption and heart disease, and rejected any findings that didn’t support his theories.
What’s it All Mean?
We’re not suggesting that fat doesn’t raise cholesterol, which is a contributing factor in heart disease. However, certain kinds of cholesterol are beneficial, even necessary, to good health.
Adding modest amounts of saturated fat and reducing sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption increases the HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. The trick is to choose the right kinds of saturated fats, not deprivation.
Food With Beneficial Saturated Fat
The right levels of saturated fat in your diet allows you to enjoy eating again. Food tastes better and is more filling, which means less temptation to binge and less over-eating. Choose saturated fat from healthier foods like coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, and grass-fed beef over grain-fed.
If you’ve been depriving yourself and avoiding ‘real’ foods like red meat, cheese and butter, this is good news. The best diet for anyone is one that uses moderation without necessarily excluding entire food groups.