Tag Archives: saturated fat

Saturated Fat – Not Guilty!

By Scott Robinson.   There’s some serious confusion about saturated fat, and whether it is bad for the heart and is associated with diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and cancers.

The demonization of saturated fat began about 100 years ago, when a researcher fed a rabbit a high cholesterol carnivore diet and observed that its arteries became blocked with plaque.  However, this really took shape in the Fifties with the Seven Countries study by Ancel Keys(1), who reported that a higher saturated fat High_Fat_Foodsintake was associated with a higher cholesterol level and a higher rate of heart disease. The basic premise on which this condemnation lies is that saturated fat (found in foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, coconut and palm oil) raises cholesterol which in turn, increases the risk of clogged arteries (atherosclerosis). Subsequently, the emergence of low-fat diets and ‘fat-free’ foods has spread with whipping speed and sweep with millions of people deciding to put low fat items into their shopping trolley in the belief that it is doing them good. But is fat, specifically saturated fat, the real criminal here or have we been somewhat misguided by company-funded research, fat-phobic conventional medical wisdom and the advertising prowess of a concept that now encompasses a multi-million dollar industry?

Saturated Fat is Essential for a Healthy Life

Fatty acids play several key roles in the body; they are essential components of all cell membranes, they are responsible for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and include the essential n-3 and n-6 poly-unsaturated fatty-acids (PUFA).

The evidence that saturated fat is bad is limited. In fact, contemporary research states quite the opposite. A recent meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies(2) showed that the intake of saturated fat is not associated _73638186_fried_sausages-spl-1with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or those two combined (i.e. cardiovascular disease, CVD) before(2) or after(3) adjustment for serum total cholesterol. What’s more, an eloquent study published in the journal Nutrition(4), where researchers looked at the average intake of saturated fat in 41 European countries in 1998 (the latest available data) and the age-adjusted risk of mortality from heart disease, revealed something quite remarkable:

More saturated fat, less heart disease; less saturated fat, more heart disease!

That is, as percentages of saturated fat increased, rates of death from heart disease fell. For example, France who consumed the most saturated fat (15.5% of diet) had the lowest rate of heart disease in all of Europe, whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina who consumed very little saturated fat (<4% of diet) had the highest incidence of heart disease. It is worth baring in mind that ecological data such as this doesn’t necessarily prove that saturated fat can protect against heart disease, but it can more or less disprove a theory as let’s face it, it’s difficult to believe that saturated fat is a major contributor to heart disease when Europeans who are consuming it in abundance are so much healthier, without exception.

So, who is the Culprit?

A comprehensive review of studies on saturated fat, carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease by Kuipers et al. in 2011(5) purported that it is the accumulation of saturated fat in body lipids which should concern us and not the damaging effects of dietary saturated fat per se. Take for instance a study published in Lipids(6) which found that when subjects with the metabolic syndrome were fed either a low-CHO/high fat diet with high saturated fat content or a high-CHO/low-fat diet with low saturated fat content, the low-CHO/high-saturated fat diet resulted in lower saturated fat levels in plasma lipids compared with the high-CHO/low-saturated fat diet. What’s more, an analysis of studies found that replacing saturated fat by CHO with a high glycemic index was associated with a whopping 33% increased risk of myocardial infarction(7). Such findings suggest that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate in the diet, particularly those with a high glycemic index, may increase risk of heart disease.

N-6 vs. N-3 PUFA

Epidemiological and clinical studies show that PUFA plays a key role in the protection against CVD which has led to the suggestion that replacing saturated fat with PUFA is beneficial to cardiovascular health. A prospective study of cholesterol, apolipoproteins, and the risk of myocardial infarction found that replacing 5 en%  saturated fat by 5 en% PUFA reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 9.1% (8). Interestingly, Kuipers et al. (5) reported that the replacement of SAFA with n-6 PUFA (notably linoleic acid) shows no health benefit and may actually signal towards increased CVD risk which tells us that the protective role of PUFA in the diet lies with n-3 PUFA!

Take-Home Message:

Going ‘low-fat’ isn’t a particularly good option for weight loss nor health and well-being. Fat forms an essential component of the diet and there is increasing evidence to suggest that increasing saturated fat to ~15% total daily intake isn’t hazardous to heart health and may indeed provide a protective effect against heart disease. It is worth noting that many fat-free or low-fat foods are crammed with artificial sugars and sweeteners and therefore many of us who do go ‘low-fat’ often replace fat with carbohydrates; the consequences of which appear to be an increased risk of heart disease as well as other uncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cancers. It goes without saying that we must not over-indulge ourselves with saturated fat, but eating less dietary carbohydrate (particularly those with a high-glycemic index), trans-fatty acids and linoleic acid, while increasing the consumption of fish, red meat, vegetables and fruit may be an attractive means of keeping our heart healthy.

‘Our genes should be well adapted to eating ~15% saturated fat – 2 x that recommended as maximum by USDA, yet as much as the healthiest populations in Europe’ Coincidence?


Keys A. B. (1980). Seven countries: a multivariate analysis of death and coronary heart disease. London, England: Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.

Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu F. B., et al. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 535-46.

Scarborough, P., Rayner, M., van Dis I., et al. (2010). Meta-analysis of effect of saturated fat intake on cardiovascular disease: over-adjustment obscures true associations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92, 458-464.

European cardiovascular disease statistics (2008 edition). British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group Department of Public Health, University of Oxford and Health Economics Research Centre, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford.

Kuipers, R. S., de Graaf, D. J., Luxwolda, M. F., Muskiet, M. H. A., Dijck-Brouwer, D. A. J, & Muskiet, F. A. J. (2011). Saturated fat, carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease. Netherlands, The Journal of Medicine, 69, 372-378.

Volek J. S., Phinney, S. D., Forsythe, C. E, et al. (2009). Carbohydrate restriction has a more favourable impact on the metabolic syndrome than a low fat diet. Lipids, 44, 297-309.

Jakobsen, M. U., Dethlefsen, C., Joensen, A. M., et al. (2010). Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 1764-8.

Stampfer, M. J., Sacks, F. M., Salvini, S., et al. (1991). A prospective study of cholesterol, apolipoproteins, and the risk of myocardial infarction. New England Journal of Medicine, 325, 373-81.

Bio: Scott is a Doctoral Researcher in Exercise Metabolism at the University of Birmingham, UK. He holds a First Class Honours degree in Sports Science and a Masters with Distinction in Sports Physiology. He currently works as a Nutrition advisor for Myprotein UK who are the UK’s number one online sports nutrition company. For regular updates on the latest in exercise metabolism and nutrition, follow Scott on Twitter @scottrobinson8 or if you have any questions please feel free to email him slr247@bham.ac.uk  

The Ultimate Butter Meltdown

iStock_000006937653SmallBy Ana Castilla CISSN.

Warning! This statement has not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  Good.  Because that should keep me out of trouble right? Because the Rx today is BUTTER.  I personally can’t believe it’s not butter as I stroll through the fat-free-infested dairy isle at my local Publix®. For my peace of mind, and for those in the vicinity, I tend to reach for my beloved grass-feed (yes extremely fatty) Kerrygold butter as fast as my phosphocreatine stores will allow me, before I overhear one more chat about how smart balance buttery spread can lower cholesterol.

See, keeping trans and saturated fats at bay is part of any sound “heart healthy” nutrition plan  (1).Yep. I do pay attention in class! However If you’re one to follow this dogma, I will excuse myself in advance because I actually will appear quite unsound, maybe it’s all that butter melting in my mouth you know, must have messed with my head (Hallelujah for that one). The heretic of low fat living might just be a superfood in disguise.

Sure Ana…go ahead and clog up your arteries; just have us on speed dial so that we can take your overweight behind to the ER! Hummm, not at all the case.  In fact let’s considers a couple of thoughts on why the fat in butter is indeed your smartest mouthful.

Starting with the biggest evil of them all: trans fats. Trans fatty acids are what happens when man decides shoot up hydrocarbon chains with hydrogen bullets; well for the most part. These buggers are very unreactive little ones and can be found say in your regular Mc-fried-thing (1) . That said, I don’t want you to hyperventilate when you discover trans fats on your grass-fed T-bone, because these are the kind that occur naturally in many dairy and meat products. It’s called CLA.

Conjugated linoleic acid might have at one point caught your eye, all bottled up, promising you that beach body over at GNC®. Well CLA is the trans fat -insert fat-phobic shiver here- found abundantly in meat and butterfat of happy-grass-grazing -cows (2)(3). CLA has shown promising positive shifts in body composition and weight loss in animal studies (4).  I know I know.  Animals are not humans; but it’s certainly a nudge in the right direction. And in case you also care about silly little things like cancer prevention, CLA appears to play a role in that as well (5)(6)(7).

To make matters worse, butter is also high in the other fat we give the cold shoulder to: Saturated fat! Now as you can see I am not using trans and saturated fat interchangeably as you have grown accustomed to.  Ok brace yourself; this might require a smidge more brain cells.

Saturated fatty acids are naturally occurring hydrocarbons, of varying length, that are naturally “saturated” with hydrogens and yes they are extremely inert or stable. Ooh no! That sounds bad just like trans fat!  Not quite. Take a jar of coconut oil for example (well butter too but I like the jar analogy, not as messy) and leave it opened in the sun for a couple of days. It is very unlikely that it will become rancid or oxidized, due exactly to its stability. Oxidized fats in our bloodstream are a bad thing (8). For starters we want the fats we consume to be metabolized efficiently and not left to be rancid in the blood, but given our modern lifestyle that becomes tricky sometimes. Saturated fats are also ideal for cooking because, unless you are constantly deep frying your chicken, you will dramatically reduce the risk of consuming oxidized oils.

Additionally, speaking of coconuty things, let’s not forget about this particular kind of saturated fat, MCTs or medium chain triglycerides, their benefits (9) and also their presence in butter.

La RotondeAlright on to more controversy.  Ever heard of the French paradox? Yep, frenchies have one of the highest consumptions of saturated fats and cholesterol (we WILL get to my favorite sterol, don’t you worry) in their diets yet low incidences of heart disease and mortality (10). They are having a jolly good time, why can’t we? Maybe we have hunted down the wrong guy.

It looks like low carbohydrate diets, that are rich in saturated fat, actually improve the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (11). The saturated fat,  Palmitic acid, 16C, found abundantly in butter, fails to raise the so called “bad cholesterol” LDL(12). But how about raising the “good cholesterol” HDL? Well replacing carbohydrate with any kind of fat will do the trick, but the most benefit will come from substitution with saturated fat. TAKE THAT OLIVE OIL! (13).

I’m going to blow your mind here and give you one more paradox, the American paradox.  Saturated fat can not only be harmless but -the outrage- actually beneficial (14).  In this study the researchers examined the reduction in the progression of coronary atherosclerosis when saturated fat was introduced into a low fat diet. Wait a minute.  Is that butter I smell? Looks like saturated fat also helps you breath better! (15)

And guys.  If you were looking to have testosterone levels higher than those of a 13 year old girl, you might want to consider what a high saturated fat diet can offer (16) (17). No need to reach for the TEST cream quite yet.

Oh I almost forgot.  Since many of us already know the benefits of reducing carbs in the diet(11) (one caveat here before I get jumped, I am not talking about those superhero-olympic-triathletes and crossfitters among us)  I believe it is worth pointing out that saturated fat can also help you lose some pounds in a non-omg-I-am-starving-way (18)(19) and also keep it off ( 20) (21) just in case you were on the edge there.

In the interest of keeping this discussion nice and fatty onto my PUFAs. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the celebrities of the healthy fat propaganda these days.  Fish oil anyone? Butter provides a balanced amount of omega-3 and omega-6s.No need to ramble about the benefits of these fats (22) when we observe a ratio closer to 1:1 in the body. Although if you’re curious take a look at this article(http://sportsnutritioninsider.insidefitnessmag.com/3588/fish-oil-the-real-deal-fat-fighter) on fish oil or this one (http://sportsnutritioninsider.insidefitnessmag.com/3559/pufas-essential-or-toxic) on PUFAS.

Moving on to chunkier topics…..Cholesterol!

Little Johnny: So mom how are babies made?

Momma bear: you see Johny, the stork brings new mommy’s their babies.

Little Johny: wow that makes so much sense! Every time I see a stork fly…I also see babies. Storks deliver babies!

Listen up little Johnny, sometimes it just ain’t that simple.  Correlation is NOT causation. Momma bear’s version of why cholesterol will kill you goes a like this: Arteries are like pipes and all that nasty trans and saturated fat, as well as cholesterol, are the gunk that clogs the pipes up. Yep, just what you were thinking right? It certainly looks like a big fat solid piece of gunk of course it clogs up our arteries  –  even thou its about 30 degrees steamier in there  – and of course it’s the causative factor for all global problems from cardiovascular disease and obesity to starving African kids and dying polar bears.

Right?  So spare me the details.  Should it go down the pie hole? As far as I am concerned, definitely! If you’re not in the business lowering peoples IQ you make sure they have their cholesterol. Your brain is the fattest kid on the block and therefore cholesterol ts essential for brain development (23) where it mostly helps with nerve cell signaling aka THINKING (24)! Want to digest your food properly? Cholesterol is needed to produce those bile salts. Want to be all macho-macho and conserve your virility? Ladies any concerns about fertility? Well cholesterol makes sex hormones too – amazing!

I say skip the Goji berries and melt me some butter! Cholesterol an anti-oxidant?

I knew all along she was nuts!

Actually, this super-sterol comes to our rescue when it’s time to fight of those harmful free radicals that occur in our bodies when we eat rancid fats in margarine and highly processed vegetable oils (25). In the ultimate margarine vs butter battle, men that consumed real butter were half as likely to develop heart disease (26). Real Men eat real BUTTER! And lovely ladies do so too! In fact carbohydrate intake is better associated with a greater progression of plaque formation in the arteries of postmenopausal women (27).

Now if you will excuse me there is a lonely stick of butter in my fridge calling my name and I do hope, by now, it its calling yours too.

It is time to stop being slow, weak and frail.  Discover THE BUTTER MELTDOWN! Available now at a retail near you!

About the Author:  Ana Castilla CISSN is a Biology major at Nova Southeastern University who is a certified sports nutritionist from the International Society of Sport Nutrition. She gives Paleo Diet nutrition lectures at Crossfit affiliates such as 911 Crossfit and City.


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