Myths & Truths about Saturated Fat
The Many Roles of Saturated Fat
Saturated fats, such as butter, meat fats, coconut oil and palm oil, tend to be solid at room temperature. According to conventional nutritional dogma, these traditional fats are to blame for most of our modern diseases—heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, malfunction of cell membranes and even nervous disorders like multiple sclerosis. However, many scientific studies indicate that it is processed liquid vegetable oil—which is laden with free radicals formed during processing—and artificially hardened vegetable oil—called trans fat—that are the culprits in these modern conditions, not natural saturated fats.
Humans need saturated fats because we are warm blooded. Our bodies do not function at room temperature, but at a tropical temperature. Saturated fats provide the appropriate stiffness and structure to our cell membranes and tissues. When we consume a lot of liquid unsaturated oils, our cell membranes do not have structural integrity to function properly, they become too “floppy,” and when we consume a lot of trans fat, which is not as soft as saturated fats at body temperature, our cell membranes become too “stiff.”
Saturated fats play many important roles in the body chemistry. They strengthen the immune system and are involved in inter-cellular communication, which means they protect us against cancer. They help the receptors on our cell membranes work properly, including receptors for insulin, thereby protecting us against diabetes. The lungs cannot function without saturated fats, which is why children given butter and full-fat milk suffer less often from asthma than children given reduced-fat milk and margarine. Saturated fats are also involved in kidney function and hormone production.
Saturated fats are required for the nervous system to function properly, and over half the fat in the brain is saturated. Saturated fats also help suppress inflammation.
Finally, saturated animal fats carry the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, which we need in large amounts to be healthy.
Trans Fats vs. Saturated Fats
Dietitians and government spokespersons are finally admitting that trans fats have many harmful effects; unfortunately, they continue to insist that trans fats are “just as bad” as saturated fats (the kind found in butter, meat fat and the tropical oils), implying that saturated fats are very harmful. In fact, saturated fats play many important roles in the body chemistry and have the opposite effect of trans fats.
- Trans fats raise Lp(a) (indicating they cause heart disease), while saturated fats lower Lp(a).
- Trans fats interfere with immune function, while saturated fats enhance immune function.
- Trans fats inhibit the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids and the production of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, while saturated fats enhance the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids and the production of the long-chain versions.
- Foods containing trans fats are associated with increased asthma; saturated fats are needed for the proper functioning of the lungs.
- Trans fats contribute to weight gain, while some types of saturated fats (the mediumchain triglycerides) boost metabolism and help with weight loss.
- Trans fats are associated with increased cancer and decreased fertility. Sources of saturated fat, such as butter and meat fats, contain many nutrients that fight against cancer and promote fertility.
Confused About Fats?
The following nutrient-rich traditional fats have nourished healthy population groups for thousands of years:
- Tallow and suet from beef and lamb
- Lard from pigs
- Chicken, goose and duck fat
- Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils
*Always choose organic, grass-fed and/or pasture-raised kind.
- Extra virgin olive oil (also okay for low-heat cooking)
- Expeller-expressed sesame and peanut oils
- Expeller-expressed flax oil (in small amounts)
The following industrial fats can cause cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, sterility, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis:
- All hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
- Industrially processed liquid oils such as soy, corn, safflower, cottonseed and canola
- Fats and oils (especially polyunsaturated vegetable oils) heated to very high temperatures in processing and frying.