Everyone knows saturated fat is bad for you, right? Every TV health expert or article that you've read probably has recommended avoiding fats that are bad for the heart such as trans- and saturated-fats.
But are saturated fats as bad for you as you think? Can some saturated fats even help with weight loss?
Here's why saturated fats have had a bad rap for the past 60+ years:
As Americans started eating less natural foods--the necessity of getting food over to soldiers in Europe and beyond during World War II was one key factor in the food processing boom--the rates of heart disease started to climb.
Some medical experts at the time concluded that it must be the butter, meat and cheeses, among other popular foods that have animal-derived fats (plant-based foods do not contain saturated fat, though they do have their own version of cholesterol) that are responsible for the increase in cardiovascular early mortality events as well as cancers.
Some people even believe that the medical establishment was in collusion with the food science conglomerates. After all, what good is it if people eat whole, real foods and never get sick, then who would need a doctor. Hence, foods like margarine and artificial sweeteners became prominently featured on grocery store shelves. Advertising for these products flooded the airwaves.
But whether you believe in this conspiracy or not is irrelevant; it's possible that food scientists really did have our best intention at heart, perhaps they believed margarine and shortening and vegetable oils were really better for our tickers.
What researchers of the mid-20th century, and even those of today who still believe saturated fat is generally 'bad,' failed to account for is the source of the saturated fat as well as case studies of societies whose diets featured a decent amount of saturated fat.
Take an extreme example, of Inuits, the aboriginal inhabitants of Canada's far northern hinterlands. Subsisting on a huge amount of saturated fat from seal blubber and caribou meat, this population has no history of chronic disease, at least not until exposed to 'western' foods.
Other tribes around the globe, when not introduced to processed foods, enjoyed vibrant health even with a high amount of saturated fat in the diet, sometimes way more than the 20 grams of saturated fat that the Food and Drug Administration advises people to limit their daily intake.
Not to say that you should eat 200 grams of saturated fat a day but keep in mind that the Masai tribe of Kenya subsist, traditionally, on fats from their cattle (and the blood, but we won't get into that).
Polynesian and Micronesian islanders eat lots of coconut, one of the few non-animal sources of food that has a relatively high amount of saturated fat. Other tropical oils like palm oil also account for these native peoples' health.
If your saturated fat comes in the form of organic, free-range egg yolks and other pasture-raised animal products such as grass-fed beef, as well as coconut oil, you are eating a healthy form of saturated fat that can help with weight loss.
Any form of healthy fats, also including, Omega-3 fatty acids from cold water oily fish like salmon (Omega-3's are polyunsaturated fats) and monounsaturated fats like avocado and olive oil help curb cravings. Fat is more nutrient-dense than carbohydrates. If you eat nothing but carbohydrates, the fuel burns too quickly without fat. That leads to more snacking and bingeing, which of course leads to weight gain.
Saturated fat can be dangerous when oxidized, but that is true of any type of fats. But saturated fats oxidize much slower usually than non-saturated fats. Oxidization simply means that it has become spoiled, the molecular chemistry nuked beyond repair.
Examples of saturated fats gone bad include frying egg yolks until they are drier than wallpaper, blackening or grilling meats to well-done, and cooking oils at very high temperatures.
Do eat mostly a plant-based diet but when you do eat fish, poultry or red meat, only eat a small serving size from a free-range/open-pastured, and preferably organic source. You don't need to eat a lot of meat to reap the benefits of the nutritional value, including Omega-3 fatty acids that come from grass-fed sources. That's right, when you eat animal proteins that were raised in humane conditions, you are not only getting the protein and vitamins and minerals from the saturated fat, you're also getting the Omega-3 fatty acids from the grass the cow ate. Omega-3s have been proven to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases.
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So next time you hear the advice to limit your saturated fat intake, take it with a grain of salt, or grass-fed butter.
And of course, if you're cooking a meal with saturated fat, the perfect compliment is vegetables and Miracle Noodles!