9 Reasons Saturated Fat is Good For You

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Picture of a heart - saturated fat is not bad for heart healthYes, you read the title right – saturated fat is good for you.

Unfortunately, this type of fat has an undeserved reputation for ‘clogging arteries’ and making us fat.

However, there are many reasons why saturated fats are some of the healthiest things we can eat.

This article will explain nine reasons saturated fat is crucial for overall health and expose some widespread myths.

1. Saturated Fats Are Not Bad For the Heart

The idea that saturated fat is inherently bad for the heart is a myth based on poor science. At this instant, that myth is still alive (although slowly dying).

As for the question “does saturated fat cause heart disease?”, the answer is a firm no.

A wealth of recent studies shows that there is a lack of association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

In fact, the consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrate have been disastrous for millions of people around the world.

The twin health destroyers known as obesity and diabetes are rampant. Diabetes rates have doubled in the past 20 years, and more than 115 million Americans now have diabetes (6).

It’s also interesting to note that the obesity rates started rising in 1980. This rapid increase came soon after the first dietary guidelines and the subsequent war on dietary fat (7, 8).

What Did These Guidelines Advise?

These guidelines told us to shun animal fats and flock to carbohydrate and refined omega-6 seed oils. Despite the American Heart Association promoting them, these vegetable oils are a terrible substitute for saturated fat.

For one thing, they skew the omega 3-6 ratio in the body, promote inflammation, and the oils can easily oxidize (9, 10).

In short, a diet low in saturated fat does not reduce the risk for heart disease – it increases it.

Key Point: Despite decades of demonization, saturated fats are perfectly natural and good for you. The real villains are industrial vegetable oils and trans fats.

2. Saturated Fats Lower Triglycerides and Raise HDL Cholesterol Levels

Picture showing cholesterol test - saturated fats lower triglycerides and raise HDL

Sticking with the heart health theme, you may have heard that saturated fats are “bad for cholesterol.”

If you don’t know much about cholesterol, that may sound scary. But the truth is that “bad for cholesterol” or “increase cholesterol” are pretty meaningless terms.

When it comes to cholesterol and heart disease, the biggest risk factor is not ‘high cholesterol.’

The most compelling evidence from recent research suggests that the triglyceride to HDL ratio is what we should be looking at.

  • There has long been a belief that the traditional idea of “good cholesterol” (HDL) vs. “bad cholesterol” (LDL) is sub-optimal as a risk factor (11).
  • In a study involving 374 human participants, the ratio of triglycerides to HDL was the strongest predictor of extensive coronary heart disease (12).
  • A further 2015 study showed that the triglycerides to HDL marker is the best independent predictor of cardiovascular mortality (13).
  • The presence of high levels of triglycerides and low circulating HDL has a strong relationship with (and is even predictive of) insulin resistance. Notably, insulin resistance is also a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (14).

The Good News

The good news is that while diets higher in saturated fat might increase overall cholesterol, they also increase HDL levels.

Also, when people reduce their carbohydrate intake they usually see their triglyceride levels drop to normal levels.

Key Point: Saturated fat consumption increases HDL and helps with lowering triglycerides, both of which are favorable for heart health.

3. Saturated Fats Are Good For High Heat Cooking

Picture showing saturated fats being used for high heat cookingAs well as being healthy, saturated fatty acids are the most stable of all fats and highly resistant to heat-induced oxidation (15).

As a result, they are one of the very best fats for frying and other high-heat cooking methods.

Sadly, far too many people use vegetable oils for this, but in truth, they are something which shouldn’t be anywhere near your kitchen.

Vegetable oils are extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids which are the least heat-resistant of all fats. Research indicates that cooking with them shows that they form significant amounts of oxidation products (16, 17).

Additionally, oxidized fats cause inflammation in the body and raise the long-term risk for inflammatory diseases such as cancer and heart disease (18, 19).

So if you’re looking for some high heat oils, some of the best options are:

  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee
  • Lard
  • Red palm oil
  • Tallow

You can also read more in-depth information on this here.

Key Point: We shouldn’t be using vegetable oils for cooking; they are cheap, nasty, and terrible for health. Saturated fat is a healthy vegetable oil substitute, and it’s also very heat stable.

4. Saturated Fat is Good For Satiety and Reduces Hunger Pangs

Picture of a hungry woman - theme of saturated fat and satiety

Starting the day with a bowl of fruit loops might be good for young children to learn colors, but it’s a terrible idea for their health.

And it’s bad for satiety. Eating a bowl of random powders (sugar, flour, flavorings) mixed with vegetable oils will leave you feeling hungry an hour or two later.

This feeling is due to the rapid rise (and fall) in blood sugar that refined carbohydrates cause (20).

And for anyone struggling with their body shape, carb cravings are particularly damaging to weight loss regimes.

A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrate is central to these constant hunger pangs that many people experience.

How Does Fat Help?

Do you always overindulge on foods like bread and cookies? Or get moody when you can’t eat for a few hours? Many people do.

However, stopping these carb cravings requires a lifestyle shift and a healthier eating pattern.

And this is where fat comes in. Fats leave you feeling satiated and have no impact on blood sugar levels (21, 22).

Additionally, many foods which are high in fat also contain protein, which is the most satiating of all three macronutrients.

This fact shows why a breakfast of eggs is optimal for feeling full (23).

Key Point: Carbohydrate — especially sugars — leave you wanting more. For this reason, meals high in protein and fat help reduce both cravings and hunger pangs.

5. Saturated Fats Are Rich in Fat Soluble Vitamins

Picture of Fat Soluble Vitamins Saturated fats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence.

Meat, eggs, dairy, and organ meat are also the biggest providers of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 (24, 25, 26, 27).

These fats are critical to our overall health and help protect against chronic disease (28, 29).

Unfortunately, fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies are rampant in our modern society. One of the reasons why is that health authorities wrongly tell us to avoid fat (30, 31).

Therefore, it’s important to eat enough of these foods to ensure adequate fat soluble vitamin intake.

Another key point is that foods from pasture-raised animals provide a much greater nutrient profile than grain-fed animals (32, 33).

Specifically, the fat soluble vitamin levels are much higher (34).

So, look for grass-fed products when shopping if possible.

Key Point: A diet low in saturated fat is probably lacking in fat-soluble vitamins. Food containing saturated fat is good for you.

6. Saturated Fat is Much Healthier Than Sugar and Refined Carbohydrate

Picture of various breads - refined carbohydrates

When we remove saturated fat from our diet, it needs replacing.

Following the first dietary guidelines which advised restricting saturated fats, a whole industry of low-fat processed foods sprang up.

What did these foods contain?

Typically, they were (and still are) full of sugar and cheap, simple carbohydrates such as wheat and corn flour.

Packaged meals and sugary snacks were suddenly everywhere, proudly stating that they are “fat-free” on the label.

But these foods are some of the very worst examples of carbohydrate, and supposedly ‘healthy’ replacements such as agave syrup are just as bad.

Sugar and Refined Carbs: Enemies of Health

The truth is that refined carbs and simple sugars destroy health on a mass scale. In particular, recent studies show that:

  • Associations between added sugar and cardiovascular risk are present at levels far below current consumption among US children (35).
  • Replacement of saturated fat with refined grains has adverse effects on insulin secretion and leads to higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (36, 37, 38).

Saturated Fat Promotes Good Health

Picture of various cheeses In contrast, saturated fat is beneficial for the body and tends to improve most of these risk factors.

Replacing natural sources of fat with excessive carbohydrate has been a disaster, and studies show that:

  • Carbohydrate restriction improves weight loss, insulin sensitivity, and cardiovascular risk factors more than fat restriction does (39).
  • Short-term weight loss studies show that low-carbohydrate diets work better than low-fat diets, and improve most CVD risk factors (40).
  • An intervention study shows that a low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing weight than a diet low in saturated fat. Testing a low-carb diet against the Diabetes UK official recommendations, these results were the same in both diabetic and non-diabetic people (41).
  • A randomized controlled trial compared a low-carb, high-fat weight loss intervention against a low-fat one. The low-carb, high-fat group lost more weight, improved health markers, and fewer side effects than the low-fat group did (42).
Key Point: Saturated fat is good for you and replacing it with carbohydrate has adverse impacts on health markers.

7. Saturated Fat is Part of the Natural Human Diet

Picture of ancient people eating foods containing saturated fat

If we look to the past, then humans have been eating meat for thousands — if not millions — of years (42, 43).

To be specific, evidence shows that humans began to incorporate meat into our evolutionary diet at least 2.6 million years ago and we’ve well adapted to being carnivores (44).

And saturated fat is a prominent fixture in animals foods; whether it’s meat, dairy, or eggs- all contain a good amount.

Let’s also not forget that ‘heart-healthy’ sources of fat such as oily fish and olive oil contain saturated fat too (45, 46).

To sum up, on an evolutionary timescale we’ve been hunter-gatherers who consume saturated fat for a long, long time. As a result, the modern high-carb, low-fat diet is quite a contrast to our evolutionary foods.

And perhaps this explains the recent epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease?

It certainly doesn’t make much sense to blame these relatively new diseases on old foods such as meat and natural fat.

Luckily, there are still plenty of diets that promote a system of eating compatible with our evolutionary development.

Some of these include the LCHF diet, paleo diet, wild diet, primal diet, and a few more.

Key Point: Put simply, humans ate meat throughout our history and not low-fat products full of vegetable oils and flour.

8. Saturated Fat is Critical For a Healthy Brain

Picture of a happy brain

It’s not just our body, but also the brain that needs saturated fat.

In fact, saturated fat is one of the essential components in (and for building) our brain cells. This fact makes a lot of sense when we consider that our brain is almost 60% fat (47).

Also, there is a wealth of emerging science regarding saturated fats (and fat in general) and brain health.

Some exciting research shows:

  • Ketogenic diets that are high in saturated fat offer benefits in treating and managing epilepsy (48, 49, 50).
  • Saturated fats appear to have neuroprotective effects on the brain and are protective against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (51, 52, 53).
  • Replacing fat with high amounts of carbohydrate may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A significant amount of recent research suggests that Alzheimer’s is insulin resistance of the brain, or ‘type 3 diabetes’ (54, 55, 56).

Overall, the brain needs saturated fat to function at its optimum.

Key Point: Natural sources of fat are important for brain health. In other words, saturated fat is good for you and good for your brain too.

9. Saturated Fat May Help With Weight Loss

Picture of a woman measuring weight loss

Another statement that might raise a few eyebrows – but it’s true.

First of all, there’s a crucial point to be aware of.

A diet high in saturated fat has an extremely different effect depending on the amount of carbohydrate present.

For example, a diet that is low in carbs and also high in saturated fat will likely lead to plasma saturated fat levels falling.

And presuming the amount of food is reasonable, then weight loss should naturally follow too.

On the other hand, a diet containing high amounts of both carbohydrate and saturated fat is a terrible idea. Carbohydrate causes blood sugar levels to spike, which increases insulin secretion (57).

The Problem

When our body releases insulin, it instructs our body to stop burning fat and to burn glucose as a priority. Furthermore, insulin drives the fat storage of free fatty acids in the blood (58).

So, if we have high insulin levels and a large amount of fat in our blood, then fat storage and weight gain is the logical outcome.

Of course, the quickest way to lower insulin and normalize blood sugar levels is to reduce carbohydrate. And whether those carbs are from sugar, bread, or pasta doesn’t make a huge difference.

On the other hand, low levels of insulin alongside a high fat intake encourage weight loss.

Key Point: Saturated fat is good for you providing that carbohydrate intake is low. High carb and high fat is a big no-no.

Summary

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Saturated Fat is Good For You

Saturated fat has been a natural part of the human diet for millions of years, so it’s no surprise that it has health benefits.

As part of a healthy low-carb diet, there’s nothing to fear about saturated fat.

It has lots of health benefits, and the foods that contain it are some of the tastiest things on earth.

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. This article was meant to be comedic, right? Fact: The only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease is a whole-food plant-based diet.

    • To call something scientific “fact” requires much more rigorous evidence than what is available; it’s not really “proven”. Presuming you refer to Ornish’s study, that used a normal control group versus a group who adopted an exercise program, received stress management guidance, quit smoking, and adopted a vegetarian diet. It was an overall lifestyle intervention – which the other group didn’t get.

      Many people believe only their diet is healthy, but most diets can be healthy if well formulated. Or terribly unhealthy if not.

      The idea that only vegan diets can be healthy is silly – there’s not just one way of eating that’s right for everybody. And even if they can be healthy, why would that make saturated fat bad?

  2. I totally agree. Various “non-modernized” groups around the world eat almost all of the animal that they catch-because it’s nourishing and sustainable food for them. They also don’t have the heart disease that we have, even though they don’t have the access to our “vegetable oils”. Other cultures eat bugs or sources of water animals like fish, seafood, and snakes. Basically, most isolated tribes and groups consume quality animal sources of fat and protein-very few eat 100% vegan-like I mentioned about eating bugs.

    I can personally vouch that increasing quality fat-soluble vitamins from animal sources was a major factor in curing my acne, as eating a 100% clean die with lean meat for months did nothing to cure it.

    • That’s also very true Priscilla – and where the modern industrial food processes go, obesity and chronic disease soon follow.

      Diabetes is really exploding right now in China and Korea for example – both of which have developed extensive processed food industries. Looking at their obesity statistics compared to rising diabetes rates, this also shows that slim doesn’t always equal healthy!

  3. ALT was 94 now is 36
    AST was 52 now is 34
    Fasting glucose was 128 now is 101
    Cholesterol was 384 now is 187
    LDL was 261 now is 96
    Triglycerides were 502 now are 238
    HDL was 41 now is 43 (I’ve had them higher but I backed off fat before the test because my chronic gallstones were making me a bit queasy. That has passed so I’ve gone back to having coconut oil in the morning)
    LDL/HDL was 5.9 now is 2.2
    Chol/HDL was 9.4 now is 4.3

    I’ve battled hyperlipidemia my whole life. There was talk of sender me to a specialist for the cholesterol because it was “obviously genetic” and not responsive to diet or exercise. That is because I’ve followed all the bad advice out there. Eat less fat! Eat less meat! Eat more fiber! Eat vegetarian! Blah. It didn’t work. At all.

    But, when my previous physician left the practice I started seeing a new doc in the clinic. NAFLD was found incidentally on a CT scan. That along with all my previous lab work made her insist that I start on a very low carb diet. I keep it under 20 a day (or try but I usually behave pretty well). You can see the result not only in my labs but in my person. Losing weight, complexion glowing and lots of energy.

      • Since early October I’ve been trying to keep them below 20 but I don’t stress if I really want roasted beets on my salad or a bowl of homemade tomato soup.

        Just getting away from the sugars and grains have made me feel so much better.

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