How Saturated Fat Will Save Your Life
My recent posts on why you should eat saturated fats have generated interest and posed some questions. Here’s my first attempt at answering those queries.
1) The term lipid refers to all fats. Lipid is a generic term for both fats and oils. If the lipid is solid at room temperature it is called fat. If it is liquid it’s oil.
2)To distinguish between body fat and ingested food source fat I refer to monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats as lipids.
3) Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (PUFAs) and saturated fats are composed of different types of fatty acids that can either be beneficial or detrimental to your overall health. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) is a term referring to select compounds that make up a lipid. You may have heard of some of these in the forms of Omega-3s and Omega-6s, anti and pro inflammatory, respectively. You want the anti-inflammatory fats and you want to avoid the pro-inflammatory ones. Inflammatory fats are what cause arterial plaque buildup. Saturated fats are NOT inflammatory fats.
So, if saturated fats are good for you then how and why are they good for you? For starters, your brain is made up of two thirds saturated fat, and low levels of saturated fat in the diet translates to low levels in the brain. Without adequate levels of saturated fat for your brain to use as fuel your brain is effectively sidelined from it’s potential. That was a nice way of saying not enough saturated fat in your diet makes you stupid. Saturated fat is also essential for proper hormone production. Scientists are just beginning to appreciate the myriad hormones that dictate everything from sexual function to how well you sleep, your personality, skin tone, digestive function, where you gain weight and everything essential for proper brain and body function.
When a PUFA makes its way into your blood stream it is so volatile that it will damage it’s apoprotein (transportation encapsulation) and smear itself along the interior of your arteries, scorching cell membranes and creating free radical cascades. This is where arterial plaque buildup really comes from. That is not all that happens however. Polyunsaturated fats can mimic the metabolic pathways of saturated fats in the bloodstream. Your cells do not see the difference. When an essential fatty acid is required by a particular organ or tissue, the cells of that organ or tissue send out a telegram to the apoproteins requesting a delivery of the lipid that the apoprotein is carrying. In this way, a polyunsaturated fat can take the place of a saturated fat, in your cells. This is bad because of how volatile PUFAs are. When they attach themselves to your healthy cells they essentially fry them. Your arteries end up quite literally looking and behaving like fried chicken skin, crispy and breakable.
The full answer involves some chemistry, so bear with me. Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats each have a unique structure of hydrogen and carbon atoms and how that structure is composed will dictate just how fragile and sensitive to heat and light a fatty acid (fat/lipid) is and whether it will improve your health or degrade it. Depending on the particular bonding of the carbon and hydrogen atoms in the lipid you will either have a fragile lipid that oxidizes or a rigid and resilient lipid that can withstand heat and light and remain undamaged.
Saturated fats can resist oxidation (heat related damage) because of the way their hydrogen and carbon atoms are shaped, there is nowhere for an oxygen atom to sneak in and cause oxidation. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil) has just enough room for one oxygen molecule to get in. This is not enough to cause the lipid to become a volatile compound and react. Polyunsaturated fats however have two places for oxygen to get in which makes the oxygen billions of times more likely to bind with that lipid molecule. PUFAs are thus volatile compounds, prone to oxidation. Oxidation is bad because it causes rancidity and corrupts the integrity of the oil. When an oil is rancid it causes tons of free radicals to circulate in the blood stream. Free radicals are bad, they are carcinogenic and cause inflammation. For reference TNT has 6 places in its hydrogen/carbon makeup for oxygen to react. Pretty sure you don’t want to eat explosives…and yet you are.
PUFAs are found in seed related oils like canola oil, soybean oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, grapeseed, safflower, corn, sunflower and cottonseed. These seed oils have been touted for years as a “heart healthy” alternative to cooking with traditional fats that humans have eaten for thousands of years such as butter, tallow (beef fat), schmaltz (chicken fat), lard (pig fat), coconut oil and palm oil. The general thinking having been that saturated fats clogged your arteries — a hypothesis based on fake science that we’ll get to in a minute.
The problem with PUFAs is how they are extracted from the seed. Immense heat and pressure are applied to the raw material to extract the oil, and being that PUFAs are highly volatile, this makes them oxidize instantly. Before you even apply heat to that oil it has already been destroyed at the molecular level. The application of heat then transforms part of that oxidized PUFA into a trans-fat. Even if you could get the oil out of the seed without applying heat to it (no one has), the heat it is exposed to during cooking would render it rancid and carcinogenic.
So why would the entirety of America adhere to this doctrine and allow her citizens to become plagued with heart disease and innumerable health consequences related to PUFAs? Simply because it is more convenient. The AHA, ADA and ACS have been telling the American public that these PUFA seed oils are the answer to arterial plaque buildup and by extension that saturated fats will kill you. The AHA, ADA and ACS all receive large donations from the vegetable oil industry. Vegetable oil is not made from vegetables. It is made out of grains, namely corn, soy and canola. It also happens that America is heavily invested in seed/grain production, an affect leftover from WWII and the days of wondering how we were going to feed so many people in wartime. At one time, this may have been a good idea for the American people but now it reflects the interests of America’s wealthy investors and whom they influence in Washington. Once that new ball was rolling it would have been virtually impossible to pull a 180, reduce the now government subsidized large scale agriculture and return to small, bio-diverse family farming. America prides itself on capitalism and this would have been straight up Communism in our eyes. So the corn, soy, cotton and canola industries were allowed to prevail at the behest of Washington.
The 2016 USDA Corn and Soy production report states that there were 15.1 billion bushels of corn produced on American (subsidized) soil. That’s a lot of corn! Followed by 4.3 billion bushels of soy. (Soy is a rotation crop for corn, depositing nitrogen back into the soil as it grows.) Corn is the most pervasive crop in American agribusiness and we make everything out of it. From the insulation in your walls to that shiny coating on the magazine cover and…you guessed it, margarine and “vegetable oil”.
A man named Ancel Keys is mostly to blame for this massive deception that saturated fat (butter) kills you and PUFAs (margarine) are the answer. Keys was not a doctor or scientist but he had the chops and bravado to convince the American public that he was an authority on health and cardiology. In 1958 CBS released a documentary entitled “The Search” to warn us of the “New American Plague”, heart disease. Keys was the messenger and we turned to him looking for answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. Fear sells and we bought it.
Long story short, after WWII the Minnesota public health department hired Keys to investigate the rising rate of heart attacks. Through horrendously sloppy data, Keys surmised that saturated fats were the cause of heart disease. His peers laughed at his hypothesis and instead of returning to the drawing board. Keys decided to push his theory even harder to compensate for his bruised ego. The American Heart Association liked what Keys had to say as they depended — and still do — on large donations from agribusiness and the vegetable oil industry. The AHA managed to convince medical professionals that steak was “a heart attack on a plate” and that margarine was healthy. Since this met everyone’s bottom line requirements they have never recanted on their lie. Once again it would be hard to flip a 180 and admit error when that error has been serving American agribusiness and subsequently out health organizations so well.
The answer to why saturated fat is good for you and why PUFAs are bad is both simple, on a chemical level, and complex on a social, economic and political level. History and current affairs show, large organizations notoriously compromise ethics on the basis of increasing their bottom line. Whether in government, academics, healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry, education, agriculture or food production. When you are wondering who to believe and what to do just ask yourself one question: Who is getting rich off of you?
There is no money to be made in coconut oil for America’s agribusinessmen. Americas heartland is perfect for farming corn and soy but not coconuts. Hence the current re-vilification of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Agribusiness was starting to notice a dent in their profits that was directly linked to the public’s enthusiasm for coconut oil and butter. They took action by plying America’s health authorities with cash donations and requests for those organizations to publicly vilify saturated fats once again.
The fact that agricultural entities even have enough of a profit margin to lobby government organizations to do their bidding is a testament to American agriculture’s compromised ethics. Throughout history, farmers were never rich citizens. Farmers produced enough to supply a small local swath of customers and made a modest profit on those goods to support their families. They were the working class and still would be if large scale agribusiness had not pushed them off the land and into factories and cities. But that’s for another time.
Saturated fats are essential to your health, however you cannot just go buy a steak, a pound of butter and some bacon and just start chowing down. The quality of that saturated fat matters greatly. In the words of Michael Pollan, “you are what you eat eats”. PUFAs do to animals what they do to you. American beef cattle are now fed a diet of corn and soy, sprayed in a cocktail of pesticides and dosed with antibiotics. Cows are ruminant animals, meaning that their natural diet is grass. Ruminates cannot digest corn and soy. It’s like feeding a lactose intolerant person on only dairy products and expecting them to be healthy. The dairy and meat that comes from corn-fed cows is high in PUFAs and will clog your arteries whereas the dairy and meat from a grass-fed cow is comprised of healthy omega-3s and high quality saturated fats. The environment in which your meat animals are raised and what they are fed determines the quality of the end product. Buy grass-fed beef, pasture raised poultry and pastured pig products. Yes, high quality meats, grass-fed butter and pastured eggs will initially cost double but the health benefits will save you from a lifetime of ailments. Weight gain, depression, IBS, Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, high blood pressure, Parkinson, erectile dysfunction and many more diseases that plague our health can be reversed and prevented with a diet high in clean, healthy saturated fats. Investing in your health and becoming aware of where your food really comes from will pay off. We have a moral obligation as consumers to vote with our dollar, and purchasing organic and grass-fed animal products does just that. It creates a greater demand for bio-diversity, ethics, conscious consumption, human and animal health and environmental respect.
If you take anything away from this may it be that you are fully responsible for your own health. Americans have become far too trusting of corporations over the past hundred years. Complacency is not a privilege that we can afford anymore. Educate yourself on the subject and please don’t ask your doctor. Medical studies are funded by interested parties, it takes big money, money that comes from Big Pharma and Agribusiness. The majority of doctors are still stuck with the doctrine that Ancel Keys popularized and the AHA ran with. Educate yourself and be the keeper of your own health. This is a win-win situation: you get to eat butter, steak and bacon and you will be healthier from it. Life doesn’t get much better than that.