Standing up for saturated fat - BNF Healthy Eating Week

Saturated fats get a bad rap.

Fat, including saturated fat, gets the blame for increased the risk of coronary heart disease, high LDL cholesterol levels, contributing to blood vessel blockage, and increased body fat. It’s no wonder that after hearing these risks, many people chose to a diet that’s low in saturated fat.

But that’s not the whole story.

In reality, there’s actually very little evidence that a diet that’s low in saturated fat will lower the chances of any of these ailments. And what you don’t often hear is that saturated fats are essential for a healthy diet. Vitamins A, D, E and K actually need saturated fat. It’s essential to help break these vitamins down so that the body can absorb them.

Many of the most prevalent diseases can actually be avoided by following a healthy diet. However, what constitutes a healthy diet for one person may differ hugely for another. Our ancestry plays a huge role in dictating how nutrients are absorbed into our bodies. For example, indigenous Inuit diets can contain 90-98% saturated animal fats and animal protein. If you compare this to westernised health recommendations, you would expect them to have serious heart problems. In fact, their levels of heart disease are far lower than in western cultures.

So what’s the problem with saturated fat?

The myth about saturated fat

Somewhere along the way, saturated fat became the villain.

We often hear about “good” and “bad” fats, but it’s not always clear what the difference is.

Fats referred to as good fats tend to be unsaturated fats. Whilst saturated - and trans - fats are bad. But this view is too simplistic. In reality, every cell in our body contains

saturated fat. It’s crucial for our wellbeing and provides strength and integrity to our structures; without it, we’d be like a tent without poles.

Today’s perception of a healthy diet can be equally unstructured.

We’re often encouraged to eat small amounts of lean meats and proteins. Not only that, we trim any saturated fat off of food. Instead, we’re advised to fill our plates

with starchy carbohydrates and vegetables; fats make up 10% or less of our total calorie intake.

The hidden enemy: trans fats

Unfortunately, we can’t always eat fresh. And it’s understandable how saturated fat might have got the stigma that it has today. This type of fat is often found in convenience foods; unhealthy alternatives that are packed with toxic ingredients. But they’re not alone. They also contain the worst type of fat: trans.

Trans fats are created when hydrogen molecules are added to vegetable oils. This changes the chemical property of the oils and allows them to solidify at room temperature. They’re used to give foods longer shelf lives, whilst stabilising the flavour of the foods they’re added to. However, for the past few years, it’s been widely reported that trans fats are dangerous. They’re known to raise cholesterol and increase the chances of:

  • Heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer's
  • Infertility in women

To make matters worse, these types of fats are often found in many types of calorie-counting ready meals.

Dieting and the fatty trap

What we’re not often told is that fat is actually a highly nutritious substance; it contains up to three times the amount of calories per gram than proteins or carbohydrates, making it a great source of energy! People often avoid fat because they think eating it will make them overeat, and become overweight, this is just not the case.

Diets that encourage you to cut down on calories and fats could actually lead to long-term fat storage. The body has evolved to store food efficiently, ensuring that it doesn’t run out of energy.

Significantly cutting down on calories will increase the production of fat storing enzymes. What’s more, it decreases the production of fat burning enzymes. And when you do return to your normal diet, your body will still be in fat storing mode.

Unfortunately, this is why it’s so common for people to put the weight back on that they’ve worked so hard to lose.

The trouble is that one size doesn’t fit all with diet. Everyone needs a unique balance of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and nutrients to work efficiently.

Considering all of this information, it’s still important to eat fats in moderation; they should be consumed alongside a healthy, active lifestyle. However, saturated fat - the natural kind - is very different from what’s inside processed foods.

So we’re standing up for saturated fat. Trans fat is the real enemy.
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