Saturated Fats Are Healthy!

Saturated fats are still considered the bad guys, and unsaturated fats are the good guys. So if you want to reduce your cardiovascular risk, you should avoid saturated fatty acids – according to the widespread opinion. Again and again, however, scientific studies show that saturated fats are harmless, do not affect cholesterol levels, and even lower blood lipid levels. But then who is the real bad guy? Who raises the cholesterol level, who raises the blood lipids, and who causes strokes and heart attacks?

Saturated Fat – What do YOU think?

The majority of health-conscious people still believe that fats and oils, which are mostly saturated fat, are unhealthy and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. This is not a wonder. Because this is exactly what is still being spread not only in the media but also by nutritionists and doctors with full conviction.

And that’s not surprising either, since the scientific world has been discussing this very topic extremely heatedly for more than 50 years – without reaching a consensus. So coconut oil and butter are meticulously avoided. If you do eat them, then with a guilty conscience, before quickly resorting to margarine and sunflower oil again. Unsaturated fatty acids, which everyone associates with the best of health, dominate there.

Questionable studies on saturated fats

Of course, there have been many studies in the past, all of which warned against saturated fatty acids and led to the general fat phobia in the first place. But they could not withstand closer scrutiny. The scientist Ancel Keys was once particularly committed, who fueled the general rejection of fat by repeatedly publishing dubious studies from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In his Seven Countries Study, for example, he compared cholesterol levels, fat consumption, and heart attack rates in seven countries and tried to find connections. He also found it: The more saturated fats were eaten, the higher the cholesterol levels and heart attack rates. The data came from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, and the USA.

But now it turned out that a completely different result would have come out if Keys had simply chosen a different country combination, e.g. B. Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Sweden. (Note: The Netherlands appears in both country combinations, so this is not an error.) The heart attack rate for this new country combination showed that the more saturated fat people ate, the less likely they were to have heart attacks.

So why did Keys choose his preferred countries? Because they proved his thesis so nicely?

The more saturated fats, the healthier.

However, some saturated fatty acids can actually increase the cholesterol level – not only the LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) but also the HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) and thus even improve – as we have long known – the Cholesterol quotient (ratio between LDL and HDL cholesterol). The better the cholesterol quotient, the better protected you are from coronary heart problems.

However, not all saturated fats affect cholesterol levels. Only three of them do this: lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid. However, as explained above, two of these (lauric and myristic acid) improve the cholesterol ratio because they raise HDL cholesterol more than LDL cholesterol. Only palmitic acid is said to raise LDL cholesterol more (but only slightly more) than HDL cholesterol.

However, since palmitic acid is never consumed alone, its minimal LDL preference is usually offset by the properties of the other fatty acids that make up fat. All other saturated fatty acids – and thus the majority of all saturated fatty acids – have nothing to do with cholesterol levels. That means they don’t affect him in any way. So you don’t lower it, but you don’t raise it either. And hard to believe: At the same time, they lower blood fat levels (triglycerides).

Saturated fats lower blood lipid levels

However, if saturated fats not only have little effect on cholesterol levels but also lower blood lipid levels, then that would mean that if we ate more saturated fatty acids, we would be healthier. Because high blood lipid levels in combination with low HDL cholesterol levels (when LDL levels are too high) are a problem for countless people, almost all of those people who go through life are overweight and/or lack exercise and are therefore at enormous risk of civilization diseases wear kind.

But who then increases the LDL cholesterol level? And who is driving blood lipid levels up? Well, what’s the consequence of eating less fat? Exactly, people are now eating more carbohydrates and believe that this will correct obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and chaotic blood lipid levels. What is happening? You get fatter and sicker.

Isolated carbs are the real bad guys

Isolated carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, starch) such as those found in cakes, pasta and baked goods, pastries, sweets, snacks, etc. cause high triglyceride levels. This is because they are usually consumed in quantities that are too large in relation to what is actually needed. However, any excess carbohydrate is immediately converted into triglycerides. Before doing so, however, they raise blood sugar levels—especially if they’re carbohydrates with a high glycemic load.

When it comes to cholesterol levels, on the other hand, it seems that you can lower it if you eat low-fat and high-carbohydrates at the same time – but you not only lower the LDL level, but also the cheap HDL, which in turn is not good for vascular health at all.

Additionally, the only good news (low LDL levels) of the high-carb, low-fat diet isn’t really good at all. Because the LDL cholesterol particles are now decreasing in number. In return, the LDL particles that are still present become small, dense, and compact. The large LDL particles are considered to be quite unproblematic. They are small, and dense but are strongly suspected of damaging the blood vessels.

Saturated fats keep triglyceride levels low

A 2014 study by Ohio State University in the US showed the proposition that eating saturated fat does not increase triglyceride levels ( 1Trusted Source ). Not even when study participants ate twice as much saturated fat did their triglyceride levels increase. This only happened when subjects consumed most of their calories from unhealthy carbohydrates. A diet with saturated fats, on the other hand, caused the level to drop again.

Further studies confirm – Saturated fats are not a problem

A meta-analysis of over 70 studies from 2014 showed very similar connections. Researchers from the University of Cambridge reported on this in the Annals of Internal Medicine and wrote that increased consumption of saturated fat increased cardiovascular risk after evaluating all of these studies does not seem to increase.

Also in 2014, researchers wrote that the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains, and olive oil, was better at protecting against cardiovascular events than a low-fat diet and also better or as good as taking statins.

Another meta-analysis was published in July 2015. Russell de Souza of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario, confirmed the results of the Cambridge analysis and reported that fats high in saturated fat did not adversely affect cardiovascular health, and the risk of death did not increase by diseases in this area. The risk of type 2 diabetes does not increase if you like to eat saturated fats (e.g. butter or coconut oil).

And in 2017, a study found that saturated fat was not responsible for atherosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis, on the other hand, is an inflammatory vascular disease that can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle (no unhealthy carbohydrates (sugar, pastries), no obesity, lots of exercises, enough sleep, no stress, etc.).

Are studies on saturated fat credible?

However, it is worth noting that some studies claiming that saturated fats are harmless are not always particularly credible. Because the scientists involved are often no longer independent and are instead on the payroll of the meat and dairy industry or want to promote their own companies, such as apps for ketogenic nutrition. For more information, see the previous link.

Nonetheless, there are fatty acids that are always a risk and that have been in many processed carbohydrate foods (baked goods, candy) for many decades: the trans fats.

Trans fats are harmful across the board

Trans fatty acids are a subgroup of unsaturated fatty acids, so they have nothing to do with saturated fats either. They are particularly harmful and come from industrial fat processing.

If fats have to be hardened there for better handling, trans fatty acids can arise. Trans-fatty acids can also form when oils are repeatedly heated for deep-frying. They have an unfavorable effect on all cholesterol values, they have a pro-inflammatory effect, inhibit the positive properties of omega-3 fatty acids, and cause malfunctions in the cell membrane.

The easiest way to avoid trans fats is to avoid processed foods that contain any type of processed fat, such as B. confectionery, chips, fries, pizza, baked goods, etc. However, the food industry has made great efforts in recent years (as of 2021) and drastically reduced the content of trans fats in ready-to-eat foods. So unless you live exclusively on fried food from the fry shop, trans fats should only pose a minor problem these days.

Are omega-6 fatty acids – e.g. B. Sunflower oil – healthier?

After decades of warnings about saturated fatty acids, people have long since become accustomed to margarine and sunflower oil, although margarine is often also preferably made from sunflower oil. Is Sunflower Oil Healthy?

Sunflower oil consists mainly of polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are hardly found in sunflower oil. Sunflower oil therefore also has an extremely poor omega-6-omega-3 ratio, namely 128 to 1.

However, a ratio of about 3 to 5 to 1 would be desirable. Only then are both omega fatty acids in balance, support each other and promote human health. If the omega-6 fatty acids predominate, then they inhibit the omega-3 fatty acids, which leads to chronic inflammation in the long term.

Since almost all lifestyle diseases are associated with precisely this chronic inflammation, a poor omega-6-omega-3 balance is anything but advisable.

Replacing saturated fatty acids with omega-6 fatty acids therefore brings – and this is also the opinion of the New York cardiovascular researcher Dr. James DiNicolantonio – absolutely nothing unless you also increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This is the only way to reduce the risk of disease and in particular cardiovascular risk.

Fatty liver, diabetes, and obesity due to omega-6 fatty acids

Moreover, as we have seen above, a complete replacement of saturated fat is not necessary.

On the contrary: Oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids have clear disadvantages. On the one hand, the already mentioned inflammation promotion. On the other hand, a study showed that oils such as sunflower oil or even soybean oil, when consumed in today’s usual amounts (ie not in excessive amounts), can make you fat and cause fatty liver and diabetes.

dr Frances Sladek, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at the University of California, examined the different health effects of three oils:

Soybean oil, soybean oil from GM soya, and coconut oil

  • Soybean oil is normally composed very similarly to sunflower oil, namely about 60 percent linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), 15 percent saturated fatty acids, and 25 percent monounsaturated fatty acids. Soybean oil has a 90 percent market share of all seed oils in the United States. Recently, oil made from genetically modified soya can also be sold there in the food sector.
  • Genetically modified soybean oil is made from genetically modified soybeans from the biotechnology company DuPont. The GM beans have the fatty acid composition of olive oil, i.e. they have a higher content of monounsaturated fatty acids and only a few omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid).
  • Coconut oil, on the other hand, is a typical representative of saturated fats and consists of up to 90 percent of them.

Four groups of subjects (mice) received one of the three oils for six months – in an amount of 40 percent of the daily calories, as is also the case in the typical Western diet.

The fourth group was the control group. She ate a low-fat diet, consuming just 5 percent of her daily calories from fat.

The researchers then found that GM soybean oil, like regular soybean oil, causes obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver. The soybean oil mice also weighed 38 percent heavier, and the GM soybean oil mice weighed 30 percent heavier than the low-fat mice.

The coconut oil group, on the other hand, had a relatively normal weight, only 13 percent heavier than the low-fat control group. In the coconut oil group, there was only rarely diabetes and hardly any fatty liver.

What can be derived from all this information for a healthy diet? Which fats can be used without hesitation?

Which fats are healthy?

Coconut oil in particular is ideal for frying like no other fat because it can be heated to high temperatures. Frying oils based on high-oleic sunflower oil (high-oleic sunflower oil) or peanut oil can also be heated to high temperatures.

High-quality extra virgin olive oil can be used for cooking and also for salads. Olive oil can be heated up to 160 degrees, i.e. for mild frying.

Omega-6-rich oils should only be used sparingly, if at all (sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil). If you use omega-6-rich oils, then make sure you balance them with omega-3-rich oils (linseed oil, hemp oil, walnut oil), or even better: take algae oil capsules as a dietary supplement.

The latter directly supply the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are otherwise only found in fish oil. Algae oil capsules are the only vegan source of larger amounts of these fatty acids, e.g. B. the omega-3 capsules from effective nature.

The oils mentioned (linseed, hemp, and walnut oil) “only” contain the short-chain omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid). Although these also have health benefits, they are only converted to a small extent into long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, so that the latter could be deficient despite the plentiful consumption of vegetable oils.

Since omega-6 fatty acids are usually also found in abundance in ready-made products (dressings, sauces, canned fish, pizza, pasta salads, etc.), the omega-6-omega-3 balance is often shifted in favor of omega-6 fatty acids if you don’t use any omega-6 oils in the kitchen itself.

Remember that omega-3 fatty acids are extremely sensitive. They should only be stored in a cool and dark place, used only for raw food, and should be consumed as fresh as possible, i.e. within a few weeks.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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