The many health benefits of saturated fats have largely been ignored in recent decades, as scientists, health experts and health authorities focus mainly on their supposed dangers.
In the process, many people forget that saturated fats are actually
- necessary for health
- highly beneficial in many ways.
Another indication of the benefits of saturated fats is this:
- Human breast milk contains high levels of saturated fats – and cholesterol!
If these two substances are harmful, babies would start to develop heart disease and other degenerative diseases from a young age. They don’t. On the contrary, both saturated fat and cholesterol are essential for growth in babies, especially for healthy brain development.
When we examine the historical usage of fats and oils for cooking, some startling facts emerge:
- Saturated fats have been used by human societies as the MAIN form of cooking oil for thousands of years – lard in China, butter in Europe, ghee in India, coconut oil in the tropics – without causing any harm.
- In modern times, the rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other degenerative diseases began to shoot up AFTER people started to eat less saturated fats and switch to polyunsaturated vegetable oils, as well as artificial fats like margarine, which contain harmful trans fats.
We take a closer look now at the many benefits of saturated fats:
Saturated Fat & Traditional societies
Japanese in Okinawa
The people of Okinawa, an island in Southern Japan, are well known for their longevity and excellent health – to the extent that books have been written about the Okinawa diet. The main cooking oil used by the people of Okinawa is pork lard.
The Japanese, in general, are also known for their good health and long lives. This is often attributed to a low fat diet, but it is not true. Although the Japanese eat few dairy fats, the notion that their diet is low in fat is a myth; rather, it contains moderate amounts of eggs, pork, chicken, beef, organ meat, fish (fatty fish like tuna and salmon) and seafood. These are all foods relatively high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
Well known for their love of good food, the French also have low rates of heart disease and other degenerative diseases compared with, say, the Americans. The French diet contains lots of saturated fats in the form of butter, cheese, cream. eggs, meats and liver, including pates.
Apart from using butter generously in their cooking, some French cuisine also feature goose fat!
in France the death rate from heart disease is 145 per 100,000, compared with 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men who die of heart attacks in the US each year. In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this death rate from heart disease is only 80 per 100,000.
The relatively good health of the French, called The French Paradox, is often attributed to them drinking wine. This could well be a reason.
But when one accepts the view that there are many health benefits of saturated fats, then the good health enjoyed by the French begin to make more sense.
Other Mediterranean groups
In general, people of the Mediterranean countries consume quite large amounts of saturated fats – and enjoy good health.
One explanation often cited is olive oil but, in fact, many of these people take far more saturated fats than olive oil. On the Greek island of Crete, for example, fat makes up about 70 percent of the total diet!
Again, while Olive oil is beneficial, these people are also enjoying the health benefits of saturated fats.
The Jews, when they lived in Yemen, ate plenty of saturated fats from eggs, meat and butter. Yet they had low rates of heart disease and diabetes.
Modern Jews in Israel consume margarine and vegetable cooking oils – plus plenty of sugar. And they suffer high rates of heart disease and cancer.
Indians in North and South India
Originally, Indians in the North consumed plenty of meat and they cooked with ghee or clarified butter, which is high in saturated fats. Indians in the South were more vegetarian and fish eaters, and they cooked with coconut oil, which is also high in saturated fats.
Both groups originally had low rates of heart disease. Then the South Indians began to use less coconut oil and more margarine / vegetable cooking oils. And they developed a much higher rate of heart disease compared with North Indians who took a lot more saturated fats.
Now, the North Indians are also beginning to switch from ghee to margarine – and the heart disease rate is starting to increase.
Other societies that enjoy the health benefits of saturated fats include:
- Swiss, Austrians and Greeks, who live as long as the Japanese but take much more fatty diets.
- The people of Soviet Georgia – where a study found that those who eat the most fatty meat lived the longest.
- The Eskimos who, because of their harsh environment, eat
mainly meat and lard. They, too, have low rates of heart disease and
“clean” arteries that are not clogged up with saturated fats.
- The Masai, an African tribe whose diet consists primary of meat, blood and milk.
We take a closer look now at the many benefits of saturated fats for different body functions and organs:
Saturated Fat & Heart Benefits
Saturated fats are commonly regarded as harmful for the heart, yet the heart is probably the one organ that benefits most from saturated fats.
They are the PREFERRED FUEL for the heart – meaning the heart works best when it is fueled by saturated fats. This is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. During times of stress, the heart draws on this reserve of saturated fat.
Does Saturated Fat Prevent Heart Lesions?
In the 1970s, Canadian researchers studied rapeseed oil and canola oil, which, they believed, had the “ideal” profile with the best combination of mono-unsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats.
However, they found that animals given exclusively canola oil developed heart lesions (tissue damage). When these animals were given saturated fats, they no longer developed heart lesions.
Cholesterol & Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are commonly blamed for raising cholesterol levels. But they raise both the levels of good HDL cholesterol as well as the so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol.
In contrast, trans fats raise the “bad” cholesterol and lowers the “good” cholesterol. A Mayo Clinic article calls this effect a double whammy!
I write “bad”between inverted commas because there is also controversy about whether cholesterol is really bad. Life saturated fats, cholesterol impart many health benefits. This will be discussed in greater depth in another article.
Another of the benefits of saturated fats is that it lowers Lp(a) or Lipoprotein(a) – a substance in the blood that has been linked to heart disease. Although Lp(a) is a type of “bad” cholesterol, saturated fats lowers the level of this substance.
Many scientific studies appear to “prove” that saturated fats cause heart disease. But all of these studies did not differentiate between saturated fats and trans fats.
In September 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported: “The conclusion of an analysis of the history and politics behind the diet-heart hypothesis was that after 50 years of research, there was no evidence that a diet low in saturated fat prolongs life.”
Framingham Heart Study
The Framingham Heart Study, started in 1948 and still on-going, is one of the biggest research projects on heart health. In 1992, study leader Dr William Castelli wrote in Archives of Internal Medicine: “In Frammingham, Massachusetts… the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
Integrity of cells
Probably the most important of all benefits of saturated fats is that they preserve the integrity of our cells.
Our cell membranes consist of 50 percent saturated fats – they are supposed to anyway. Adequate intake of saturated fats therefore help ensure that the stiffness and integrity of our cell membranes.
This, in turn, protects our cells against virus attacks. It enhances our immunity against diseases.
In modern societies, the cell walls of some people contain as much as 20 percent trans fats. These cells are distorted and weak, making a person prone to infection.
Destroying viruses, bacteria and other harmful elements
While saturated fats preserve the integrity of our cell walls, they DESTROY the cell walls of many harmful microorganisms, including virus, bacteria, fungi and parasites.
In particular, two groups of saturated fats – the short-chain fatty acids / triglycerides and medium chain fatty acids / triglycerides work powerfully to destroy these organisms without causing any adverse side effects.
These short and medium chain fatty acids include lauric, capric and caprylic acids, and they are found abundantly in products like coconut oil, palm oil and butter – as well as human breast milk.
Research in the Philippines found that lauric acid, and its extract, monolaurin, is effective in destroying the HIV virus that causes Aids.
Caprylic acid is effective against candida, a fungi infection that is well-known for being extremely hard to treat, with pharmaceutical drugs for the condition causing very serious side effects.
Yet the way these saturated fats work is perfectly safe – they merely dissolve the cell walls of harmful microorganisms and thus do not cause harmful side effects.
Saturated Fat & Preventing Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis, the loss of calcium from the bones, has become a serious problem in modern societies, affecting large sections of the population.
There are two aspects to solving this problem – ensuring adequate calcium intake and calcium absorption, as well as preventing calcium loss.
For the body to absorb calcium effectively, at least 50 percent of the dietary fats should be saturated. This explains why foods that are rich in calcium, like milk, usually comes with large amounts of saturated fats.
It also tells us that modern milk products – such as ‘High-Low’ milk with high levels of calcium but low levels of saturated fats – do not work! They merely cater to modern misconceptions.
Also needed for calcium absorption and bone health is Vitamin D. It is found abundantly in high fat animal products such as liver.
Another important fat-soluble vitamin found in products like liver is Vitamin A. In nature, it is commonly observed that when animals kill their prey, they eat the liver first.
Protecting the liver
Talking about the liver… saturated fats protect the liver against toxicity from alcohol and certain pharmaceutical drugs such as Tylenol.
In recent years, much attention has been focused on Omega 3, which is one of two essential fatty acids, the other being Omega 6. These are said to be essential because they contribute to health and we need to consume them from food, as the body cannot produce these substances.
Among other things, adequate intake of Omega 3 and Omega 6 – especially a correct balance between the two – protects against heart disease and a host of other degenerative diseases.
One or the problems of modern societies is that most people take too little Omega 3 and, at the same time, too much Omega 6 – because of the modern emphasis on vegetable oils, which are rich in Omega 6.
Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat. But while it is important, the body needs saturated fats for the proper utilization of Omega 3.
Elongated omega-3 fatty acids – the type most widely studied and found to protect the heart and impart other health benefits – are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
High heat cooking
Two factors characterize traditional Chinese hawker food – the use of saturated fats such as pork lard and the use of high heat.
This pairing makes perfect sense because saturated fats can withstand high heat. It is a scientific fact that polyunsaturated cooking oils become rancid when exposed to heat, light and air. Rancid oil is highly toxic.
The most suitable oils for high heat cooking are therefore the saturated fats – lard, butter, ghee, palm oil, coconut oil etc. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive, sesame and peanut, can also tolerate high heat.
Polyunsaturated fats – such as corn, soybean, safflower, canola, etc – in their natural state, turn rancid most easily. Yet they are typically extracted by high heat and chemical solvents.
In the 1980s, the US made fast food companies switch from beef fat to vegetable oils for deep frying. These companies started frying with man-made hydrogenated fats, which can withstand high heat. Today, scientists realize that hydrogenated fats contain trans fats that are much more harmful than saturated fats!
A team of researches from Finland reported in 2001 that children who developed allergies tended to eat less butter and more margarine.
It was not the first to suggest that certain types of fatty acids may play a role in the onset of allergic diseases. Polyunsaturated fats like those in margarine are thought to promote the formation of prostaglandin E2, a substance that promotes inflammation and causes the immune system to release a protein that triggers allergic reactions.
There are many, many more benefits of saturated fats. I don’t know them all and I don’t think it is necessary to know.
What is important to know, however, is that saturated fats are highly beneficial to health in many, many ways. And that they are not harmful.
The harm arises when people try to avoid saturated fats and end up taking unnatural products like margarine that contain deadly trans fats. Sadly, this is what many health authorities are recommending.