Is Red Meat & Saturated Fat Really So Bad?

Oct 27, 2013
Junk Science
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Have you ever thought it might be odd that something that various animals and humans have been consuming for thousands of years could be bad for our health?
Do lions and tigers die of coronary heart disease from eating a diet that is native to them? Yes these are absurd questions. One can argue certainly that grain-fed animals are likely to produce inferior sources of nutrition compared with pasture (grass-fed) animals. Ultimately, regardless of one’s position on meat, opting for animals that eat their native diet is always the best choice.

For at least three decades now it has been a “popular” message that saturated fats cause heart disease, obesity, and are unhealthy for cooking. Interestingly, the African Masai, North American Eskimos, Japanese, Greeks, French, and nomads of Tibet, all consume diets extremely high in saturated fats from animal sources yet experience low rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Lie #1: Saturated Fats Clog Arteries and Cause Heart Disease
In a three-year study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers examined the diets and coronary artery conditions of 235 women in the United States with an average age of 66.

At the study‚Äôs inception, researchers took X-rays of 10 locations along each woman’s coronary arteries, wherein all subjects were found to have some measure of plaque buildup. The women kept comprehensive records of the foods they ate and in what amounts, including the types of oils they used for frying and baking. At the end of the three year period, researchers then took a second set of X-rays.

It was found that women who had regularly eaten the highest amounts of saturated fats had the least amount of additional plaque buildup in their arteries. Also, women who ate more saturated fats had a healthier balance of good and bad cholesterol and more desirable blood concentrations of various kinds of fats. Factors such as age, education, smoking habits, and use of medication were accounted for by the researchers [1].

Another interesting study is the ongoing Framingham Heart Study, in which researcher Dr. William P. Castelli found that, “The more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. It was found that 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.”

Lastly, in the June 2010 Journal of Lipids, a low carbohydrate, high saturated diet was observed to have a reduction in blood levels of saturated fatty acids despite higher intake than a low fat diet. Additionally, a decrease in inflammation was found despite a significant increase in arachidonic acid.

The researchers concluded that dietary saturated fat is efficiently metabolized in the presence of low carbohydrate [2].

Lie #2: Saturated Fats Cause Obesity
Then there’s weight loss. This will probably sound strange to people who think fat makes us fat, but coconut oil is actually good for weight loss. In a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial involving forty women aged 20 to 40 years old, each participant received daily dietary supplements comprised of either 30 milliliters of soy bean or coconut oil over a 12-week period.

All of the women were instructed to follow a balanced diet and to walk for 50 minutes per day. At the end of the study, only the coconut supplemented group exhibited a reduction in their waistlines.

In another experiment, lab animals were fed either a low-fat diet with pure unsaturated oil or a high-fat diet with pure coconut oil. The researchers found that while even small amounts of unsaturated fat caused weight gain, the animals that consumed coconut oil remained lean. This is because coconut oil increases the metabolic rate, which means whoever is consuming the oil will burn calories faster and lose weight (or stay thin).

A real-life example of how coconut oil can elevate metabolic rates can be found in the people of the Yucatan. They consume high amounts of coconut as a staple food and their average metabolic rate is about 25 percent higher than that of people in the U.S.

Lie #3: Saturated Fats Used for Cooking are Unhealthy
As a saturated fat, coconut oil has fallen out of favor as a cooking oil because of its alleged role in heart disease. But over a decade ago, a study on cooking oils was reported in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association. The Department of Medicine at Safdarjang Hospital in New Delhi compared modern oils, such as sunflower and safflower, to coconut oil in relation to heart disease and Type II diabetes. The researchers found that while heart disease and diabetes had increased with consumption of the flower oils, it decreased with traditional oils like coconut oil. Decreased with coconut oil.

In another study on Lipoprotein(a), a pernicious cardiovascular risk factor, results indicated that a coconut oil-based diet favorably affected the fibrinolytic system, which regulates clotting and fibrin deposition, and Lipoprotein(a) concentrations compared with the unsaturated fatty acid diet. The proportions of dietary saturated fatty acids, more than the percentage of saturated fat energy, seem to have a beneficial influence on Lipoprotein(a) levels. In other words, coconut oil lowers Lipoprotein(a) and reduces plaque from atherosclerosis.

Health Benefits of Saturated Fat
Instead of harming our health, saturated fats provide a number of benefits:
Saturated fats from animal sources provide vitamin K2, which plays an important role in bone metabolism [4]. It has been shown to strengthen bone and protect against fractures.

Saturated fat improves the transport of calcium into the skeleton. For optimal calcium uptake, more than half of dietary fat should be from saturated fats [5].

Recent research shows that having enough saturated fat prevents strokes, and certain kinds of saturated fatty acids, found only in natural fats such as animal fats and coconut or palm kernel oils, protect our kidneys from disease.

Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

Phospholipids that form the membranes of our cells are made from saturated fat, adding stability to cells and making them more flexible. Over 50 percent of cell membranes are comprised of saturated fats. This is especially true for parts of our brains where more than 80 percent of the phospholipids carry half of their fatty acids as saturated fatty acids.

Saturated fatty acids, such as 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated.[6]

The Real Purveyors of Disease
So if it’s not the saturated fat, what exactly is causing the rise in heart disease and obesity? If not already guessed, it is processed food that contains adulterated forms of oils and grains which contain a litany of problems. For example, “popular” so-called ‘heart-healthy’ oils like canola that are doing much of the damage. Often they contain herbicide residues which alter our metabolism, and are severely processed. When these oils are heated, they convert into trans fats and also produce large amounts of free radicals.

These trans-fats are 97% positively correlated with arterial plaque and experts are now suggesting that trans-fats are responsible for between 30,000 and 100,000 heart disease deaths per year. Harvard researchers are calling trans-fats “the biggest food processing disaster in U.S. history.”

It has been determined that a 2% increase in calorie intake from trans fat has been associated with a 23% increase in cardiovascular risk. The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fats to less than one percent of calorie intake, and the American Dietetic Association, the Institute of Medicine, US Dietary Guidelines, and the National Cholesterol Education Project all recommend limiting dietary trans-fat intake from industrial sources as much as possible. Unfortunately, food manufactures are allowed to make the claim of “trans-fat free” when their content is less than half of a gram per serving. Yet, many products containing nearly a half a gram of trans fat, when consumed over the course of a day, can easily exceed the 2 gram maximum as recommended by American Heart Association [7].

[1] Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov;80(5):1102-3. Saturated fat prevents coronary artery disease? An American paradox.
[2] Lipids. 2010 Sep 7, Limited Effect of Dietary Saturated Fat on Plasma Saturated Fat in the Context of a Low Carbohydrate Diet.
[3] Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.
[4] 1999; 340(25): 1994-1998 “Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease,” The New England Journal of Medicine
[5] Clin Calcium. 2009 Dec;19(12):1797-804.