An Acquittal for Saturated Fat
Growing up I learned that fat was bad. Butter, beef, nuts, avocado – all “fattening” (seriously, we never had guacamole in my house growing up for this very reason). Lean meat lean beef lean lean lean has been drilled into us for the past thirty or so years. Even the American Heart Association – trusted resource for all things heart disease – recommends limiting saturated fat to just 5% of daily intake If you eat a 2,000 calorie diet, that leaves you with about 11 grams or less than a tablespoon of coconut oil per day. (Although as a side note I somewhat question AHA’s wisdom after learning they endorsed Subway as a healthy meal option. But I digress.) Heck, I even learned it in college, and told I don’t know how many patients while I was working in the hospital to “choose lean meats and avoid foods high in saturated fat”. There has been questioning of this saturated fat-heart disease link recently, with a lot of it coming from the Paleo camp (Robb Wolf, etc).
Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has cleared saturated fat of its charges. The review looked at 21 studies of over 347,000 people with follow up anywhere from 5-23 years. The results found no association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Basically, there is no evidence to conclude that saturated fat is the devil incarnate.
What Does This Mean?
My general rule about saturated fat remains unchanged (and is essentially supported) by this study. Don’t be afraid of sat fat – there are a lot of food containing saturated fat that provide nutrients we need. Beef for example, is a good source of iron (which is needed to produce hemoglobin, a part of red cells that shuttles oxygen through the body. Not getting enough iron can result in anemia) and zinc (important for wound healing and immune health). But, most if not all of your saturated fat should still come from healthy, whole food sources – meat, milk, eggs, butter, etc and not from fried/processed foods or high sugar foods (like ice cream). Just as with carbohydrates, it’s not about the nutrient itself, it’s about where it comes from and the quality of that source.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be afraid of saturated fat. Just get it from the right place.