For as long as I’ve been studying and researching nutrition, saturated fats have been labeled as bad fats that carry a number of negative health consequences, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity. I have no doubt that you’re already aware of these claims since the media and major health care organizations have been touting this for many years. However, there is a very important shift taking place in the way fats and specifically saturated fats are being perceived, which is creating a lot of confusion even amongst health professionals. So the ultimate question is, are saturated fats good or bad for our health?
We have been told to stay away from saturated fats for as long as I can remember. However, if we compare the prevalence of heart disease, obesity, and cholesterol to those of our ancestors or even more primitive societies who use saturated fats as staples in their diets, what you will find is that the rates of disease in modern society have skyrocketed!
For instance, studies done on populations who consume a large majority of their calories from saturated coconut oil have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease. Another example is the traditional diet of the Inuit, which consists of beluga blubber and raw seal brain. Although their diet is high in saturated fat, the rates of heart disease are also nearly non-existent. This makes you question the advice that we have been given all of these years and makes you wonder how this can be.
The answer in my opinion is simple. Not all saturated fats are created equal. While some may prove to have beneficial properties, others are in fact harmful. My goal is to help you understand the difference.
The Good vs. Bad
The difference between good and bad saturated fats depends on whether or not they occur naturally or if they have been created or manipulated by man.
Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats, are unsaturated fats such as vegetable and seed oils that have been artificially altered by adding hydrogen atoms in order to extend the shelf life of a product and increase profits. Most people are now aware that hydrogenated or trans fats should be avoided and it is now a united consensus amongst health professionals that these fats are harmful to our health. How do you avoid these fats? Simply read the list of ingredients to make sure no hydrogenated oils are being used. Fried foods, man-made creamy sauces, vegetable & seed oils, and conventionally grown animal products are also the type of saturated fats to avoid.
On the other hand, naturally occurring saturated fats, like those found in coconut oil and “organically” raised animals are in fact beneficial to our health. By organically raised, I mean animals who eat and grow the way nature intended, which is a far cry from the animal products you will find in our supermarkets today. Factory farming and feedlot animals do not have the same ratios of beneficial fats that organically or naturally raised animals do, which is the ultimate problem – and not to mention, the added hormones and antibiotics that these animals are given.
So are true organic free-range eggs good for us? Yes. Are avocados good for us? Absolutely. Naturally occurring saturated fats do not pose a health problem because nature has a way of balancing things out.
Why Are Some Saturated Fats Good For Us While Others Are Not?
Once again, the difference lies in the chemical structure of the fat itself. If we take coconut oil as an example, half of its saturated fat has a special ingredient that is rarely found in nature called lauric acid, which has many unique health properties.
In addition, the chemical make-up of this fat (a medium-chain fatty acid or MCFA) makes it more useable by the body, thereby putting less strain on your digestive system and making it a direct source of energy by your liver as opposed to being stored as fat. It has also been shown to help stimulate your metabolism, which can therefore help with weight loss. You can even rub it directly onto your skin for a smoother and more youthful-looking appearance. If you live in the UAE or Bahrain, the Organic Foods and Café now sell a range of organic coconut products.
In contrast, the long chain fatty acids (LCFA’s) that are commonly found in vegetable and seed oils are more difficult for your body to break down, which causes more strain on your pancreas, liver, and digestive system. These types of fats are usually stored as body fat and deposited in your arteries as cholesterol, making them less healthy than medium chain fatty acids like those in coconut oil.
What Oil Is Best For Cooking?
Extra virgin olive oil is by far the best choice of oil to use when eaten RAW like in salads. However, for cooking, you want to choose oil that is resistant to heat, which again is coconut oil. The chemical structure in olive oil, butter, canola oil and all other types of vegetable and seed oils are susceptible to oxidative damage when they are heated making coconut oil the best option when using mild heat.
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