Saturated fat is bad for you, right? If you asked 100 people that question, 99 would probably agree with you. We've wrongfully vilified this important nutrient for so long, people speak of saturated fat as though they’re certain it’s unhealthy. Most people don’t know that what they’re saying is completely false.
Fortunately, people eventually realized the world wasn’t flat. Hopefully, with the vast number of review papers being published in respected journals, refuting the “saturated fat is bad” mantra, we’ll eventually get the truth out there about saturated fat as well. You can help by getting a better understanding of how this nutrient impacts your health, or even sharing the points below with your friends and family.
8 Reasons Saturated Fat Is Good For You
Though there are more than eight, I’ve highlighted 8 reasons eating more saturated fats (and the foods they’re found in) can help improve your health.
1. Replacing vegetable oils with saturated fat can reduce the risk of heart disease
More than likely, you've been given the opposite advice. Vegetable oils tend to be high in omega-6 linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Though some research has shown that replacing saturated fat in the diet lowers LDL cholesterol, the effect of the lower LDL cholesterol hasn't been shown to lower heart disease risk. In fact, research shows that replacing saturated fats with omega-6 fats increases the risk of heart disease.
It is thought, since PUFAs are more prone to lipid peroxidation, or being attacked by free radicals, that PUFAs actually lead to the development of atherosclerosis. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are very stable and are not oxidized.
2. Replacing vegetable oils with saturated fat may reverse non-alcoholic fatty liver
About 20% of the population has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD, as the name suggests, is the development of excessive fat in the liver. Some suggest fructose consumption plays a major role in this disease, but it’s also possible that the population’s major reliance on vegetable oils can play a role. Researchers from the University of Arkansas found that replacing PUFAs with medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) helped reverse the development of NAFLD. Medium-chain triglycerides are prevalent in dairy and coconut fat.
3. Whole foods with saturated fats are nutrient dense
Some of the richest whole-food sources of saturated fat are also rich in other nutrients. Take eggs, for example. The yolk has about ten times as much calcium as the white, twenty times the folate, and is a good source of vitamin A and omega-3s, whereas the white has none. Cheese is rich in riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and depending on the type of cheese, several other nutrients.
4. Cooking with saturated fats is safer than vegetable oils
When vegetable oils are exposed to higher temperatures, they become oxidized. Sautéing and frying with canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil and many other vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fats. It’s bad enough to eat them, based on the fact they seem to raise heart disease risk alone. However, cooking with them causes quick oxidation of the fats, creating a lot of free radicals in the food you eat. Butter and coconut oil, or even bacon grease and lard, are far more stable oils to cook with when needed. That said, it you just buy fattier cuts of meat, you don’t need to use as much added oils for cooking, except when sautéing or roasting vegetables.
5. Whole food saturated fats taste good
Bacon, butter, coconut, and fattier cuts of meat add palatability to meals. I remember in the days when I saw a chicken breast as healthier than chicken thighs, I had to add a bunch of low-fat, sugary junk to the chicken breast to make it taste good. Most people find the thighs taste much better, just as whole eggs taste better than egg whites, 85% lean ground beef has more flavor than 90% lean, whole milk is more satisfying than skim milk, etc. Of course, this point is based a little more on opinion than scientific research, but I've found most people would agree. If you feel more satisfied from the meal you just ate, you’ll be less likely to snack on junk later in the day.
6. Saturated fats raise HDL and lower the total cholesterol/HDL ratio
There’s growing debate as to whether cholesterol levels themselves should be viewed as significant indicators of heart disease risk. However, with what’s known today, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C is considered the most telling measure of risk. When saturated fats replace PUFAs, in some people it may raise total cholesterol, but it mainly does so by raising HDL. Of course, higher HDL levels are thought to be protective. Higher HDL levels also lower the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.
7. Some saturated fats support the immune system
MCTs again get the spotlight here. These fats found in dairy and coconut are pretty powerful fats. As good as they are to consume, many people also benefit from using coconut oil on their skin in place of other creams and lotions. These MCTs support the immune system, and some studies have shown they also help boost metabolism.
8. Saturated fat (and cholesterol) help support production of sex hormones
Testosterone plays an important role for men and women in the maintenance or development of lean body mass. Research has shown a diet where saturated fats are replaced with unsaturated fats lowers the production of sex hormones. It’s bad enough that 25% of men over 30 have low testosterone levels. It’s even worse that a low-fat diet, often recommended as healthy, actually reduces the body’s ability to secrete hormones the support health and longevity.
When you review the research on nutrition and heart disease, it’s quite difficult to find saturated fat as the villain in the development of heart disease, or really any other chronic condition. In reviewing the evidence on saturated fats, authors of a review in The Netherlands Journal of Medicine concluded,
The total body of evidence suggests that attention should be shifted from the harmful effects of dietary SAFA per se, to the prevention of the accumulation of SAFA in body lipids. This shift would emphasize the importance of reducing dietary CHO, especially CHO with a high glycemic index, rather than reducing dietary SAFA.
Looking at the existing research, it's hard to understand why saturated fats get the blame for something they've never been shown to do; cause heart disease. Even worse, those who avoid saturated fats run the risk of missing out on other key nutrients and health benefits. That said, if your diet still contains a lot of excessive sugar and other starches, please don't use this as a license to freely eat more high-fat foods. The combination of a high-sugar and high-fat diet can be really bad news for your cardiovascular health because of the elevated insulin released from the carbohydrates.