The Truth About Saturated Fat

(photo by Andrew Ridley)

Ah, saturated fat, my dear old friend. He's been abused and demonized. Blamed for everything from lung cancer to heart disease. But does it really deserve all this flack?

First off, what is saturated fat? Let's define it. From Mark Sisson:
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) are referred to as saturated because all available carbon bonds are tied up with a hydrogen atom. That is, there are no openings for rancidity or spoilage, whereas a polyunsaturated fatty acid containing two or more pairs of double bonds without hydrogen atoms occupying the open space is wide open for oxidation. SFAs are shelf-stable, resistant to heat damage, and essential to many bodily functions.
Saturated fat is the types that becomes solid at room temperature. (think butter and coconut oil)
And we all know that stuff clogs your arteries, riiight? Actually, it may be quite the opposite.

But where did this all start?
In the 1978, a physiologist by the name of Ancel Keys published the Seven Countries Study. This study tracked the diet, dietary cholesterol, and fat consumption of twenty-two countries, and how that affected the nations' health, especially regarding heart disease in particular.
And this is the study that's often used to show the direct correlation between CHD (coronary heart disease) rates and saturated fat consumption, eventually becoming the basis of the lipid hypothesis.
Unfortunately, the original results weren't really quite that groundbreaking. Before publishing his work, Keys cherry-picked the 7 countries that aligned with his theory well, and plotted a graph with those, omitting the majority of the results.

(Keys' published graph versus the completed graph with all 22 nations.)

Ahh, unbiased science! (and this man once graced the cover of Time Magazine, just sayin')
Still, as you can see above, there is a vague, but noticeable, correlation between CHD rates and fat intake, but we all know that correlation doesn't equal causation, right?
But although Keys received criticism from the first release of his study, the medical community has still widely adopted this view. And our culture has been low-fat crazy ever since.
(this short video from the documentary Fathead explains it a bit humorously)

But when you really get down to it, there's practically no evidence to suggest higher fat consumption correlates with increased mortality risk, or any specific diseases. Nonetheless, major health organizations are still spewing this unscientific garbage. Does no one find it ironic that obesity rates have risen, despite our culture becoming obsessed with low-fat diets?
Perhaps you know about the AHA's (American Heart Association) recent recommendation concerning coconut oil that supposedly had the whole health world shaken. They suggested we need to chill out with the coconut oil because of its high levels of saturated fat, and you'd think the sky was falling.
Now, there's a million and one reasons why I put more stock into what my 2 year old cousin has to say about health than the AHA; but the bottom line is we need to find out these things for ourselves. Conventional health has influenced our health for far too long. They had their chance, and all we have to show for it is a very sick country. Let's do a little research for ourselves.

The French Paradox
If you're not familiar with it, the so-called "French Paradox" is a great mystery that conventional medicine just can't seem to explain away. Despite being one of the countries that consumes the most saturated fat, France has one of the lowest rates of heart disease
Kinda funny that they call this a paradox, but really, labeling it a paradox allows them to just shrug it off, like it's some sort of health voodoo, just a fluke.
Of course, there's a number of reasons why the French are a healthier nation; the French eat an overall much cleaner diet than Americans, i.e. fresh produce, local dairy products, moderate amounts of red wine. They don't don't consume a lot of sugar or processed foods. Still, if saturated fat was really the monster we've made it out to be, wouldn't their large consumption of it be showing its face in the form of heart disease? 
The Maasai people thrive off a diet containing large amounts of saturated animal fats. And the inhabitants of the Tokelau and Pukapuka islands show little sign of vascular disease, even while intaking a great deal of their calories through coconuts. (lotsa saturated fat)
Our ancestors have consumed saturated and animal fats for thousands of years. But I'm just sitting here wondering what the health of these cultures would look like if they followed the American Heart Association's guidelines... *insert condescending thinking emoji here*

Fat doesn't make you fat.
Probably one of the more popular reason why a lot of us (mainly, women) avoid fat is we're just afraid of weight gain. But to quote one of my favorite phrases: "Don't blame the butter for what the bread did." Fat intake doesn't directly correlate with body fat.
A high carbohydrate diet is a more likely culprit when it comes to a body fat. In fact, high-fat low-carb diets seem to have a positive effect on weight loss. Why? Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the body's default fuel source. Meaning, your body is gonna use that bagel you just ate for energy before it even thinks about using the fat from the cream cheese. (or any stored body fat, for that matter) So when our bodies are in a constant high-carb state, there's no opportunity to tap into stored body fat. There's no chance to ever utilize it.
Of course, one can over-consume fat calories that can lead to weight gain. But that much can be said about any food source. But fat also keeps you satiated. Aka, it makes you feel full, so you're likely eating less and waiting longer in-between meals. I can eat an egg and half an avocado for breakfast and go hours without feeling hungry. But eat a blueberry muffin, and we're already hungry again an hour later, right?
Also, have you tried overeating fat? It's kinda hard. Imagine trying to down a dozen eggs without getting sick. But carbs? Yeah, a whole box of donuts later and 5 minutes later you're not sure where it went.

Saturated fat is your friend.
So not only is saturated is not satan himself, it's actually really, really good for us. Saturated fat:
  • Provides adequate satiation. 
  • Slows down the absorption of glucose in the body, preventing sugar crashes.
  • Contains vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. 
  • Give us Vitamin A. Animal fats are the only way to truly get it.
  • Tastes good. Let's be honest, things just taste better with a little fat!
We need fat. It tastes good. It's good for us. And our grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, probably ate their fair share of it. So don't be afraid of it. Butter is your friend.
And to finish off this post, here's some of the best sources of saturated fat:
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Whole milk. Preferably raw, but low-temp pasteurized and non-homogenized is the next best thing!
  • Unrefined coconut oil 
  • Grass-fed, pastured beef and pork
  • Yolks from pastured eggs
  • Other full-fat dairy like cheese and cream
So for goodness sake, please have some bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of that "heart healthy" cereal that's gone soggy sitting in skim milk.

Red meat ftw.

(photo by Toa Heftiba)


  1. Have you heard of the ketogenic diet then? It's basically founded on these ideas right here (which you did an excellent job of explaining), and my family's on it and we've seen fantastic results.

    1. Thank you! And indeed, I have! I think every body is different, but keto is a great lifestyle that so many people thrive on. That's so awesome that it's worked for you :)


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