Tips & Advice

Saturated Fat Won’t Make You Fat

Eat saturated fat? Surely not. It’s a concern we often hear from keto beginners, “Won’t eating fat make me fat?” That’s a perfectly reasonable question but the answer is “No. Eating fat will not make you fat”. It sounds counter-intuitive, we know, so let’s take a deeper look.

The “Saturated Fat is Bad for You” flawed study 

For decades, we have been fed a lie when it comes to nutrition – several lies in fact. Chief among them is that fat is bad for you and that fat causes heart disease. This simply isn’t true. In fact, recent studies have gone so far as to say there is simply no link between saturated fats and heart disease!

So, how did we get it so wrong? How has fat been so maligned all these years? 

Well, it all began with a deeply flawed 1970 study titled, “The Seven Countries Study.” This study looked at incidences of heart disease and saturated fat intake in nearly 13,000 men, from seven different countries, and determined there was a correlation. However, the study would have put a school child to shame with its sloppy methodology. The study omitted a lot of data that did not support the authors’ pre-determined conclusion that “fat is bad for heart health”. It ignored such factors as smoking rates, exercise frequency, sugar consumption and myriad other determinants. And when faced with plenty of contradictory evidence (e.g. there are several notable cultures with diets high in saturated fats but with barely any heart disease), the authors simply swept such inconvenient facts under the carpet.

Decades of misguided nutrition advice

Off the back of this study (and plenty of third-party lobbying from the cereal industries), the government would go on to create the now-discredited “food pyramid”. So misinformed were authorities that 11 servings of pasta/rice per day was at one point recommended.

The discredited food pyramid
The discredited food pyramid. Whilst not the sole cause, it played a large part in fueling obesity, diabetes and heart disease over the decades. Unfortunately, it still shapes a lot of people’s idea of what is a a “healthy diet” to this day.

What was the result of the US government recommending citizens follow this eating plan? The amount of calories from consumed fat has fallen from 40% to 30% yet obesity has doubled, diabetes has doubled and heart disease remains the country’s number one killer. 

However, it’s not accurate to lay all this at the door of the food pyramid. The rise of these health conditions is not down to any single cause and there are complex factors at play (e.g. a growing consumer culture; the changing face of mass food-production; food science; food marketing; even evolutionary reasons). The fact is, given what we now know about what constitutes a healthy diet, a revised food pyramid would actually look more like this…

The revised food pyramid
The revised food pyramid. This is closer to what a healthy diet looks like. High in healthy fats, moderate protein, low in carbs and sugar.

This revised food pyramid is basically the keto diet. That’s no coincidence. Under keto, we’re taught that healthy fats are good for you but, due to decades of misinformation and propaganda, thousands still need convincing that eating fat is OK.

To try and dispel some of the misconceptions around fat, let’s take a closer look at its effect on the body.

Eating saturated fat won’t make you fat

If you find that hard to believe, it’s not your fault. We’ve been brainwashed from an early age that fat is bad and low-fat is good. We now know that’s just plain wrong. In fact, research shows that low-fat diets don’t seem to aid in weight loss or in reducing risk of disease compared to high-fat diets. (All those refined carbs that you have been eating to replace that fat might be the real issue.)

To understand how fat can be healthy, it’s helpful to first understand what’s going on with carbs in your body. When you eat a simple carbohydrate like a slice of bread, enzymes in your saliva immediately start breaking that food down into glucose (sugar). That surge of sugar triggers a hormone called insulin which tells your body to store any sugar found in the bloodstream either as glycogen or fat in your cells. Then, the resulting sugar crash makes you feel hungry, encouraging you to eat more. It’s a vicious cycle.

But fats are another story. Fat is not processed the same way as carbs. Fat cannot be broken down by saliva or fully digested by stomach acid. Instead, your small intestines (with the aid of bile secreted by your liver) breaks the fat down. This happens much later in the digestive process so fat digestion is a much slower process and doesn’t cause a massive spike in insulin.

Saturated fat does not cause heart disease

In a 2010 evaluation of 21 studies and 350,000 subjects, saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease — and numerous other studies have reached similar conclusions, that statistically-significant evidence of saturated fat being harmful to heart health does not exist. 

Instead, saturated fat has been shown to have several benefits, including:

  1. Improved cardiovascular risk factors. The addition of saturated fat to the diet reduces the levels of a substance called lipoprotein that correlates strongly with risk for heart disease. Currently there are no medications to lower lipoprotein but one dietary way is to eat saturated fat. Heart disease and obesity are caused by inactivity, trans fats, refined carbs, and overeating, to name a few — not saturated fat.
  2. Improved liver health. Adding saturated fat to the diet encourage liver cells to dump their fat content. Clearing fat from the liver is the critical first step to preventing belly fat storage. 
  3. Stronger bones. Saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively incorporated into your bones. Avoiding saturated fat leads to loss of bone mass and generally weaker bones.  
  4. Healthy brain. Your brain is mainly made of fat (mostly saturated) and cholesterol. A diet low on healthy saturated fats deprives your brain of the raw materials it needs to function optimally.
  5. Healthy lungs. For your lungs to function properly, they need to be covered in a thin layer called lung surfactant that keeps your lungs working properly and healthily. Lung surfactant is 100 percent saturated fatty acids – no other fat will do. Compromised lung surfactant leads to respiratory distress and some researchers believe there may a correlation between rising cases of asthma and diets low in saturated fats.
  6. Strong immune system. Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil play key roles in immune health. White blood cells – the soldiers of your immune system – need sufficient saturated fatty acids to maintain their ability to recognise invaders. You need regular replenishment of saturated fats throughout your life to keep the immune system working properly.
  7. Healthy nerves. Saturated fats, particularly those found in butter, lard and coconut oil function directly as nerve signal messengers throughout your body. Again, only saturated fats will do.

The keto diet counters the drawbacks of saturated fat

Of course, the advice to eat more fat is in the context of a low-carb diet, like keto. Eating a high fat and high carb diet would be disastrous. Don’t do that for goodness sake! As long as you’re following the keto diet diligently, eating fat is good for you. In fact, combined with very low carb intake, it’s what makes the keto diet work! Carb-deprivation puts your body into ketosis (fat-burning mode) which uses the saturated fat to create ketones (alternative fuel) for energy.

Now, fat is high in calories, so it can promote weight gain if you’re on a non-keto diet. But, since you’re reading this, you’re probably on (or at least, interested) in going keto. Keto will use up the fat you give it to fuel your body (assuming you’re in ketosis). In this case, increasing fat intake has not detrimental effect and might help with weight loss (as well as many other benefits)

One study found that when three groups of obese people were fed diets of 90 percent fat, 90 percent protein, and 90 percent carbohydrates, respectively, the high-fat group lost the most weight.

What about cholesterol?

Good question. There are two kinds of cholesterol in our blood: the HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”). Total cholesterol levels are less important than the ratio of HDL to LDL. As a rule of thumb, we should try to increase HDL and decrease LDL. Saturated fat is generally believed to increase the bad cholesterol – so that’s a problem, right?
Well, it’s only part of the story. “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) can be further broken down into two kinds: large, floating particles (Type A) and small, dense particles (Type B). When you reduces your saturated fat intake, your LDL cholesterol drops – but in reality, there’s only a drop in the Type A particles. However, it’s the Type B particles that are more closely linked in heart disease. Type B levels is generally determined by carbohydrate consumption. So the best way to cut out harmful types of cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease could be to follow a diet that’s low in carbs, rather than low in fat.

Whoa, not so fast…

Before you start gorging on hot dogs and fatty non-descript processed meats, realise that not every source of saturated fat is healthy. Whilst eating good quality, natural red meat is healthy, stuffing down crappy processed meat is categorically bad for you. This is your health we’re talking about and so we believe you should spend a little more on food and perhaps a little less on Netflix?

The body loves saturated fat, but from good sources like grass-fed beef and organic butter, whole eggs, and coconut fat — not burgers and meat pizzas.

We believe the public perception of fat is gradually changing. Respected journals and scientists are spreading the message that quality saturated fats are good for you. Heck, Sweden recently became the first Western country to recommend a high-fat diet to its citizens – that’s progress!

So toss the low-fat advice in the trash, together with the margarine and tuck into some buttered vegetables or a seared steak. It’s good for you!

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Saturated Fat Won’t Make You Fat