We are all led to believe that saturated fat is bad and cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease. This is a very simplistic view and many recent studies suggest that the true picture is more complicated than that. 

Recent evidence has shown that saturated fat may not be as harmful to our heart health as originally thought and that it is certainly not the cause of heart disease. In fact, there are a number of lifestyle factors that contribute to the health of our heart and developing risk factors for heart disease.   

Keys To Prevention

Eating a diet consisting of an array of nutritious foods, participating in regular exercise and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are key factors in lowering the risk of heart disease.

Saturated Fat… Don’t Fear It, Understand It!

Dietary fat plays an important role in the human diet and is essential. It provides the body with energy, assists with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, is needed for hormone production and acts as the structural element of cell walls. On one hand, fat can be healthy if the right fats are consumed from natural sources. On the other hand, a diet consisting of large amounts of unhealthy, refined oils and fat is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Although there is a large amount of strong evidence showing that diets high in fat contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of developing heart disease, that doesn’t mean we should cut fat out altogether. It is important to include healthy, natural sources of saturated fats from organic grass-fed butter, milk, cheese and other dairy products, fatty cuts of grass-fed meat, pasture-raised eggs, coconuts and coconut oil, unsaturated fats from plant-based foods including olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and fish as well as omega-3 group foods which can be found in oily fish, seafood, eggs, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

Which Fat To Cook With? 

When it comes to cooking with fat, saturated fats have a higher smoke point, being the point at which you can heat an oil before chemical structure is damaged and carcinogenic, than unsaturated fats.  Saturated fats such as butter, ghee, lard, and coconut oil are best for cooking. 

Coconut Oil 

Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) have become increasingly popular as people become more aware of the health benefits they provide. Coconut oil is a form of saturated fat that is largely composed of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid which are easier to digest and are metabolized differently than ;ong-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Lauric acid is the primary fatty acid in coconut oil and is transported directly to the liver where it is converted to energy rather than being stored as fat. 

Coconut oil is known to contain many health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral properties, yet the AHA has criticized coconut oil and suggested that other unsaturated oils such as canola, corn and soybean oil be used instead. Unfortunately, a large proportion of these oils are made from crops that are genetically modified, not to mention the processing that is required, thus making these oils highly processed. When unsaturated fats (like those mentioned above) reach high temperatures during cooking, they may become carcinogenic due to the oxidation and trans fatty acids that are formed. 

It is important to note that in comparison to other plant oils, virgin cold pressed oils such as coconut oil, olive oil and flaxseed oil have a low smoke point unless they have been refined with added stabilizers. It is therefore best to consume virgin, cold pressed oils raw and unheated due to them containing a lower smoke point.    

Key Points To Take Home 

If we take a look at many cultures around the world, they have been living and thriving on healthy sources of saturated fat for centuries.  Anthropologically, we have never had high amounts of extract oils in our diet combined with an overabundance of refined carbohydrate and processed foods, so it’s no wonder we are seeing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, to name a few, skyrocketing. 

It is important to find a balance between the types of fats consumed and keep a variety of different healthy fats in the diet. For instance, mono and polyunsaturated oils contain high levels of antioxidants which are not found in coconut oil and other saturated fats. As you can probably understand, there are many factors to consider, including individual variability as nutritional needs vary from person to person depending on their own unique health status. 

At the end of the day, when consuming fat it’s best to consume moderate amounts of healthy, natural sources of fat and avoid processed oils.  It’s important to look at the whole picture rather than demonize particular foods or nutrients.  For example, someone who is leading an unhealthy lifestyle, eating a diet high in processed food, devoid in nutrients, doesn’t exercise, is a smoker and consumes copious amounts of natural sources of saturated fat (i.e. coconut oil)  has many other things that need addressing before blaming one thing in particular, which is often saturated fat.

Discover more on this topic and how you can prevent lifestyle disease on FMTV!