What is saturated fat? Is it really linked to heart attacks? Cholesterol 4.

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Zoë Harcombe, obesity researcher, quite categorically saying there is no proven link between eating saturated fat and increased heart disease.  When we move beyond the knee jerk reaction that anybody eating lard is asking for trouble and look at the actual composition of lard, it becomes clearer as to why no matter how hard they try, researchers cannot prove the link to heart attacks.

So what is saturated fat?  Well it is a fat that is solid at room temperature.  Maybe this is why people are so utterly convinced that eating it is going to clog up their arteries.  The chemical structure of a saturated fat is straight, so the molecules can indeed pack tightly together whereas unsaturated fats have kinks and bends in their structure making them liquid at room temperature and unable to be so tightly packed together.  What we aren’t told is that no saturated fat is composed of 100% saturated fat; butter is not 100% butyric acid for example.  Behold the following table:1

So here we have butter coming in at 51.37 gm per 100gm saturated fat; of the 21gm of monounsaturated fat, 19.96 gms are oleic acid, the principal fat found in olive oil.  Coconut oil weighs in at a whopping 86.6 gms of saturated fat.  No wonder the fat phobics get over excited at anybody even looking at at.  However 44.6gms of that is lauric acid, a vital fat found in breast milk.  More on lauric acid in a  bit. It is also notable that coconut oil has no cholesterol – if dietary cholesterol is really a problem, which it isn’t.  Lard itself is 39.2gms saturated fat but 23.8 gms of that is stearic acid, a fat found to lower LDL cholesterol. 2 Of the monounsaturated element of lard, 41.2gms are oleic acid – so the principal fat found in lard is actually oleic acid. Did you notice duck and goose fat?  Of all this terrible fat, duck fat has 44.2 gms oleic acid and goose fat 53.5 gms – more than half of goose fat is oleic acid.   I found this absolutely fascinating and will definitely be roasting my Christmas spuds in goose fat.

So it is far from game set and match to unsaturated fats.   Fats are made of carbon chains with hydrogen attached.  So when looking at scientific sites, fats are known by their carbon number: butyric acid is 4:0, lauric acid 12:0, oleic acid is 18:1  and linolenic acid is 18:2 and so on.  From the blog What does HDL/LDL cholesterol mean we learnt that some fats are bundled into the chylomicrons to travel from the guts to the liver.  These fats are the long chain fats.  Short and medium chain fats, those with a carbon number of 12 or less, get transported to the liver via the portal vein.  These fats do not require bile for digestion, so are more digestible and are more likely to get sent from the liver to the muscles for energy. Short and medium chain fats are always saturated fats.

Lets return to coconut oil and its principal component lauric acid: 12.0.  This makes it a medium chain fatty acid: straight to the liver via the portal vein.  No nasty cholesterol lipoproteins involved.   Why is lauric acid so good for you that the body chooses to put it into breast milk?  Well of all the fats it increases cholesterol the most.  Click on the link to read why cholesterol is vital to human life.  And it has been found that breast fed babies grow into adults with lower cholesterol levels.  It is important to remember that name chole-sterol is bile – steroid: digests fat –  lowers inflammation in the body.  In the linked blog, there is an upsetting video about the rare condition Smith-Lemli-Opitz caused by very low cholesterol levels.  So clearly the body is not trying to kill us by putting this ‘dangerous’ fat there.  In fact lauric acid has

a more favourable effect on total HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid either saturated or unsaturated.34

Another good thing about lauric acid is it is anti-microbial so is used in film over food to help preserve the food for longer. 5

Briefly about butter; when we look at the composition of butter what it remarkable is just what a wide range of different fatty acids are in it and also the huge amount of vitamins and minerals in there- no other fatty acid comes any where near it.  14.3 gms of butter is short or medium chain fatty acids.  And butter is a rare source of butyric acid which feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

A huge advantage to saturated fat is that it is more stable when heated and the most dangerous fats to our health are the rancid fats and the transfats.  All oils are much less heat tolerant than the saturated fats with the omega 9s, eg olive oil, being the most heat tolerant and the omega 3s, the fish oils, the least.  The omega 6s, eg sunflower oil,  are not very heat tolerant and unless the oil was cold-pressed, it will be rancid by the time it hits the bottle – same goes for all vegetable oils.  When a fat is heated above a certain level, it goes rancid and rancid fat is very dangerous to the body.  This, along with transfats or hydrogenated fats, cause the cell walls to harden so nutrients and waste products can get neither in nor out – if weight loss is desired, I refer you to the blog on triglycerides. 6

Dietary fat, whether animal or vegetable origin, does need to be organic or of known source since fat soluble toxins are deadly and the brain has no defence against them.

The fats deadly to health and vitality are the manufactured trans fats and rancid fat such as fries chips day after day.  Saturated fat is quite unjustly called unhealthy.  Lets face it, there is more money to be made from industrially altered oils which give food products a longer shelf life, but can be touted as healthy since they are of plant origin.  It really is quite bonkers.   I shall leave with Dr Kendrick’s study on the comparison of saturated fat intake vs rates of heart disease, which is based on figures from 1998 which can be found on the World Health Organisation website.  The saturated fat consumption in the Ukraine was about 7.5% of total calories eaten and the death from heart attacks was about 725 per 100,000.  The saturated fat consumption of Finland was about 14% of total calories, the heart attack rate about 200 per 100,000.  And so the list goes on.  If you don’t believe me buy his book, The Great Cholesterol Con, turn to page 74 and there it is.  Man has eaten animal, bird and fish fat since forever.  Our own body fat is saturated. He has not been running marathons on Flora margarine for very long.  Mind you, since the first marathon runner ever, Pheidipiddes, died after he’d delivered his news, maybe Flora had been invented.

 

  1. The information in the table can be found at the US Dept of Agriculture website,  national nutrient database for standard reference. []
  2. Hunter J E, Zhang J, Kris-Etherton PM. Jan 2010.  Cardiovascular disease risk of dietary stearic acid compared with trans , other saturated, and unsaturated fatty acids: a systematic review.  Am J Clin Nutr (American soc for nutr) 91 (1):46-63.   A review that recommends replacing trans fats with stearic acid. []
  3. Mensink RP, Zoch PL, Kester ADM Katan MB (May 2003).  Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total toe HDL cholesterol and on seum lipids and apoliproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials.  Am Jour of Cin Nutr 77(5):1146-1155 []
  4. From the results section of the Mensink paper we can also read “Replacing fats with carbohydrates increased fasting triacylglyerol [triglyceride] concentrations” []
  5. Quattar B, Simard RE, Piett G, Bégin A, Holley RA (2000). Inhibition of surface spoilage bacteria in processed meats by application of antimicrobial films prepared with chitosan.  Int J Food Microbiol 62 (1-2):139-48 []
  6. Actually what is very annoying is that many studies lump transfats and saturated fat together, so trying to prove that saturated fat is bad for us. This is bad science and bad logic. []

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