The benefits of saturated fat? To admit to such a belief is surely heretical, so I do not expect my reader(s) to commit such apostasy “on faith.” But, purely as an observer of another’s fall from grace, you may want to read further to see how this idea develops and is supported by science. If this sounds like a classic battle of orthodoxy vs. the enlightened, you’re right. You certainly won’t hear it spoken of by any of the usual sources of information in our modern society: Government, Agri-Business, and the Mass Media. Who but the small grass-fed beef or pastured chicken egg purveyor would benefit, besides you?
As you already know, one of the apostles of human nutrition that I follow is Mary Enig, PhD, a Director Emeritus of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who with Sally Fallon, President of the Foundation, wrote “The Skinny on Fats.” This really is a “must read” for anyone interested in eating in a healthy way and living a long life. Do yourself a favor and google it.
Because it is more technical than I am qualified to write about, and cites many sources as references, I quote from it directly again here: Note that each of the 8 references are provided at the Foundation “hit” on “The Skinny on Fats.”
“The much-maligned saturated fats—which Americans are trying to avoid—are not the cause of our modern diseases. In fact, they play many important roles in the body chemistry:
• Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what give our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
• They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.38
• They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.39 They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.40
• They enhance the immune system.41
• They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids.
Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats. 42
• Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated.43 The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
• Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
The scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, does not support the assertion that "artery-clogging" saturated fats cause heart disease.44 Actually, evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals that only about 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.45 “(end of quote)
Among the most vilified of animal foods high in saturated fats has been butter. As noted previously it is now enjoying a comeback, while margarine, made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat), has suffered a sharp decline.
In 2000, before her more than 20 year campaign to bring trans fats to the public’s attention had reached full fruition (she had testified on it at the 1977 McGovern Commission), Dr. Enig wrote (again, in “The Skinny on Fats”), “The Diet Dictocrats have succeeded in convincing Americans that butter is dangerous, when in fact it is a valued component of many traditional diets and a source of…fat-soluble vitamins. These include true vitamin A or retinol, vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin E as well as all their naturally occurring cofactors needed to obtain maximum effect. Butter is America's best source of these important nutrients. In fact, vitamin A is more easily absorbed and utilized from butter than from other sources.61 Fortunately, these fat-soluble vitamins are relatively stable and survive the pasteurization process.”
But what about cholesterol and heart disease? Well, if you’re still asking these questions, I recommend you go back and read this series from the beginning. All of the articles are archived at http://danbrown-thenutritiondebate.blogspot.com. Or, if you’re just a little skeptical, stay tuned; the next article will be “What About Dietary Cholesterol?” and then the next, “Understanding Your Lipid Panel.” The apostasy goes on unabated, for your reading pleasure.
© Dan Brown 8/7/11