17 December 2015

Is it healthy? Saturated Fat

Western governments, led by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has recommended a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and low for decades, peaking with the release of the 1992 USDA Food Pyramid. “The Food Pyramid” which now is the colloquial staple of all assumed nutrition discussion replaced what existed before it - the “Basic Four Food Groups”. The transition from one blanket system to another was the most drastic and detrimental condemnations of dietary fat. As a result of the pyramid, food retailers, producers, families, schools and businesses of all sorts started minimising all types of dietary fat and placed breads, cereals, rice and pasta at the foundation of their eating habits. On top of this, fats, primarily saturated fats in meat and dairy were reviled.
Over 20 years later, the attitude is rightfully turning. The typical belief is that new research is coming in with health scientists discovering the hazards with excessive carbohydrate consumption, and the dangers of a lack in fat intake. Below are two covers from Time Magazine. The first, from 1961, was a feature on Dr. Ansel Keys, who, in the 50s published a University of Minnesota study and concluded that consuming saturated fat found in meat and dairy lead to high cholesterols and this was positively associated with higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  

Time Magazine Goes Back.jpg
Time Magazine in 1962 and 2014
The cover on the right ran in 2014. In this issue, Time magazine themed much of the issue to overturning the decades-long anti-fat culture sparked in the 1960s by ending the war on fat. Throughout this ground-breaking retraction, the realisation that the trend toward fat (and off of carbs) isn’t really based on new research at all. Science may be building in recent years due to the increased market perception toward the important of fat in a healthy diet, but the evidence of this is time-tested. In fact, the original Ansel Keys’ paper was actually immediately criticised by health scientists and entirely discredited decades ago. The problem was that the USDA backed it, education embraced it, and it became deeply integrated into normal culture and lifestyle. People had to stop eating butter. Even though it was a wrong decision, the decision was made and once that government-business machine runs it’s incredibly hard to stop. If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie.

So, saturated is good now? Yes. What this terrible (yet fascinating) blend of science, politics, economics and governance means is that the banishment of butter was less about the science and more about the other three. For neurology (brain health) as much as weight loss if not more so, the benefits of saturated fats in all its forms are immense and here are some of the strongest reasons why.

Saturated fats are an excellent source of energy
It’s a bold statement in the face of widespread conventional wisdom and mass misinformation, but there is no convincing, long-term evidence in evolutionary biology or nutrition science adequately justifying a requirement for dietary carbohydrates in human health. Humans can live on minimal to no carbohydrate intake from prolonged periods and have done so throughout history and this is largely due to fats. As the body becomes attuned to no longer looking to carbohydrates or glucose as it's fuel source, it begins the optimal process of energy utilisation called ketosis. Fat is a more effective fuel source as it's slow burning, and produced within the body itself. Further, there is the added bonus of spreading unwanted, and undesirable flab from the body - something that is made ironically more difficult by high-carbohydrate consumption.

On a carbohydrate-rich diet, the body burns glucose as its main fuel source. While this is most conventionally known to be the main source of energy and thus justifying the advocacy of high-carb, diets with full servings of grains and sugary drinks every 2-3 hours to maintain stable energy levels, this is not at all optimal. Eating food this heavily processed, this often and this regularly was not possible before modern civilisation. If this were truly the path to optimal health and strength, humans would’ve died out long ago because of winter, drought, darkness or anything else related to not being able to have shelf-safe food on hand all the time.

Saturated fats strengthen the brain
Special fats called ketones have been by far the most important fat for brain energy utilisation. This is why a ketogenic diet (high in beta-hydroxybutyrate or eta-HBA) has been a treatment for epilepsy since the early 1920s and is on being reevaluated as a very powerful therapeutic option in the treatment of Parkinson disease, Alzhemier’s disease, ALS, and even autism. It should also be noted that the brain is made up of mostly saturated fats. Cutting back on animal fats, butter, and quality oils like olive and coconut deprive the brain of the raw materials it needs to function, repair and develop optimally.

Saturated fats satiate you
One of the most important, yet underrated aspects of healthy eating is the satiating feeling food gives you. This is the problem diets rich in carbohydrates cause as identified in the ever popular Sweet Poison by David Gillespie. Saturated fats as part of a meal slow down nutrient absorption and energy burning which translates to feeling full for longer. As part of the ketogenic process, once the body becomes accustomed to not longer seeking out quick carbs for quick burning fuel, it looks to the body’s own fat stores for its energy which is more efficient, stable and long-lasting. This is why ancestrally, humans have burned fat as their primary source of energy throughout human evolution, right up until the abrupt establishment of the grain-based agricultural society 10,000 years ago.

Saturated fats make healthy living easier
The most damaging part of conventional wisdom regarding health and nutrition is the widespread belief that exercise is the cornerstone to long-term health and vitality. It’s not. While living an active lifestyle is valuable, with or without deliberate exercises as a part of it, nutrition is absolutely the most important aspect of maintaining good health and saturated fat is a big part of this.

Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, full fat milk and cream, avocado
Integrating the body’s preferred energy source, brain building properties, and foods that satisfy your taste buds and appetite combine to make life easier. Consuming quality full fat dairy products, olive oil, anything made with coconut and the fatty cuts of meat will transform your body into the “fat burning beast” it's evolved to be. Energy levels are constant and balanced, mental clarity and attitudes are balanced, lucid and alert, and food becomes something to enjoy, rather than a laborious means to an end.