One of my favorite writers, Tim Ferriss, author of the fabulous new book The 4-Hour Body, has a great article on his blog about the vital importance of saturated fats. Written by Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Eades (two of the top Bariatric doctors in the country), this article gives great scientific backing for the dietary importance of saturated fat.
Can Saturated Fat Help You Lose Weight?
Two doctors, one looking for a cure for allergies, and the other looking to help patients with colitis and Crohn’s disease, stumbled upon a rapid cure for belly fat. Both also helped their patients see improvement with the problems they set out to fix, and both noted that overweight patients lost a lot of weight in the process. News of their new way to treat obesity spread and soon both were overwhelmed with new patients looking for help in weight loss. They both wrote books (published in the 60’s and 70’s) about their methods.
How did they do it?
Both had their clients follow an all-meat diet. This was before the negative hype about fat, and these doctors even had patients with heart disease follow an all-meat diet with good results.
Fast forward a couple decades and we are up to our hairlines in negative news about fat, but what these doctors discovered still holds true today. Why did it work? Because the body needs fats (including and especially saturated fat) to function! An all-meat diet also eliminates harmful grains and processed foods, which would also aid in weight loss and benefit the body.
Later, Dr. Atkins later discovered that on an all-meat diet, uric acid in the body rises to dangerous levels, but the benefits of saturated fats (and proteins) can’t be ignored. Today, many people who follow a paleo or primal type diet notice similar benefits from a diet high in saturated fat, protein and vegetables and low in grains, processed foods and carbs.
The doctors explain:
You see with just a glance at [our suggested meal plans] that we’ve included fatty cuts of meat, chicken with the skin, bacon, eggs, butter, coconut oil, organic lard, and heavy cream in the plan. Aren’t we worried that these foods will increase your risk of heart disease and raise your cholesterol? In a word, nope. In fact, we encourage you to make these important fats a regular part of your healthy diet. Why? Because humans need them and here are just a few reasons why.
Why You Need Saturated Fats
The article lists the following benefits of adding saturated fat to your diet (while also eating a healthy variety of proteins and vegetables):
1. Cardiovascular Benefits
Adequate saturated fat intake helps the body reduce levels of lipoprotein, a risk factor for heart disease. They note that there are currently no drugs that reduce levels of lipoprotein, so a high saturated fat diet is the only way to do so. Saturated fat also helps raise HDL cholesterol and contributes to overall weight loss (which has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease).
2. Bone Health
While calcium is absolutely necessary for bone health, saturated fat is necessary for calcium absorption.
According to one of the foremost research experts in dietary fats and human health, Mary Enig, Ph.D., there’s a case to be made for having as much as 50 percent of the fats in your diet as saturated fats for this reason. That’s a far cry from the 7 to 10 percent suggested by mainstream institutions
As women are told to reduce saturated fat and replace it with processed oils like vegetable and canola, it is logical that they begin to see bone loss.
3. Optimal Liver Function
The liver is central to many body functions including proper fat storage, metabolism, nutrient absorption and detoxification. Saturated fat helps protect the liver from the harmful effects of medicines and alcohol and signals the liver to dump fat stores. Other oils do not offer these benefits.
4. Strong Lungs
The lungs are coated with a slippery substance made up of, you guessed it: saturated fats. when the body doesn’t have proper amounts of these and has to replace this coating with other types of fats, breathing difficulties can ensue. It was even found that premature babies in respiratory distress syndrome lack this proper fat.
Some researchers feel that the wholesale substitution of partially hydrogenated (trans) fats for naturally saturated fats in commercially prepared foods may be playing a role in the rise of asthma among children.
5. Healthy Brain
The brain is made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fat. A diet low in saturated fats deprives the brain of the building blocks in needs for proper repair and function.
6. Nerve Communication
While dietary fat was given the blame for diabetes by some doctors, it seems that fat does contribute but in a much different way!
Certain saturated fats, particularly those found in butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil, function directly as signaling messengers that influence the metabolism, including such critical jobs as the appropriate release of insulin.
With insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome reaching near epidemic levels, the importance of dietary fat for this role alone can’t be overstated. Fortunately, doctors are finally starting to acknowledge the role of excess carbohydrates in insulin related problems.
7. Immune System Function
Saturated fats play a critical role in the function of a healthy immune system as well:
Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil (myristic acid and lauric acid) play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Human breast milk is quite rich in myristic and lauric acid, which have potent germ-killing ability. But the importance of the fats lives on beyond infancy; we need dietary replenishment of them throughout adulthood, middle age, and into seniority to keep the immune system vigilant against the development of cancerous cells as well as infectious invaders.
Eating saturated fats, especially in large amounts, is counter cultural at this point, but hopefully, this trend will soon change. In the meantime, science is increasingly showing the importance of saturated fats in the diet, and those who choose to eat these fats are often noticing great results. So how much fat does one need? I’ve seen many opinions, even from those on board with saturated fat consumption, but the general consensus seems to be that 30-50% of calories from fat in the diet is highly beneficial. This is what I consume personally and what I often recommend.
Recipes containing saturated fat (scroll down)
More information on the role of dietary fat in the body.
Ready to jump on the saturated fat bandwagon or still disagree? Let me know below!