Why You NEED Saturated Fat


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.

Read the full article. Dr. Eades has a new book that explains all of these findings in greater detail.

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!

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Reader Comments

  1. thanks for the tip of this article..I been trying to keep a low-fat diet and what it does is deprive the cushion between muscles , organs and blood vessels.jogging and sprint running not only open up unseen muscles but burn the fat between them and hard to get back ..You feel tired , fatigue , muscles cant relax cause their not fat to cushion ..I learn my lesson and a low fat diet is not always the best thing especially if you have a high speed metabolism anyway ..

  2. Alzheimer’s disease came to light in 1978. The low fat diet had been espoused by Ansel Keys since at least the late forties and it took that long for the damage to the brain to become endemic. Butter, ghee, homemade lard and tallow are my primary fats for cooking. Raw beef fat and butter are used in my paleo diet. The benefits are noticeable. I tried Dean Ornish’s diet and saw great weight gain and misery over four months. Listen to your body and avoid Allopathic medicine is my rule and I have never felt healthier. (Avoid processed lard and render your own. Raw lard can be found in Asian meat markets.) Check out Sally Fallon at Weston A. Price Foundation.

  3. i follow a low fat high carb vegan diet and I have never felt better. Low carb is stupid. Your body runs off of carbs.

    • Nina,
      … Unless you’re like me. I’m insulin resistant and at high risk of developing diabetes because of a genetic disease (PCOS) and family medical history. On top of that, I’m allergic to wheat (I’m 32 and I just found this out like 2 weeks ago). So is one of my best friends. My doctor told me to stop eating most grains. I still eat beans & whole grains like corn, oats and wild rice, but not every day, and mostly because it’s what the food bank gives us. In the 1st 4 months I started eliminating white rice, white potatoes and white wheat from my diet, I lost 40+ pounds. Honestly, the carbs/sugar (processed into fat by my liver) that I’ve consumed in the last 32 years and my body hasn’t utilized (see the afore mentioned insulin resistance and PCOS) is likely to be enough to last a lifetime. The human body processes and utilizes protein, fat and fiber (veggies!) much more efficiently than it does grains/carbohydrates. Did you ever notice how fields birds go after grass seeds (grain) like it’s candy? But they have gizzards. Last I looked, we don’t. Please don’t assume your way is the only way or the “right way” to eat, or that what works for you will work for everyone or anyone else.

      Katie, any advice on dealing with insulin resistance, PCOS, and Fibromyalgia from your vast stores of knowledge (especially on a really tight budget) would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for all the awesome information you share with all o’d us.

      • This frustrates me. There is a difference between low carb and gluten-free/wheat free/grain-free. Carbohydrates does not just mean bread. Potatoes, rice, and fruit are all carbs. I eat a very high fruit diet. I agree with you that refined sugars and white wheat (or really any wheat) are not the best for out bodies. The body will turn excess of anything into fat. The body prefers to run off of carbohydrates. This is common knowledge. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, the body will turn the protein and fat that you do eat, into to glucose. So it is easier for the body to run off of carbohydrates from the start, than it is for the body to convert the fat and protein into carbohydrates. Turning protein into carbohydrates requires the removal of nitrogen from the protein. That eventually has to go through your kidneys and is excreted into the urine. That is very taxing on your kidneys if you eat a high protein diet. You can also get ketosis from turning fat into glucose. So I believe that eating carbohydrates is healthy. It can be brown rice and sweet potatoes if you are trying to stay away from the white stuff. Advice for a really tight budget. Cooking beans from scratch and brown rice. Really cheap.

        • P.S. Never said that low fat high carb vegan is for everybody.I stated what works for me, my opinion of eating low carb, and a fact.

        • What you say is not strictly true; the body will not turn fat into glucose. Through a process known a gluconeogenesis the liver can turn protein into glucose. This process is important for certain cells in your body that lack their own mitochondria.

          As for the rest of the cells in your body, once adapted they are more than capable of converting fat into fuel for your body. You can live a very long, happy and healthy life with ZERO vegetables if you compensate sufficiently with organ meats.

          Do not spread confusion regarding ketosis (a very natural state for the body) and ketoacidosis (a dangerous condition affecting type 1 diabetics in which the body has high ketones levels concurrently with high insulin/blood glucose levels.)

          As you can probably guess I eat a low carb diet, plentiful in vegetables and some fruit, completely devoid of grains, legumes and starchy veg lacking the nutrient dense profile the body needs (such as white potato.) The modern take on the low carb/primal/paleo diets are not high protein, most sensible plans are MODERATE protein, dependant your lean body mass.

          • Ketosis, while natural, is anything but desirable. The body prefers glucose and especially the brain. Anyone that would willingly put themselves into ketosis long-term is a bloody fool.

        • I know this post is old but I’d like to clear things up for anyone still thinking that way.

          *The body prefers to run off of carbohydrates.*
          No it doesn’t, it does burn it however because high levels of glucose in the bloodstream can cause problems (glycation, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, among other things.)

          *If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, the body will turn the protein and fat that you do eat, into to glucose.*
          If you are fully adapted to ketone bodies, the amount of glucose needed will be very low. You’re body would only make enough to feel the areas of the brain that lack mitochondria (about 5% of the brain) and that requirement can be filled by adequate dietary protein.

          *That is very taxing on your kidneys if you eat a high protein diet. You can also get ketosis from turning fat into glucose.*
          If you have even one healthy kidney that isn’t a very big deal, it can function normally without too much trouble. You’d be too satiated anyway far before you reach that point.
          What does ketosis have to do with glucose? It is the burning of body fat and dietary fat into ketone bodies to be used for energy when glucose is scarce. I think you’re doing the very common mistake of confusing ketosis for diabetic ketoacidosis so I’ll clear up the differences.
          Ketosis: A benign metabolic state characterized by the breakdown of fatty acids into ketones for energy, concentration range from 0.5 to 2 mmol/l and with extreme exercise can go up to 5 mmol/l… completely safe since the basal insulin rate won’t let it exceed this limit and glucose levels are stable.
          Ketoacidosis: A complication that only occurs in type 1 diabetes. Characterized by increased levels of ketones (12-15 mmol/l) AND increased levels of glucose in the bloodstream, making the blood acidic (low pH). The cause of this is the complete absence of insulin. It’s a double whammy since insulin stabilizes blood glucose levels and don’t allow ketones to go above 5 mmol/l. .
          Now you know the difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis. Let the two never be confused for each other again!

          Something else, there are no essential compounds found in plants that cannot be found in animal products with an even better bio-availability. Check out the USDA’s breakdown of nutrients in butter, eggs, meat and offal if you don’t believe me.

  4. Please reconsider advocating (and ingesting) saturated fat. Our bodies have no need for saturated fat, only polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 & 6 found in plants). Coconut oil is no
    panacea, it has virtually nothing in it but artery clogging saturated fat. I have to wonder if you have any way of personally verifying your claims of healthfulness. Do we have your word that your Doctor(s) also agree that you’re in robust health? Do we have your word that you have a healthy BMI? I just can’t imagine that anyone’s blood work can come back normal after ingesting a 1/4 cup of fatty oil each day. Bad medical advice is flooding America, and we are the worse for it. Our number one killer is heart disease. America didn’t get this way by avoiding oil and embracing their vegetables and starches! Just the opposite, oil consumption has risen rapidly in recent decades. Let me just leave you with a thought: if oil is such a necessity, than how did the human body evolve for so long without it? Industrial oil presses are a rather recent invention in the grand scheme of things.

      • According to the CDC, heart disease has been the number one killer in the US since 1921. That’s almost a hundred years! Not much has changed in the American diet since then (we’re still very much a meat and potato country), but there have been reductions in cigarette usage and major advances in medical care. To suggest that saturated fats are responsible is laughable. I don’t advocate ingesting anything that isn’t a whole plant food. I do not recommend eating olive oil, only olives; nor orange juice, only oranges. Same would go for coconut oil, only the coconut meat should be consumed. These whole foods are perfect as they are, and it is rather unnatural to manipulate and process them before consumption.

        I also don’t understand how humans could think it wise to ingest a substance that is meant to nurse and grow a baby cow. Milk, no matter which species it comes from, has evolved specifically for the weening of that same species. Humans shouldn’t ingest cows milk, just like cows shouldn’t ingest human milk. Our two species have different protein needs. Cows milk contains 3.3 grams of protein per 100 ml and the calf doubles in size in 47 days. Human milk contains 1.2 grams of protein per 100 ml and the child doubles in size in 180 days. Each species’s milk has the proper amount of protein for that species. Humans are over nourished with cows milk, and if cattle was fed human breast milk, it would no doubt be malnourished.

        • You have no clue what you’re talking about Allison. No offense. The body produces saturated fat every day on it’s own whether you eat it or not. You really think the body is going to adapt to allowing the entire structure of the body as well as brain to run on a poisin? If cholesterol is bad why does the body produce such profound amounts of it per day without your choice? 2,000 mg per day of cholesterol, and saturated fat are produced whether you like it or not. The whole structure of the body including brain is cholesterol, and saturated fat without eating any whatsoever. So the body produces a poison for itself to function or else it dies without that poisin.. yea that makes a whole lot of sense. Stop reading pseudo science produced by those who don’t want us healthy. Go take some classes on the makeup of the body.

        • I concur that you have not a clue! People that tell me “doctors” blah blah blah are reminded that only 60 or so years ago doctors advocated smoking their favourite brand of cigarette or convincing young mothers that formula milk is superior to breast milk.

          There are doctors, albeit a minority that support a low carb, high fat diet!

      • Some vegetable oils undergo hydrogenation. This is when hydrogen is added to an unsaturated fat to make it saturated. However, the chemical structure is in the trans configuration, rather than the cis which is natural to our body. Trans fats are terrible and I am sure you can find a wealth of information on why.

        So please do not confuse ALL vegetable oils as bad. Olive oil, flax oil, fish oil are all great for you. They RAISE HDL and can, overtime, combat the negative effects of a high saturated fat diet. They are also your only sources of essential fatty acids, which are fatty acids that your body NEEDS and cannot make itself.

        So you NEED to consume UNsaturated, healthy OILS and whoever tells you differently is very wrong.

        • I find that the best way to combat the effects of a high saturated fat diet is to avoid such a diet in the first place. A little saturated fat is ok but we really don’t require much and certainly not in the amounts that the LCHF people would have us believe.

    • Actually Katie is correct. If you look at her research in a previous report about vegetable oils, you will notice how the timeline correlates to American society obesity and illness. These many problems started not too long ago. The so-called “health awareness” movement between government and an agenda driven ilk have brainwashed too many into thinking what is natural is bad. Money also has corrupted industry providing imitation substitutes for human food. A recent heart surgeon has exclaimed that saturated fats are good for us. Yet it is the unnatural man made fats that are doing the harm.

    • Nope! Just plane wrong. I don’t care what any “study” says… I look at cultures that have been around for 100’s, or 1000’s of years and not their traditional diet… Usually, these cultures have very few cases of modern diseases, the likes of which we suffer today. People are blinded by their perceived intelligence and think that these “studies” are the secret… Nonsense! The best study is the one that looks at most appropriate population. Inuits have thrived on whale fat and meat for a long time… Pacific Islanders have thrived on coconut products for a long time. Open your eyes and learn! Read the book, “Why we get fat and what to do about it” by Gary Taubes. You may experience learning. Keep an open mind and keep asking questions. The notion that saturated fat is anything but good for us, is founded on really bad science. Also, follow the money and you’ll see who really writes the studies!

  5. Thanks for posting this article! I just watched a great documentary called Fat Head which I would recommend.

    I am a herbivore and am now a bit worried about my saturated fat intake, but I oppose meat/dairy for ethical reasons, and because I don’t feel well after I have eaten them. Could anyone give me some advice/point me in the right direction to find out HOW MUCH saturated fat we should eat? I already use coconut oil, how much should I try to ingest daily?! I can’t find very much on the internet because everyone is about avoiding saturated fat!

    Thanks again & greetings from Hastings, England!

    • Really, it depends. On how much fat you function the best off, and how much is natural to your body. I’d recommend gradually upping your coconut oil intake, and seeing what feels the best to you. (For most people it’s two to four.) Personally, I consume two to three tablespoons of coconut oil a day; average. (Usually in coconut flour pancakes or melted into morning tea.) However, I also eat meat and dairy. About the meat and dairy thing- I, too, oppose the production of meat if the meat is from inhumanely treated animals. For that reason, I don’t consume conventional meat. But I do like meat and dairy, and feel like my body needs it to function optimally, especially during winter. I compromise by eating only meats from pastured animals and raw or full fat dairy. I find these things at farmer’s markets, local butchers, and farms around you. Granted, eating only pastured meat and raw dairy means that I eat less of them, mainly because it’s pricier than regular meat. But I am a firm believer in quality over quantity, (I mean, look at the French!) and I’d rather eat a bit less of nutritious meat than more unhealthy meat. Hope this helps!

  6. If you’re an over-absorber, however, you’ll still have to watch how much saturated fat you eat. Lots of research with genes has been done on this, and that research has helped us with our 7 year old. Those with an ApoE-4 gene allele require a low saturated fat, mostly plant-based diet, to avoid CAD, Hypercholesterolemia, and Alzheimer’s. We had our five year old daughter on an all organic, modified Paleo, WAPF-friendly diet, come to find out that her cholesterol was over 300, 200 of it LDL. For the general population, yes, saturated fat is very important, but too much for my daughter could mean an early end to her life. For my daughter, we use “better butter”–1 part ghee mixed with 1 part EVOO and have been warned to reduce coconut oil as well. Also, tests show that she processes and utilizes complex carbohydrates (gluten-free) quite well. Bottomline, the Paleo diet and its fats are not the best diet for all due to genetic variations. For some, they will thrive on it, and for others, they may end up with early CAD from built-up cholesterol, plaque, and fatty liver. By the grace of God, we found an N.D. to give us answers early for our daughter, who is now 7 and thriving. So, Saturated fat, in and of itself, is healthy, but how much and for whom is an IMPORTANT variable that just not enough people know about. I’m sorry but due to the reasons I’ve just explained, many sections of your article are downright dangerous!

    • I appreciate your comments – I was following the Paleo diet for a year and just learned that I have the same genetic variation and need to greatly reduce my fat intake. You’re very right – advice like this really does not apply to everyone, and it’s dangerous when writers act like it does.

  7. Great article Wellness Mama! I eliminated wheat,grains and gluten a few years back and added in more good fats like coconut oil, pastured butter. I feel like a different person as I have reduced my weight by 25lbs have more energy and think more clearly! Best Regards, Wendy

  8. Growing up in the UK in the 1940s I was surrounded by great grand parents and great aunts in their 90s who had grown up on a diet of meat, veg, lard and butter. Heart attacks were very rare and in fact that word was never used – what we now call a heart attack was referred to as “a thrombosis” which suggests that it was a fairly recent phenomenon that didn’t yet have a colloquial name.
    When I was 8 I drank a small bottle of olive oil kept in the bathroom to remove ear wax. My mother rushed me off to the doctor in terror.
    Major cause of death in the family was the Second World War, traffic accidents and industrial accidents (coal mining family). If you managed to survive all that, you lived to your late 90s.
    As I grew older I got sucked into the low fat / food pyramid lies and ended up hugely overweight with psoriasis, a couple of mini strokes and basically waiting for God.

    Since ditching grains, margarine and all veg oils apart from cold pressed olive oil and going onto a diet rich in butter, ghee, coconut oil, fish and good vegetables I have a new lease on life. Probably to the displeasure of Big Pharma and their misguided medical acolytes who cause and then prey on ill health.

  9. I am reading Big Fat Surprise, which contains much of this same information, and I would like to suggest a scary hypothesis–could low-fat and lo-saturated-fat diets be responsible for the autism increase? I think the time periods match very well, and since it is known that fat is crucial to brain health, it could involve the diet of pregnant and pre-pregnant women, the fat content of their breast milk, the fat-profile of baby formulas, and the low-fat, low-saturated-fat diets of young children.

    Essentially no studies have ever been done on the effects of fat-restriction for growing children and their rapidly growing brains. It is also widely noted that upper-middle-class families have a higher incidence of autism than poor families, again possibly related to the stronger adherence of well-educated parents to low-fat and minimal saturated-fat diets.

    This is my hypothesis, and I hope that some studies will be done!

  10. You have just point blank copied this article from Dr Mercola no?

    • Dr. Mercola and I both quoted from the same original article from Drs. Eades but I certainly did not copy his article. For future reference though, Mercola copies many articles from other sources and just adds his comments at the bottom and then republishes them.

    • My husband has been reading Mercola for years. Whilst I have agreed with nearly everything he said and hubby had changed his diet it has taken me a long time to catch up and only recently have finally taken a permanent change with Katie’s blog. Why? I can relate, I understand it better. It is written for me. I am her audience. I was at a cross point. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Sometimes unfortunately people need a TIA before they will take action to prevent a stroke, unstable angina to prevent a heart attack. The more bloggers out there, the better to compete with corporate marketing.

  11. In 1905 Crisco (trans fat) was invented and within 10 years or so it revolutionized bake sales-no more would church moms have to slave on the day of the sale-heck-their pies would last weeks.

    Then something happened on the farm-COMBINES-that “shell” corn to the kernels. No longer would ears of corn be AIR-DRIED-that was just as old fashioned as lard, right? tHEY STILL HAD TO DRY IT THOUGH-Lots of hot air-which-you guessed it-turns the omega 6 in corn to trans fats.

    Then those vegetable oil farmer figured out they could make mar-gar-ine but the lard and butter lobbies wouldn’t let margarine be colored so for a decade homemakers had to ADD THEIR OWN COLOR TO MARGARINE.

    Apparently there is one more wrench in the works. The livestock industry relies on one main flawed study which led them to believe omega 6 is the only EFA necessary for healthy growth of their guests. Of course, corn is king in North America. So most American beef is heavily overbalanced with Omega 6 and trans fats.

    Trans fats “steal” the amides used to produce feel-good chemicals (variously). They also block absorption of all EFA’s-and remarkably, they can also block the blood-brain barrier.

    I am an independent-self-taught biochemist and found by rebalancing EFA’s and removing trans fats-I increased production of these amide chemicals-to the point I could feel a “buzz” factor and others felt it too. It took years to discover why others were flat as a pancake after dinner. How did I figure this out? Momma made some cookies-with butter-but she burned a batch and told me to eat da burned ones first-4 cookies and I didn’t feel my buzz FOR A WEEK.

    Oh-by the way, the chemicals probably are the “endocannabinoids” which trigger the so-called “cannabinoid” receptors-which would account for why marijuana is such a “drug epidemic” capish?

    On top of all the other major man-made disasters (in dietary snafus) in 1937 the USA took away legal access to that last chance source for good brain chemicals so there.

    Meanwhile, drug companies like these imbalances-they grew up with all these man-made diseases and found how to profit from them. Oh-and when I was doing patent research, I actually found a recent patent-issued to a guy that claimed by ADDING OMEGA 6, BEEF IS FIRMER AND EASIER TO CUT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. End of story? By the way, I like how you allow sometimes wrong dissent here-nice touch. Paul Peterson, Storm Lake, Iowa