The Saturated Fat Myth


As a Naturopathic Doctor, whenever I talk to patients we always end up talking about their diet, and inevitably get into a conversation about the three main macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. When we get to fat, I frequently encounter patients who misunderstand the connection between its intake and health. This misunderstanding has a lot to do with erroneous media reports, based on a legacy of bribery and fraudulent research practices. 

First, the truth about fat: With the exception of trans fat, all fats are a healthy part of a balanced diet, including saturated fat.

Trans fat, or trans-unsaturated fatty acid, is an artificially created fat and was originally designed to keep food from going rancid. The terms “hydrogenated" or "partially-hydrogenated" are often used in conjunction with trans fat as that's what the process involves, adding hydrogen. These fats are created by pumping hydrogen molecules into vegetable oils. This process makes the fat shelf-stable. That’s why it’s usually found in fast food and pre-made desserts. This is good for business, but not good for your health. Research has linked it to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis and numerous other diseases [1].

Saturated fat is naturally occurring and found in all of those foods you used to be told were bad for you, like animal products such as beef, pork, full-fat dairy, and coconut oil. These also happen to be some of the most delicious. They are called “saturated" since all of the molecular bonds are occupied, saturated with hydrogen. 

The misunderstanding that saturated fat is bad began in the 1960's when research was done into the connection between dietary factors and cardiovascular events. Early research concluded saturated fat and cholesterol were the main culprit in heart disease. August institutions like Harvard University and respectable journals like The New England Journal of Medicine published the research, lending it credibility.  This research carried on until the early 90’s.

During that 30-year span, dietary guidelines were released recommending avoiding all saturated fat, and replacing it with carbohydrates and food laden with sugar. Seems crazy now, but this is what following the best evidence looked like at the time. 

But this research shouldn't have been trusted. Why? The sugar industry was funding it.

In November 2016, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released documents which showed that researchers were being paid by the sugar industry to obscure the relationship between sugar and heart disease, pushing them to blame saturated fats instead.

Don't believe me? Here’s an account of what happened [2]. It reads like a crime novel. 

But the widespread belief that fat is bad is hard to erase. The sad fact is, the sugar industry’s diversionary strategy was successful.

But the current science shows that the main culprit in heart disease is sugar consumption. And many of us get too much sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) [3,4]. SSBs include popular brands like Coke, Sprite, sweetened iced teas, and even juice. To compound the problem, those who drink SSBs may have a less-than ideal diet in other ways, like high trans fat consumption. 

What should you conclude from this story?

Consume as little trans fat and pop as possible (none preferably), and don't be afraid to eat red meat, butter, and any other saturated fat. It's as much a part of a healthy diet as fruits and vegetables - just enjoy everything in moderation. 

If you have any questions about how to reach your full potential, don't hesitate to contact me, book an appointment, or stop by the clinic.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Oake