shrimp and steak on a grill, eat saturated fat

At least since the middle of the 20th century, Americans have been warned not to eat saturated fat. The idea was that fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter or the fat found in meat like beef or lamb, would raise cholesterol and clog coronary arteries. More recent research reveals, however, that saturated fats are not all alike in their effects (Santaren et al, Journal of Lipid Research, online Sep. 19, 2017). In addition, other components of the diet as well as the microbes that reside in the intestines have an important impact on the effects of eating saturated fat (Li & Tang, Current Atherosclerosis Reports, Aug. 25, 2017). A diet containing saturated fat does not necessarily result in sky-high cholesterol, as one reader reports.

Lab Results When You Eat Saturated Fat:

Q. I enjoyed your article about saturated fats. My husband and I have been eating saturated fat and avoiding all the “white stuff” like flour and sugar. We have been separating “fuels” by having protein and fats, or lean protein with healthy carbs at our meals.

I have lost 30 pounds. My cholesterol went from 204 to 160 and my triglycerides from 140 to 41.

A. For decades, nutrition scientists have told us that people who eat saturated fat end up with clogged coronary arteries. This seemed logical, but it was not based on solid scientific evidence.

The PURE Study:

The most recent study called PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) followed more than 135,000 people for seven years. During that time, about 4,700 of these individuals had heart attacks or strokes and nearly 6,000 died.

You might expect those who were enjoying butter and cheese to be among the most vulnerable. Instead, however, those who consumed a high-carbohydrate diet rich in sugars and processed flour were more likely to suffer such consequences (Dehghan et al, The Lancet, online, Aug. 29, 2017).

According to the authors,

“High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.”

Surprisingly, the more saturated fat these individuals consumed, the lower their risk of stroke. Other research suggests that fatty acid oxidation helps drive critical changes in mitochondria and the lining of blood vessels (Zaina & Lund, Current Atherosclerosis Reports, Sep. 2017; Ghosh et al, Journal of Biomedical Science, July 27, 2017). These alterations may lead to atherosclerotic plaque. The challenge is to avoid fatty acid oxidation.

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  1. D

    I am very encouraged to see real research done that is not influenced by the Pharma

  2. Martha

    For more on this topic, I recommend reading Gary Taubes’ book on Good Calories and Bad Calories. He cites historical information on the Japanese navy in the late 1870’s. Originally the sailors were fed a standard diet of vegetables and fish. No health problems were apparent, even though the sailors were getting no carbohydrates in their diet. When the navy added white rice to the diet of vegetables and fish, the sailors developed beriberi. This suggests that eating white rice increased the need for vitamin B1, and actually created a deficiency disease where there was none before.

  3. Diana

    How do we avoid fatty acid oxidation? Oxygen is everywhere we are.

    • Terry Graedon

      Yes, oxygen is essential to life even though fatty acid oxidation is dangerous. Antioxidants with your meals can help. (Vitamin C has been tested; others may be more speculative.) A lot of spices appear to have antioxidant properties, and should be included with fatty meals.

  4. Tish
    Richardson, TX

    What diet is the writer referencing? In particular she states, “separating “fuels” by having protein and fats, or lean protein with healthy carbs at our meals”. What does she mean by “separating fuels” and healthy carbs? Also, what types of cooking oil are used? My whole family cannot eat coconut oil. We tried it twice and we all gained 5-8 lbs. in 2-3 days. We use olive oil about 75% of the time and butter or canola 25%. Suggestions or direction would be greatly appreciated.

    • Terry Graedon

      If olive oil most of the time and butter part of the time is working for you, we don’t see any problem with that.

    • Mary Ann

      Google Trim Healthy Mama.

  5. Lisa
    Orange County CA

    Totally on board with this. But the last line in the article – “The challenge is to avoid fatty acid oxidation” – I was so hoping for another paragraph afterwards explaining how one might do that. Any ideas?

  6. Cranfor

    All I can offer is my own experiences. I was raised on a farm and have continued to keep up the same diet most of the time. This consists of bacon, eggs, grits, and butter biscuits for breakfast. A light snack or sandwich for lunch; usually a piece of pork or chicken. And a moderate supper of vegetables, some meat, and bread. I will soon be seventy-five years old and work along side men and boys the same age as my grand children. I am usually the first one at work and the last one to leave. If anyone needs help I am always happy to lend a hand. I know a sawmill is not easy work for some. I do go to my doctor, the insurance company insists, and always get good reports. The nurse often tell me, if everyone was in my condition, they would be out of work. All I have ever done is work and will do so for another fifty years or so.

  7. Jack

    Since you featured author/researcher Gary Taubs years ago on your show I have followed his recommended “non-white diet” and brought my weight and blood pressure down to my college levels. It’s a shame our popular researchers are motivated by their relationship to big industry $ rather than selflessly seeing what’s best for people. Knowing that the change in microbes is key helps the argument. Follow our great-grandparents diet and consume only what you can burn off is my mantra. Thanks

  8. stephen

    All I cook with is Grass fed butter. Isn’t it funny how wrong ‘settled’ science can be. For the life of me I can’t think of another example. OH, what about global warming? Either it’s about rising sea levels or extinction of certain species. Funny thing is during the last warming period in the middle ages was a truly prosperous time for agriculture. There were people living in Greenland. Grapes grew in northern UK.

    Every article I read now in science is somehow colored by a ‘warming planet’. TV, movies it’s everywhere. Yet we were told until recently without any argument that the food pyramid was the bible. It was settled science. even though scientists knew of meat only eating people who lived to old age without heart disease. Don’t look there, it’s settled science. and what about Y2K? We spent billions yet nothing happened. In the 60’s we were told the rapid soil erosion was going to threaten all agriculture. They painted horrible pictures yet the per acre bushels has grown dramatically. Coffee bad, coffee good. in the 1970’s it was settled fact we were in a cooling planet. one strategy was to paint the ice in the arctic with carbon black to melt more ice. lol.

    We were told the end of oil was near. Oh yeah? Fracking happened. We have hundreds of years of oil. Every chicken little threat in my 66 years has been bogus or solved with technology. Perhaps scientists are the ones following the (grant) money. After all many of the 1960 hippies ended up in government positions, deciding who to give grants to. Try getting one of those grants if you don’t believe in global warming. 97%, right. ask the retired scientists no longer scrambling for grant money. they’ll tell you the truth.

  9. Jenny H

    I wonder though if the evils of white flour and sugar isn’t more that they are ’empty’ nutrients. Carbohydrates eaten unrefined would contain a lot of vital minerals and vitamins.

  10. Ali

    I took a gene test 7 months ago, and the results showed that I am highly sensitive to saturated fats. Indeed, it was recomended that I consume no more than 16g of saturated fat a day. Should I disregard this recommendation?

    • Terry Graedon

      You should definitely pay attention to advice that is individualized for you. Disregard the more general recommendations if they are at odds with what your body tells you.

  11. Isabel

    I have lost 30 lb since I went on the “Grain Brain” diet (sat fats included; sugar excluded; gluten excluded) a year and a half ago. However, my total cholesterol has risen slightly.

  12. Marcy

    Back in 1977 I worked as a research assistant in the Preventive Cardiology division of the Cardiology department at a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

    During my very first week working in their clinic, I heard the doctors advising the patients to avoid saturated fat. I told them straight out that was wrong, because what matters is not saturated fat itself, but the ratio of poly-saturated to poly-unsaturated fat. The doctors told me I was crazy, because they were Harvard doctors, and I was a college student taking a year off from school, so how could I possibly know more than they did?

    In 1977 very few psychics were out of the closet, so how could I possibly have told them that I have some skills as a medical intuitive? Furthermore, cholesterol does not cause heart disease — that is just a scam by the pharmaceutical companies to sell statins. The human body needs cholesterol to build cell walls, and for myelinization of the nervous system. It is SO gratifying to see the truth finally coming out 40 years later. Thank you for posting this!

  13. solow

    Was “margarine is healthier than butter” an evil lie or evil extreme incompetence?

  14. Cindy
    Clifton park ny

    So how does one avoid fatty acid oxidation? Any tips?

  15. Gerard
    Athens, Georgia

    For years Dr. Robert Atkins was criticized for advocating consuming fats and severely cutting down on eating carbohydrates. All the while his patients were losing weight and lowering cholesterol. Finally, researchers are legitimzing his work.

  16. Tom M

    How can you trust anything from the medical community? In 5-10 years, they will flip flop again. I figure most research is influenced by big pharma in an attempt to control the outcomes so that some new drugs can be invented that claim to fix the problem. Of course any problem solving that doesn’t include a drug(s) is going to be silenced because there is no money in it.

  17. Luke

    Americans already eat a diet high in saturated fat which is why we have a stroke and heart attack nation.

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