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What Happens If You Eat Saturated Fat?

When people eat saturated fat, their risk of stroke drops. If they are also avoiding refined carbohydrates, their triglycerides also come down.
What Happens If You Eat Saturated Fat?
Meat grilled seafood beef

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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