Why the Whole Idea of Steering People Away From Saturated Fats was a Mistake
The war between which is healthier, saturated or unsaturated fats, has been, till date, heavily date, tilted against saturated fats so far. From long time, saturated fats have been blamed for all the illnesses we suffer and a whole industry has come up around demonising saturated fats while holding up unsaturated fats as the one to consume for good health. But things have changed in recent times. Before looking at what has led to the change on perception around saturated fats, let us understand what they are in the first place.
Saturated fats – are derived from both plants and animals such as meat, eggs, dairy, coconut, palm etc. They usually consist of saturated fatty acids. and are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids are long chain carboxylic acids with long chains (aliphatic) (12 -24 carbon atoms) which does not have double bonds in their carbon- carbon bonds structures. Their structures are fully saturated with hydrogens. They have high melting and boiling points and have lesser tendency to become rancid.
Unsaturated fatty acids: on the other hand, are fatty acids which have one or more double bonds between their carbon atoms . depending on the orientation of the carbon atoms around the doble bond, you can have cis or trans fatty acids. The presence of double bonds adds kinks in the structures. The cis configuration is the more prominent one. More the number of double bonds, more the kinks. This affects the structural properties of membranes and other structures wehre fatty acids are prevalent.
E.g oleic, lineleic and linolenic acids.
|Percent Fatty Acid Present in Triglycerides|
|Fat or Oil||Saturated||Unsaturated|
Trans fats – unsaturated fats which have been made saturated by the process of hydrogenation.
What were the Previous Theories Concerning the Health Benefits of Saturated Fats and Unsaturated Fats?
For long till now saturated fats have been associated with a lot of negativity. For years, we heard and we were bombarded with information on how dangerous saturated fats are for our health, how we should limit our saturated fat intake and so on and so forth. A report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has radically questioned this attitude and put forth the proposition that saturated fats are good for health. What they did in this large scale study was to take an indepth look and reappraisal at 72 previous literature on effect of fats on heart disease, which involved greater than 600000 people from across 18 countries. Some of the subjects had pre –existing heart disease while others did not have. They conducted a re-analysis of the results and studied the effect of different kinds of fats on the health of the heart. What they found was surprising: neither did the saturated fats nor did the unsaturated fats have any effect on the heart. Use of trans fats had negative effects on the health of the heart while use of omega fatty acids had beneficial effects. Basically, this whole study turned over the results of previous studies and overthrow the concept of saturated fats being bad.
Research has indicated that, on the contrary, that fats are actually good for our health. The myths and lies propagated around saturated fat build up a forbidding list of no – no’s including that it is a killer, it clogs arteries, causes obesity, not good for the heart, and so on. As a result, people shifted from traditional sources of fat such as butter, coconut oil and palm oils, lard, suet etc to the oils containing monounsaturated fats such as cornflower, lanola and sunflower oils. Not only that giving up saturated fats, did not exactly bring in the supposed health benefits as promised.
And as it has turned out, the original study which had recommended the battle against saturated fats has turned out wrong in many ways. In fact, it is quite clear now that weaning away of people from saturated fats was quite a wrong thing to do. In fact, going off fat actually led to an opposite effect, you ended up eating more to compensate for it.
So, Where Did the Earlier Study on Saturated Fats Go Wrong?
The limitations of the original study were two fold. Firstly, it left out analysis of many significant factors such as rate of smoking, effect of sugar on health and presence or absence of exercise habits. Secondly, it left out the data from the countries which subsisted a lot on saturated fat diet. Hence its studies were skewed. The after effects of the study led to redesigning of ideal diets as one focussed on carbohydrates and proteins, with low fat.
And did it actually result in drastic improvement in health? No, even though the amount of saturated fat consumed went down, there was no let up in the increase of diseases.
Obesity and heart diseases went up. In addition, many studies in the 2000s have showed that saturated fat were in fact not responsible for any of the things that they were supposed to cause especially increasing the risk of cardiac diseases. In fact, saturated fat has been shown to deliver many benefits. It helps in enhancing absorption of fats in the liver and helps in reducing the number of fat cells in liver. The fats found in coconut and butter also help in strengthening the immune system. It increases levels of testosterone which has a positive effect on body functions. It provides essential fatty acids for the body.
Hence an overall balanced diet is essential and making saturated fat a villain for deficiencies in other sectors of health management has finally failed big time. The results of the study indicates that nutritionists a n d others need to revamp their perspective on the ideal diet as well as change the current guidelines relating to the importance of fats in diet.