What’s All The Fuss About Saturated Fats?

It would seem that the perfect storm has been brewing.  Over the last few years, there’s been a meteoric rise in popularity in grain free diets, such as the Paleo Diet and the Low-Carb High-Fat Diet.  While grains have been called into question as a culprit for several ailments, there’s also been a shift in people’s opinions about fat.

Not long ago, we were told that we should be following low-fat diets, which would help us to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease and help to keep weight off.  There are numerous health experts that are completely flipping the script, and are now raving about the importance of dietary fats.

First of all, let me give some examples of different types of fats, so we’re all on the same page.
1) Foods High In Saturated Fats (SFA) 
– Coconut oil, Butter, Cheese, Milk, Cream, Ghee, Animal Fats.
2) Food High in Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFA)
– Soybean oil, Canola oil, Corn oil, Sunflower oil, Safflower oil, Grape Seed oil, Fish, Flax Seed, Walnuts.
3) Foods High in Monounsaturated Fats (MUFA)
– Nuts, Olives, Olive oil, Canola oil, Nut butters, Avocados.

It would seem that fats are not our enemy anymore.  In fact, the fear around saturated fats is evaporating right before our eyes. There are also many doctors and researchers who are promoting diets that are also quite high in fat content.

What causes a lot of confusion now, is the recent announcement by the American Heart Association that saturated fats should be limited, and coconut oil should be avoided altogether in order to prevent cardiovascular disease.  Who are we to believe?

I think the honest answer as to whether we should be avoiding saturated fats to prevent cardiovascular disease is – it depends.  If you were to lower your intake of saturated fat, the cardiovascular risk reduction would ultimately depend on what you replaced this with in your diet.

Most of the time, people that reduce their intake of saturated fat tend to replace this with greater carbohydrate consumption. However, studies show that this trade-off doesn’t change your cardiovascular risk at all.  Instead, if you were to reduce your saturated fat intake and replace this with greater PUFAintake (eg. fish, vegetables, vegetable oils), the research shows you may lower your risk of cardiovascular events by roughly 10%.

In summary, we don’t need to fear all fats, but we do need to be smart about our dietary fats.  We don’t gain any advantage by replacing saturated fat intake with higher carbohydrate intake. However, we may improve our cardiovascular health by replacing saturated fats with healthier types of fats (MUFAs and PUFAs), especially those with high omega-3 content (fish, flax, walnuts).

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Dr. Michael Morsillo, H.B.Sc., N.D.
Newmarket Naturopathic Clinic