Monday, June 23, 2014

Eat Butter: My take on the Time magazine article on saturated fat

An article recently came out in Time magazine that takes saturated fats like those found in butter off the hook for cardiovascular disease.  For the most part I agree with the article that saturated fat isn't the demon that we made it out to be and switching from saturated fat to processed carbohydrates was a move in the wrong direction.  However, you have to take this article for what it is while most people are taking it for what it isn't.

First off, no longer vilifying saturated fat doesn't mean you should start eating it ad libitum.  In other words, put down the coffee and coconut oil and step away.  Stating that saturated fat isn't the boogeyman it was made out to be isn't stating that you can eat all of the saturated fat that you want without repercussions.  Just like any recommendation, people will take the recommendation differently.  In my opinion this advice should be taken in a manner that saturated fat, as part of a diverse diet that includes fiber from the high consumption of plant matter, is basically harmless and likely beneficial.  It should not be taken to mean that every one of your meals can now become a meat orgy made up entirely of pigs, cows, and chickens with the occasional sprig of lettuce.  You have things other than yourself to worry about, and a diet devoid of plant matter and high in saturated fat consumption is likely terrible for your microbiome and could lead to high levels of inflammation and colitis(1).

The second thing to consider is that these recommendations are based off of epidemiological research, the same type of research that gave us the original recommendation to avoid saturated fat in the first place.  I agree that saturated fat is mostly benign; but again, I don't believe that is a blanket statement.  What we have is a lack of association between saturated fat and heart disease and a mechanism by which we made the mistake: While saturated fat does raise LDL cholesterol, we didn't have a full understanding of how LDL cholesterol works and this caused us to make a bad recommendation.  However, we could be making the same mistake in lumping all saturated fats together.  Maybe some are beneficial, some are benign, and some may not be quite so good for you.

While this article in Time magazine may fall in line with your opinion towards saturated fat, that doesn't mean you should take the analysis as fact.  It's based on research that can't be used to draw conclusions and is likely incomplete.  Other factors likely play a role in how benign saturated fat is including the content of the rest of the diet.  Another factor to be considered is how the animal that you are eating, or that made the product you are eating, was raised.  While grass-fed and grain-fed cattle tend to have the same percentage of unsaturated to saturated fats, the types of fatty acids are different.  Grass-fed cows tend to contain more healthy Omega-3 fatty acids on the unsaturated side and less palmitic acid on the saturated side than their grain-fed counterparts.  Palmitic acid is potentially inflammatory and the World Health Organization states that the evidence is "convincing" that palmitic acid increases heart disease risk and should be considered in the same light as trans fats.  So don't celebrate this article with 20 chicken wings and a cup of bulletproof coffee, celebrate it with some brussel sprouts fried in bacon grease and sprinkled with crumbled bacon.