What Can We Learn About Saturated Fat from Home Depot?

I’m attending the annual American College of Nutrition conference, and I’m listening to a lecture by one of the leading researchers on low-carb diets, Professor Jeff Volek, RD, PhD— and suddenly, I’m thinking about paint.

Yes. Paint. The kind you get at Home Depot.

See, Volek was making the case—supported by a ton of published research—that the effect of dietary saturated fat in your body is almost completely dependent on what it’s eaten with.

And the best example of that is mixing paint.

See, the color white produces a certain result when you mix it with black, a different result when you mix it with blue, and an entirely different result when you mix it with yellow.

And so it is with saturated fat.

As Volek explained, saturated fat in the context of a low carb diet, is a wonderful source of fuel and the body will be delighted to use it as such. Mix that saturated fat with sugar and carbs—i.e. the typical American diet—and all bets are off.

Here’s why: There is an association between saturated fat and an increased risk for some diseases—but the association isn’t with saturated fat in the diet. It’s with saturated fat in the blood.

If that seems like a minor distinction to you, let me explain why it’s anything but minor.

The saturated fat you eat has very little effect on your blood levels. (In this way, it’s similar to dietary cholesterol which has practically no effect on the blood levels of cholesterol that your doctor measures.) Eating a lot of saturated fat doesn’t drive up your blood levels of saturated fat, just as eating eggs doesn’t drive up your LDL. And cutting back on saturated fat doesn’t drive your blood levels down.

What sends your blood levels of saturated fat skyward is…. the sugar you eat with it. Or the starch, or the processed carbs, or whatever else drives your blood sugar up through the roof. Therefore, as researchers writing in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine pointed out, the best way to lower saturated fat in the bloodstream is to lower sugar in the diet.

If you’re eating a ketogenic diet—or a very low carb diet that keeps you “flirting” with ketosis—saturated fat is going to have absolutely no negative effects on your health. In fact, the absolute worst thing you could say about saturated fat is that it’s neutral—essentially harmless. Unlike olive oil or fish oil, saturated fat doesn’t have a resume of studies saying we should eat more of it—but, contrary to popular belief, the research does not support that we should eat less of it.

We have much more important dietary challenges to be concerned with than reducing our intake of saturated fat. In fact, one major study at Harvard showed that swapping saturated fat for the almighty carbohydrate actually increased the risk for heart disease!

The only concern I have about saturated fat from animal products has nothing to do with the fat being saturated. It has to do with the quality- or lack of quality—in factory farmed meat. Fat tissue in mammals is like a safe house for toxins. We store all the crap we’re exposed to—from hormones to pesticides to environmental poisons—right there in our fat cells, and that’s true for cows and humans. So when you eat fat from toxic, factory farmed animals, you’re consuming those toxins.

And therein lies the problem.

It has nothing to do with the fat. If a crop of broccoli was contaminated with e. coli would you think broccoli was unhealthy? The only thing that makes animal fats “unhealthy” is the stuff the animals are exposed to if they’re factory farmed. No one has the slightest thing to fear from saturated fat that comes from grass-fed animals.

My opinion: Concentrate on getting a lot of great fat from omega-3’s, omega-9’s (olive oil), a tiny bit of cold-pressed omega-6, vegetable saturates like coconut oil (I like Barlean’s) and palm oil (I like the sustainable kind that comes from Malaysia).

And for goodness sake, stop worrying about saturated fat.

If you’re inclined to worry about your food and the food you feed your family, you’d be better advised to focus on the foods that really rob you of your health: high glycemic, processed carbohydates.

The very same foods that make us fat, sick, tired, and depressed.