Saturated fats may save your life
WHY SATURATED FAT IS GOOD FOR YOU
Although we don’t normally consider saturated fat as an essential nutrient, it is just as essential to good health as the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. We need saturated fat for proper digestive function, growth, and a host of other processes. In fact, saturated fat is an essential component of every single cell in our bodies. It is so important to proper function and good health that nature has incorporated saturated fat into almost all of the foods we eat both of animal and plant origin. Even the so-called polyunsaturated oils like safflower oil, corn oil, and even flaxseed oil contain saturated fat. The World Health Organization and even the American Heart Association recommends that we get saturated fat in our diet to maintain optimal health. This type of information is usually ignored because saturated fat is considered a health hoodlum lurking in our food just to cause problems, and the less we eat the better. But this is simply not true. Nature doesn’t put saturated fat in vegetables, mother’s milk, and other foods for kicks. It’s there for a reason.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), two international committees, recommend a polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio (P:S) of 0.6:1.0. Or almost twice as much saturated fat as polyunsaturated fat in the diet. The membrane of our cells preferentially chooses saturated and monounsaturated fat for incorporation into its structure. Only in a few specialized structures are the polyunsaturated fats preferentially selected over saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fat has been tagged a dietary monster, sneaking into our foods to cause untold health problems. Isn’t it interesting that saturated fat has been a staple part of the human diet for thousands of years and yet only recently has it turned bad, or so they say. In reality, saturated fat isn’t as bad as it has been portrayed; most of this negative publicity is profit motivated.
Cholesterol and saturated fat have been tagged as the biggest dietary villains of all time. Scientists are now discovering that cholesterol is not as bad as it has been made out to be. It is, in fact, vital to good health. Cholesterol is so important to the basic operations of life that without it, every cell in our body would become dead masses of fat and protein. Cholesterol is found in all body tissues and comprises an integral part of the cell membrane. Nine-tenths of all the body’s cholesterol is located in the external and internal membranes of cells. It is essential in the production of nerve and brain tissue. It is used by the body to make bile acids necessary for digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Our bodies transform cholesterol into a variety of important hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, and others. Simply put, without cholesterol we would be dead.
As knowledge of dietary cholesterol has increased, its status as a troublemaker has fallen. As a result, more heat has been placed on saturated fat, which is now considered a much more serious problem. According to the cholesterol theory, coronary artery disease is caused by cholesterol buildup in arteries, so why is saturated fat condemned? Saturated fat is attacked because our bodies can turn it into cholesterol. We get more cholesterol from saturated fat than we do from the cholesterol in our food. But this native cholesterol, which is made by our liver, is the naterial used to build healthy cells and is not the “oxidized” or damaged cholesterol that finds its way inside artery walls. So eating saturated fat contributes little, if anything, to the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Since ordinary cholesterol is not a factor in the development of heart disease, saturated fat, likewise, is not the problem it is made out to be.
History has proven this fact. Our ancestors lived on a diet rich in grease, lard, and butter. Those were the only oils they ever used. It wasn’t until the 20th century that vegetable oils became widely available. Use of oils rich in saturated fat have declined over time while vegetable oils have skyrocketed. Along with the greater use of vegetable oil and the decreased use of saturated fat has come a plague of degenerative diseases that the world has never known before. To blame cholesterol and saturated fat for the heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases does not fit the facts and is inconsistent with the historical record.
There have been many studies that demonstrate that saturated fat is not nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. If saturated fat consumption caused heart disease then eliminating it from the diet would prevent the illness. The Lancet reported a study of 2,000 men who went on a low saturated fat diet to see how that would affect cardiovascular health. The study found that those participants who went on diets low in saturated fat didn’t experience any reduction in heart attack death risk over a two year period. If eliminating saturated fat didn’t stop heart disease from developing, it is logical to assume there is another cause.
Researchers have shown in animal studies that saturated fatty acids actually help to prevent stroke rather than cause it. In particular, Dr. Yamori reported decreased stroke incidence among rats fed a high-fat, high cholesterol diet. In addition, Dr. Ikeda demonstrated a dcreased stroke risk among rats fed a diet high in milk fat.
Two ecological studies in the 1980s from Japan found correlations between increased fat intake and decreased death from ischemic stroke in humans. In another cohort study of Japanese men living in Hawaii, intake of both total fat and saturated fat was inversely associated with all stroke mortality, after adjustment for multiple risk factors. These studies were generally ignored because they were contrary to the prevailing belief that saturated fat promotes ischemic stroke rather than protects us from it.
On December 24, 1997, headlines around the world proclaimed that saturated fat lowers rate of strokes. This pronouncement came after the publication of a 20-year study performed by Dr. Matthew Gillman and coleagues at Harvard Medical School and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study involved 832 men aged 45 through 65 years of age who were initially free of cardiovascular disease. The results of the study raised howls of protest from health experts who had spent years telling us to eat less saturated fat. Yet many researchers familiar with fat metabolism and cardiovascular disease were not surprised at the results of this study.
The pupose of the Harvard study was to examine the association of stroke incidence with intake of fat and type of fat during 20 years of follow-up among middle-aged men participating in the Framingham Heart Study. In conformity with other studies performed in Japan, intakes of saturated fat were associated with reduced risk of ischemic stroke in men. The study also showed that the highest incidence of stroke was associated with the most polyunsaturated fat consumption.
When you take into account the above facts saturated fat becomes a relatively harmless food if eaten in moderation. In some cases it can even promote better health.
Much of the chemical properties of fats are determined by their molecular size. Individual fat molecules are called fatty acids. Small fat molecules (or fatty acids) have a different effect on us than larger ones. The smaller molecules are referred to as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). The larger as long-chain fatty acids. Researchers have discovered a multitude of health benefits associated with the medium-chain saturated fatty acids. Unfortunately these fatty acids are relatively rare in the foods we eat. The richest source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) is found in coconut oil. For this reason, coconut oil has been emerging as the premier dietary oil.
Some of the main benefits researchers have discovered from the fatty acids in coconut oil are described below:
Most all fats in our diet are absorbed directly into the blood stream where they are distributed throughout the body. MCFA, however, are not. Because of their small size digestive enzymes are not necessary to break them down and they are transported directly to the liver where they are, for the most part, burned as fuel much like a carbohydrate. In this respect they act more like carbohydrates than they do fats.
Because of the ease of digestion, coconut oil has been a lifesaver for many people. It is used medicinally in special food preparations for those who suffer digestive disorders and have trouble digesting fats. For the same reason, it is also used in infant formula for the treatment of malnutrition. Since it is rapidly absorbed, it can deliver quick nourishment without putting excessive strain on the digestive and enzyme systems, and helps conserve the body’s energy that would normally be expended in digesting other fats. Coconut oil is one of the major ingredients in most infant formulas commonly used today.
MCFA can also improve the absorption of other nutrients. The absorption of calcium and magnesium and also amino acids has been found to increase when infants are fed a diet containing coconut oil. Coconut oil has been used to enhance absorption and retention of calcium and magnesium when a deficiency of these minerals exist. This is especially true in the case of rickets which involves a vitamin D deficiency and the demineralization of the bones. For those who are concerned about developing osteoporosis as they get older, coconut oil may be useful in helping to slow down this degenerative process by improving mineral absorption.
One of the remarkable things about coconut oil is that it can help you lose weight. Yes, there is a dietary fat that can actually help you take off unwanted pounds. That fat is coconut oil. Coconut oil can quite literally be called the world’s only low-fat fat.
Unlike other fats, MCFA in coconut oil are converted to energy rather than packed on the body as fat tissues. So when you eat coconut oil it provides energy, much like a carbohydrate, and does not contribute to body fat.
Coconut oil also has fewer calories than any other fat. Because of the small size of MCFA, coconut oil supplies slightly fewer calories than other fats. Coconut Oil is truly a low-fat fat.
The most remarkable effect coconut oil has in regards to weight loss is that it stimulates the metabolism. The faster the metabolism the more calories are burned and the less calories available to be converted into body fat. By eating coconut oil you rev up your metabolism and thus burn more calories. You can eat more and weigh less.
All of the criticism that has been aimed at coconut oil is based solely on the fact that it is primarily a saturated fat and saturated fat is known to increase blood cholesterol. No legitimate research, however, has ever demonstrated any proof that coconut oil consumption raises blood cholesterol levels.
The MCFA of coconut oil are burned almost immediately for energy production and so are not converted into cholesterol and do not affect blood cholesterol levels. Numerous studies have demonstrated that coconut oil has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels.
An even more important factor in relation to cardiovascular health is the blood’s tendency to form clots. Special proteins in the blood called platelets cause clotting when they become sticky. Numerous studies have demonstrated that all dietary fats — beef fat, lard, butter, vegetable oil, and even canola and olive oils — promote platelet stickiness. The more you eat, the stickier the blood gets, and the greater the risk of developing blood clots. The omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, are an exception. They have the opposite effect on blood platelets. This is the main reason why they have been recommended for those at risk of heart disease. Too much, however, which is easy to do with dietary supplements, can interfere with normal blood clotting, and that can be just as dangerous. When this happens, blood vessels weaken and can rupture with the slightest degree of stress. Twenty-five percent of all strokes are caused by excessive bleeding within the brain.
Another group of fats that don’t promote platelet stickiness are the MCFA. These fats are burned up immediately after consumption and, therefore, do not affect platelet stickiness either one way or the other. Of all the dietary fats, MCFA are the most benign.
People who traditionally consume large quantities of coconut oil as apart of their ordinary diet have a very low incidence of heart disease and have normal blood cholesterol levels. This has been well supported by epidemiological observations recorded in many studies. Those populations who consume large quantities of coconut oil have remarkably good cardiovascular health. Absent are the heart attacks and strokes characteristic in Western countries. After analyzing all available studies and reviewing epidemiological evidence, author and coconut researcher, P.K. Thampan, concludes that there is absolutely no correlation between coconut oil consumption and heart disease. If anything, coconut oil consumption is heart healthy.
The native populations of the Polynesian islands are high coconut consumers and derive most of their energy from coconut. In a study of the native populations of two islands, Pukapuka and Tokelau, it was observed that the male population of the two groups 35.2 percent and 55.7 percent, respectively, of their energy requirements mostly from coconut. In both groups, the female population had a comparatively high intake of fat calories. The levels of blood cholesterol among the Pukapukans were low, ranging from 170 mg/dl to 176 mg/dl, despit a high fat intake. Among the Tokelauans, whose fat intake was higher than that of the Pukapukans, the blood cholesterol levels were somewhat higher ranging between 208 mg/dl and 216 mg/dl. The prevalence of coronary heart disease among the two populations covered in the study was extremely low and has remained low.
In Sri Lanka coconut has been the chief source of fat in the diet for thousands of years. The average consumption in the island country has been reported to be 90 coconuts per capita annually. When the consumption of coconut oil is also taken into consideration, the total consumption in terms of coconut is 120 annually. Their heart disease rate is far lower than that of noncoconut-eating populations.
In the state of Kerala, in India, where large quantities of coconuts and coconut oil have traditionally been consumed, an average 2.3 out of 1,000 people suffered from coronary heart disease in 1979. A campaign against the use of coconut oils on the grounds that it is an “unhealthy” saturated fat decreased coconut oil consumption during the 1980s. Vegetable oils replaced it in household use. As a result, the heart disease rate shot up to 7 per 1,000 people by 1993. By substituting vegetable oils for coconut oil, the heart disease rate tripled! In Delhi where the consumption of coconut products is negligible, 10 out of 1,000 people had heart disease in the same time period. In Western countries where vegetable oil is the main source of fat, heart disease accounts for nearly half of all deaths. It seems that if you want to protect yourself from heart disease, you should replace your polyunsaturated vegetable oils with coconut oil.
Immune System Support
One of the unique characteristics of coconut oil is its antimicrobial properties. Coconut oil is, in essence, a natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal food. Coconuts grow in warm tropical climates where bacteria and other organisms live in abundance. Coconuts have developed a natural resistance to this swarm of potentially harmful microorganisms by using nature’s own antimicrobial defense force — medium-chain fatty acids.
Human breast milk and the milk of other mammals also contain MCFA. These fatty acids protect the newborn baby from harmful germs at its most vulnerable time in life while its immune system is still developing. Another reason coconut oil is added to infant formula is that it helps protect them from infections.
MCFA strengthens and supports the immune system. The antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties of the MCFA aid in reducing the stress that would otherwise be placed on the immune system. The immune system wages a constant battle with disease causing microorganisms. Coconut oil provides artillery to help fight these invading organisms, thus reducing stress on the immune system which allows the immune system to function more efficiently. Studies with coconut oil have shown it to improve immune response to pathogenic bacteria. Coconut oil is ideal for immune supressed individuals. Oil researcher, Dr. Mary Enig, has proposed giving coconut and palm kernel oils to AIDS patients to help protect them against infections.