Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saturated with Fat

This is a picture of my famous bread with raw, grass-fed butter.  Yum!

Spin You Right Round

One thing is for certain, today any dietary "facts" you once held have been turned on their head.  Take saturated fat, the Darth Vader of fats.  You once thought of him as a serious badass--destroying lives and worlds in the name of evil.  That is what we once thought about saturated fat--that it was a one-way ticket to coronary heart disease.  Then, along come the Star Wars prequels, and now we think of the ultimate evil Darth as just one of many darths and really a wimpy, moody kid.   Thank you George Lucas for emasculating such an awesome villain.  Back to fats, we can actually thank the current research into fatty acids that saturated fat has been de-villainized.  This is a lot to wrap your mind around, I know, but saturated  Let me explain why.

The Big Bad

First off, lets look at the research.  Here is an excellent summary of the current research for the layperson.  There are some basic points to address from the article:

  1. The diet-heart hypothesis established in 1953 that set up saturated fat as the big bad has been questioned by a slew of contrary evidence.  
  2. LDL/HDL ratios are more important than simply looking at LDL count.  
  3. LDL particle size is more important than its total count since small, dense LDL are the only ones that correlate with increased risk of heart disease by clogging arteries.  
  4. Saturated fat intake increases both LDL and HDL counts, and HDL is the "good" cholesterol that cleans up the LDL.  
  5. When fats replace carbohydrates in the diet, the amount of small, dense LDL decreases.  
  6. Low-carb, high-fat dieters compared to high-carb, low-fat dieters typically have reduced markers of heart disease: reduced small, dense LDL, better HDL/LDL ratio, and reduced triglicerides.
  7. What happens to excess carbohydrates in your diet?  They are converted into triglicerides.  This is why low-fat dieters can still have high triglicerides.  
  8. Triglicerides are equally relevant in risk of heart disease.  
  9. The current American Heart Association guidelines did not address this LDL research when making their guidelines to reduce saturated fat intake from 10% to 7% or less of daily calories.  

More on the current research: a meta-analysis performed in part by Dr. Krauss (who is referred to in the previous article as founder of the particle size importance) made this conclusion:
A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.
Even Loren Cordain, Paleo Diet founder, has softened his once hardline stance on saturated fats.  From his blog:
The bottom line is that we do not recommend cutting down saturated fatty acid intake but rather decrease high-glycemic load foods, vegetable oils, refined sugars, grains, legumes and dairy.
My conclusion: it seems that saturated fat isn't the big bad we had once thought.

Is it actually, dare I say the word, beneficial?

Here are the main points of a Dr. Eades interview at Four Hour Work Week entitled: 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat.  Dr. Eades is a proponent of a high protein, high fat diet with reduced carbohydrate intake.  Go and read it for yourself to see the details.  Here are the benefits:
1. Improved Cardiovascular Risk Factors
2. Stronger Bones
3. Improved Liver Health
4. Healthy Lungs
5. Healthy Brain
6. Proper Nerve Signaling
7. Strong Immune System

However, if one has chronic inflammation, Dr. Ayers of Cooling Inflammation suggests limiting saturated fats, although he readily promotes saturated fats over vegetable oils and includes them as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Here is another take on the benefits of saturated fats from the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit that distributes nutritional information from their founder, a nutritional guru.  Please read the site for more specifics and references to each point.  To quote his list of saturated fat benefits:

  • Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what gives our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
  • They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.
  • They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease. They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.
  • They enhance the immune system.
  • They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids.
    Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats. 
  • Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
  • Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
Bottom line: There seems to be more good about saturated fat than bad.  How about them apples?

Other Contributing Evidence

Here is another article, an older one, discussing saturated fats and their dietary role.  Unfortunately, it was funded by Nestle with agricultural interests to avoid having to reduce saturated fats in foods.

Mark's Daily Apple has a good discussion of saturated fat summarizing the background to the debate and why not to avoid them.

Free the Animal also has an extensive review of the debate and current research.  He is definitely not afraid to offend, so you are hereby warned.

Whole Health Source has a great post with a bunch of research articles to read about the topic.

I could go on and on.  The more I look, the deeper I get into research contrary to what I had previously assumed to be fact.  Thus, it looks like there is a lot out there turning the idea of saturated fats leading to heart disease on its head.  Bottom line: go ahead and eat your meat!

The Easiest Meat Preparation Known To Man: Seared Steak
Method taken from the America's Test Kitchen and applied to every steak I have eaten with great success.  In fact, I would rather cook my steak myself than buy one even at an expensive steak house! 

grass-fed beef steak of your choice, room temperature is best, patted dry
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Get your cast iron or stainless skillet* "NASA hot" (to quote Alton Brown).  Salt and pepper your steak (one side is all that is needed, just put that side down and add seasoning** to the other side after its in the pan).  Once seasoned, place the steak in the pan and DO NOT TOUCH until you see the cooked coloration climbing about halfway up the side of the steak.  The timing depends upon the thickness of the steak, cut, and what type of doneness you prefer.  Google some charts for more information.  I love my steaks on the rare side because the tenderness and juiciness is lost with overcooking.  I have come full circle from my childhood abhorrence of any red whatsoever, so I can tell all you well-doners to just shut up and try it medium, especially a good cut like ribeye.  The experience will speak for itself.  Okay, back to the steak.  Seeing some creep of color up the side means flip, with tongs (don't be all sly and try to get away with a spatula or a fork--I have been there and suggest tongs).  Try to land the steak on fresh skillet space by turning the pan 90 degrees and then placing the steak down.  Then, let 'er sear for another few minutes.  You can check doneness using your fingers and palm as a guide, but err on the side of under-done.  The second side takes less time, so watch it carefully!  Once you are satisfied, remove the steak from the pan and place it on a plate to cool for AT LEAST 10 minutes.  You need to seal in those juices--don't worry, it won't get ice cold.  Once finished, feast upon your delicious, freakin' simple steak!

* For best results, don't use nonstick and avoid getting nonstick too hot due to its release of toxins--they can kill birds, so they probably aren't good for us either.

** Don't try to add all other sorts of spices to this--most will burn.  If you want them, add other spices after cooking or in a sauce.

Serving suggestions:

I LOVE my steak with avocado slices on top.  Try it--it's divine!
Butter was also a recent indulgence that was mind-blowing.
When playing it loose with dairy, I melt for blue cheese on my steak.

But all in all, it only takes a good cut of grass-fed beef to make the experience memorable.

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