Don’t Fear Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
This weeks “Ask the Nutritionist” question comes from Sheri!
Q: For years we were told to stay away from fats, especially saturated fats and cholesterol. I really like red meat, fish and dairy though and I’ve been doing some reading and it seems that eating reasonable amounts of these fats in the diet aren’t as harmful as we were once told and may not even raise our cholesterol levels. Can you clarify?
A: Great question Sheri! There are many misconceptions about saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, it can be very confusing and I understand your concerns. These misconceptions stem from a researcher (Ancel Keys) who incorrectly found an association between high fat consumption and heart disease. We now know that the cholesterol and saturated fats we eat have little effect on our serum cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. Studies have shown it’s more likely the high consumption of sugars and man made trans-fats that lead to inflammation and heart disease.
Our bodies need fats to function optimally. Saturated fats are easily digestible, and a great source or energy. Saturated fats are necessary for the formation of cell membranes and hormones. They also help insulate our nerves and organs. Consuming adequate amounts of saturated fats helps us maintain a healthy weight by increasing satiety.
Cholesterol is a fat like substance called a sterol. We get it through the consumption of animal products, and our liver produces it for us. It is an essential component of our cell membranes, giving them just the right amount of stiffness and fluidity. Cholesterol is also a building block for important steroid hormones like cortisol, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. In order to digest and use fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) we need cholesterol.
Incorporating healthy sources of saturated fats and cholesterol into your diet is easy. Pasture raised organic eggs are a delicious breakfast option, and you want to be sure to eat the yolks as that is where the healthy fats as well as vitamins and minerals are located. Using organic butter from grass fed cows on your steamed veggies and sautéed greens will help with satiety and vitamin absorption. If you enjoy coconut you could try using coconut oil in baking. If you usually eat skinless chicken you may wish to try chicken with the skin on. You don’t have to do all of these things though, pick which options sound the best to you and that you think you may enjoy the most.
Fallon, E. (2001). Nourishing Traditions (2nd ed.). Brandywine, MD: NewTrends.
Fernandez M. L. (2012). Rethinking dietary cholesterol. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 15(2), 117–121. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834d2259