Can saturated fats be good for you?
The way we learn about health, for better or for worse, has a lot in common with the way we learn about a lot of things: we’re forever plopped in the middle of various fads, trends, and manias competing for our attention.
But one Canadian researcher says a faddish health belief that has managed to stick around should go the way of “The Macarena” or the Cabbage Patch Doll. UBC Okanagan researcher Deanna Gibson says her research suggests the blanket belief that all dietary fats are bad for could be harming our health.
Most of us have grown up with the idea that there are “good” (unsaturated) fats and “bad” (saturated) fats. But this new Canadian study suggests things are not that black and white, and may in fact be plainly incorrect. The study, “Dietary Lipid Type, Rather Than Total Number of Calories, Alters Outcomes of Enteric Infection in Mice“, was published recently in the U.K’s Journal of Infectious Diseases. Gibson and other researchers from UBC Okanagan’s Department of Biology found that mice fed monounsaturated fatty acids such as those fund in olive oil, or milk fat, which is rich in saturated fatty acids, were better able to battle disease than a control group a diet rich in n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in corn oil.
“We tend to vilify all fats,” says Gibson. “Especially those that are saturated, such as butter. However, our research has actually shown that some of these fats are protective in inflammatory diseases such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).”
The UBC findings follow on a huge study published in Annals of Internal Medicine that examined 72 other published studies on heart disease involving more than 600,000 people from 18 countries. That study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that saturated fats did not, in fact, have an effect on heart disease risk.
But a more recent study contradicts the findings of the Harvard and UBC research, suggesting that people substitute the saturated fats they get in foods such as butter and red meat.
“People who replaced saturated fats with unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – had significantly lower risk of death overall during the study period, as well as lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease and respiratory disease, compared with those who maintained high intakes of saturated fats,” said the study.
Gibson says a mix of different fats could be beneficial, especially to some with specific conditions.
“Saturated fats aren’t toxic; they actually have the ability to promote healing,” she says. “My recommendation of the ideal diet for those with, and without IBD, is to include olive oils, some saturated fats, and a little fish oil.”
Below: Enjoy Eating Saturated Fats: They’re Good for You. Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D.