Science and Nutrition, New Studies Bring Back Fats

Make Room for Bacon (Within Reason!)

There are absolutely no absolutes. (Except for trans fats – they’re absolutely bad).

It seems as if there are waves of nutritional trends, and the pendulum has swung from no-fat diets and cholesterol fear to putting sugar on the hot seat. Nutrition, like any science, isn’t static. As science gets better with studies and our understanding of how our bodies work, so, too, will the information we receive about good nutrition. So, exhale, because butter is back!

Today let’s talk fat. Saturated, unsaturated and trans. Because, with the exception of the third, our bodies, and taste buds, can use them.

Saturated fats are fats that are derived, primarily, from animal products – butter, lard,  – as well as palm and coconut oil. Technically speaking, they are “saturated” with hydrogen because they have no double bond. When double bonds (the ones we see in unsaturated fats) come together, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and have gotten their fair share of beatings over the years.

Through years of research, science has discovered how critical saturated fats are for our bodies to function. Saturated fats are vital for “the construction of cell membranes, organ padding, and nerve sheathes … hormone production, cellular signaling within the body, and immune function … the proper absorption of some minerals and fat-soluble vitamins” and even suppressing some types of cancers. Butter never looked better!   (Wil Dubois, Diebetesselfmanagement.com, October 2015)

Unsaturated fats have at least one double bond (monounsaturated) or more (polyunsaturated).  These have always been touted the “healthy fats,” and include avocados, nuts, olive oil, walnuts, fish, meat – the staple fats in the Mediterranean diet.

Trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils are found, primarily, in processed foods. In 2013, the FDA made “a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food”(www.heart.org) as trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and are linked to Type II Diabetes. These guys are bad news.

For many years saturated fats were put on a black list for those who suffered from cholesterol problems. But studies have shown that saturated fats are just a small piece of a very big puzzle. Cholesterol is a metabolic problem. Though changing our diets to eat healthier is a step in the right direction and a really smart way to help our bodies work better all around, diet change will only slightly influence our cholesterol levels.

Doctors aren’t saying we should bathe our foods in butter and bacon. They are, however, saying that eliminating saturated fats completely from our diets isn’t necessary and may very well be more detrimental than helpful. Consider this: babies milk consists of 60% saturated milk, 40% unsaturated. They need it for health and growth, as do we.

And though no science can give us a number or percentage of how much saturated and unsaturated fats we can have in our diets, conservative percentages go as low as 6%, though most dieticians and research scientists hover around the 10% range.

The problem is when we overeat. If we eat too many calories oftentimes, many of those are fat calories (both saturated and unsaturated). This is what’s hurtful to our bodies. So it’s not so much about the fat on our plates as it is the fat on our bodies. We need to be more concerned with living a healthy, active lifestyle with a balanced diet. Moderation is the key to healthy eating.  There’s no single food product or nutrient that will destroy or save us – it’s about living a life with good dietary habits. So, indulge – every now and again. A pat of butter is much healthier, and tastier,  than margarine.