I’ve been trying out a low carb and high fat diet. I’ve been too scared to tell my family because of the reaction (lecture) I’m likely to face. I had a little bit of it when I announced my intentions to my husband. “Fine,” he said, “Get clogged up arteries and die of heart disease if you like – just make sure your life insurance is up to date.” I think he was joking but I swear I heard him whispering on the phone to his financial adviser later that day So it seems saturated fat is still a getting bad press despite books such as Gary Taubes , Why we get Fat and his Good Calories Bad Calories and websites such as Mark’ Daily Apple and Jimmy Moore’s Livin La Vida Low Carb and the work of various low carb researchers including Dr Stephen Phinney and Dr Jeff Volek and countless other books, websites and research.
The principle behind this site as you know is to talk about something other than the weather. What better topic than saturated fat and why it might be good for you? It will make everyone feel better when out to dinner as they order their steaks – although – that said- if you then start in on the “why carbs are bad” you’ll soon be wiping the smiles off their faces as they finish off their biscuit based cheesecake. Fun.
So what are the top five things to know about saturated fats:-
1. Fat (saturated and unsaturated) contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein (more than twice in fact). On the one hand this is what makes us recoil from fat in horror when on a calorie controlled diet. But on the other hand this is what makes it an excellent source of fuel for the body. People on low carb diets drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake so that the body uses stored fat (and dietary fat) for energy. This – it is said – is preferential to eating high carb food that breaks down into glucose in the blood stream and which the body then uses for fuel before any dietary fat (instead storing away the dietary fat for later …or never – the latter leading to weight gain). Moreover insulin is produced to enable our cells to use this glucose. Too much insulin can also lead to a host of other problems not least more fat storage. So eating fat without carbs (cheese without the crackers, nuts without the raisins, cream without the cake) means you burn fat. Eating less fat-sourced energy than your body needs per day means you burn stored fat. The result is weight loss (not in my case mind you but that’s because I ate the crackers, raisins & cake too ….I’m a bad bad girl).
2. A fat is saturated when its carbon chains are evenly filled with hydrogen. Unsaturated fat has incomplete carbon chains missing hydrogen. Unsaturated fat when heated easily becomes oxidized, forming free radicals that can damage your cells leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). So when cooking it is said you should opt for saturated not unsaturated (mono & poly) fat. Do they still even make lard?
3. Various bodily organs (important ones like the heart and liver – the A list as they like to call themselves) prefer saturated fat as their source of fuel. So while common perception (misperception?) is that saturated fat is bad for the heart you could say the heart actually prefers it. I realise this on its own doesn’t prove much though – lots of us prefer things that are bad for us (I’m typing this with a bowl of icecream in front of me purely to prove my point).
4. Saturated fats are a source of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, and K2. These vitamins are important for – amongst other things – vision, blood clotting and healthy bones- the sort of things most of us like to hang onto. Some saturated fatty acids also protect your intestines from the various types of bacteria that like to set up home there.
5. Saturated fat can increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein - commonly referred to as good cholestrol) and lower triglycerides. Even the LDL (low-density lipoprotein- commonly referred to as bad cholestrol) that it raises is actually (says Gary Taubes in Why We Get Fat) a good form of LDL – light and fluffy (like Glee – and where’s the harm in that?), not the small and dense form of LDL that increase arterial plaque and thus the risk of heart disease. The size of the LDL particle seems to be determined by triglycerides and high triglycerides in the body seem to be caused by insulin resistance. (As we said above insulin is needed to move glucose into your cells and from there glycogen into your muscle. If you eat too much glucose your pancreas needs to produce more and more insulin but eventually may reach a point where its supply will fail to meet your body’s demand. This is when insulin resistance can be developed causing amongst other things high triglycerides.) So to reduce small dense LDL it is recommended you eliminate glucose forming carbohydrates from your diet.
So where does this leave us? At the very least saturated fat is not public enemy number 1 and I have a very dangerous loaf of bread sitting on the kitchen counter. For me – as in most things -balance is needed. I’ve tried very low carb and high fat but as a vegetarian I soon got fed up with all the eggs, cheese and nuts. Anything in too large a quantity becomes tedious. So as from today I’m reverting to a more balanced diet- I’m going to try to keep my carbs to about 100-150g a day and ensure I eat less energy than my body needs but I certainly won’t be reverting to the old running in fear from all forms of fat. It seems they come in peace and can offer good benefits to the body. But the real downside of it all is that the form in which I like to consume them (as a vegetarian sick of cheese, eggs and nuts) tends to be one in which the carb count is way outside my limit. And that’s not going to change. So it’s bye bye pizza and chocolate cake …you’re just not worth the LDL.