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Saturated Fat: Still Unhealthy After All These Years, Pt 2

Question: I have also been hearing in the whole-food, plant-based world that saturated fat is not harmful and that it is only a marker for an animal-based diet.  How do you respond to that?

Answer:  Because this information continues to make the rounds, even in the world of whole-food, plant-based diets, I will add one more piece to it and do so by using the example of fiber and to do so we will look at fiber from its positive impact on health.

Fiber is a component of food and one that has many proven benefits. 

Fiber could be said to be a "marker" for unprocessed and/or minimally processed plant foods as that is the only place you can really find any significant amount of fiber. Anyone who is eating a healthy diet, based on minimally processed plant foods would naturally have a high fiber intake. You cannot increase fiber intake by eating more animal foods and most overly processed plant foods have much lower fiber contents.

But you can also extract fiber from food (i.e., Metamucil, Konsyl, etc.) and then add it to food. This could also give someone a high fiber intake, even if they were not on a healthy diet. If someone was to do this, would it have the same impact?

In other words, are the benefits of eating fiber from the fact that fiber has benefit as an isolated component? Or is it because it is a marker for a healthy diet which would have many other health benefits also? Is the fiber as an isolated component responsible for the lowering of the cholesterol and blood sugar we see, or is the lowering of the cholesterol and fiber a result of a healthy dietary pattern based on minimally processed foods that happen to also be high in fiber and also low in animal products, cholesterol, & saturated fat. 

From my perspective, the answer is both.

Fiber is both a marker for a healthy diet and it also has therapeutic effects when added as an isolated component. We know this because many studies on fiber, where the diet was kept the same in both groups, show that adding fiber as an isolated component (i.e., psyllium powder), has beneficial effects, even when added to an unhealthy dietary pattern. 

However, these effects are never as powerful as when the fiber is part of minimally processed food and/or part of a healthy dietary pattern based on minimally processed foods. The reason is, this pattern would also be low in saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein, and high in phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc. and so have many other beneficial aspects to it. 

So, if someone had elevated cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and they did not change their diets but added several servings of Konsyl a day, it would lower their numbers. However, they would get much better results and more far reaching overall benefit from changing their overall dietary pattern as it would come with many other beneficial components and offer many more benefits. 

The whole works better than the isolated component but this does not mean that there is no benefit from the isolated component. 

Having said that, now let’s look at saturated fat but from saturated fats negative impact on health. Saturated fat is said to increase risk for CVD, and other diseases. 

Saturated fat is both a component of food and a marker of animal products intake, as most (but not all) animal products are high in saturated fat and only a few plant foods are. So, most anyone eating a diet that is high in saturated fat, is most likely eating a diet that is high in animal foods (which has many other unhealthy components) and/or is high in the few plant foods high in saturated fat. this diet would also be low in naturally occurring fiber and other beneficial substances in plants. It would most likely also be high in saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein. 

So, is the saturated fat actually responsible for the problems we see, or are the problems we see a result of an unhealthy dietary pattern that is based on animal products that has many other harmful components and is also low in plants and their beneficial components?

From my perspective, the answer is both. 

Saturated fat is harmful as both a marker and when added as an isolated component

The whole may be worse than the isolated component, but this does not mean that there is no harm from the isolated component. 

Now, plant foods that are high in saturated fat might have some health advantages (and less disadvantages) then animal foods high in saturated fats but they are still not healthy foods especially in excess. They may not have cholesterol or animal protein, but they are almost always much higher in fat and calorie density and much lower in fiber and overall nutrient adequacy. 

Take a healthy lower fat, lower saturated fat, lower calorie dense minimally processed plant food dietary pattern and pour a plant based fat/oil high in saturated fat (i.e. coconut oil, smart balance, etc.) over it in excess and you did not improve it in anyway but made it worse as you now have a dietary pattern that is higher in fat, saturated fat, calorie density and lower in fiber and overall nutrient density and more likely to cause impaired health and impede any attempt at health recovery. 

Since the tropical oils became popular about 10 years ago, I have seen the above many times both in my own experience/practice & in those who have come to the 10-day program. They have added these tropical oils & have seen their lipid profile number move to unhealthy levels. Remove the tropical oils & they return to healthy levels. 

Saturated Fat: Still Unhealthy After All These Years.

In Health

Jeff

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