Episode 122: Our Updated Recommendations For Saturated Fat

Thanks for joining us for episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Even though recent research shows that saturated fat is not the villain it has been made out to be for decades, it’s still a topic of controversy. Most in the Paleo community tout its health benefits and enjoy it liberally while others warn to take a more cautionary approach.

So what’s the deal with saturated fat? Should we really make a habit of putting coconut oil in our coffee?

Join us today as we share current research and our updated recommendations on the topic of dietary saturated fat. Some of what we’ll be discussing is who should be cautious about the amount of saturated fat in their diet, the effect of saturated fat on the microbiome, and how consuming excess isolated fats differs from eating fats in whole food sources.

If you want to decide for yourself how much saturated fat to include in your diet regardless of popular food fads or phobias, this is a conversation not to be missed!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:04:33] The definition of saturated fat and which foods contain it
  • [00:06:50] The lack of evidence supporting the belief that saturated fat has a negative impact on health
  • [00:13:26] While saturated fat is not an essential nutrient in our diet, saturated fat is essential to our body
  • [00:19:55] How saturated fat can be part of a balanced diet for most people
  • [00:21:57] Genes that can affect the way the body processes saturated fat which affects cholesterol levels
  • [00:24:00] Lipoprotein particle levels in addition to total cholesterol that are markers of cardiovascular disease risk
  • [00:27:33] Research that suggests saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity as compared to monounsaturated fat
  • [00:29:17] The effect of saturated fat on the microbiome
  • [00:33:32] The importance of differentiating between excess isolated saturated fats and saturated fats found in whole foods, and why you should reconsider the belief that unlimited dietary fat is healthy
  • [00:38:46] Our general guidelines for including fats in a diverse diet that is optimal for health

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TRANSCRIPT:

Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing the latest evidence around saturated fat and recommendations for how to approach saturated fat in your diet. But before we get into our question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Kelsey: Welcome back everyone! Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Laura: I think this is a really good question. To be fair, it’s kind of like a multi-part question. I’m not sure if we’re going to get to every single thing that they’re asking. But we did want to do a show just overviewing saturated fat and answering some of these questions like how much should we be eating? Is it really good for us? Is it really bad for us? Because there’s so much back and forth in the nutrition world about saturated fat and I think we can kind of go in either direction as far as saying it’s bad for you or it’s good for you depending on what information you’re looking at.

We just wanted to give kind of a basic review of like what saturated fat is as far as where in the diet it is, what saturated even means, and then also talking about who should worry about saturated fat. I hate to use the term worry, maybe who should be more considerate of the saturated fat in their diet versus who might not be as worried about it.

But first, like I said, maybe we can just do a quick little review of what saturated fat is and where it is in the diet. I think most of our listeners probably understand this, so I’m just going to do very high level overview.

Saturated fat is referring to the type of bonds in the fatty acid chain. There’s different types of bonds between the carbon molecules and a fat fatty acid chain and basically they’re either going to have single bonds, which is just basically one electron as a bond versus double bonds, which has two electrons is the bond. And again, this is like really basic chemistry over here. It’s not going to get deeper than that. You guys can go to Chris Masterjohn’s podcast if you want the deep nitty gritty of the biochemistry.

For saturated fat, it has all single bonds in its fatty acid chain and saturated just means all of the bonds that can have hydrogen’s attached to them, do. This makes the fat rigid and more structured than other types of fat such as the mono and polyunsaturated fats. In monounsaturated, there’s one chain that has a double bond instead of being fully saturated with hydrogen. Polyunsaturated has multiple bonds. There’s a lot of structural differences between these fats.

The main thing you’re going to notice in the real world with these fats is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature because of these saturated bonds, whereas things like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, so oils essentially are going to be liquid at room temperature. That’s the main thing you’re going to notice between the two fats in the real world.

Foods that are higher in saturated fat would include things like beef, lamb. Pork has not as much as beef, but it does have a higher amount. Coconut is almost entirely saturated fat. And then full fat dairy products like butter, and cheese, and yogurt, that kind of thing are going to have saturated fats as well. Most of the saturated fats in the diet are going to come from animal foods, but there are some plant foods that are pretty high like coconut and palm.

As far as what this person says about saturated fat being great for us, I think we have to kind of break down the pendulum swing that has been happening over the last couple of decades when it comes to fat. Again like I mentioned the beginning, there’s kind of that concept that fat is bad and excess fat is the root cause of all these health issues, it causes heart disease, especially saturated fat, cholesterol, that kind of thing. And then there’s the other side of the spectrum which has been a little bit more popular lately that saturated fat is great for you, and it’s like you should eat as much of it as you can, and it’s super stable, and doesn’t cause oxidative stress, and all this stuff.

We want to talk about kind of where our beliefs lie and why we feel this way based on evidence. I would say that saturated fat in general has gotten a bad reputation in the last couple of decades because of a lot of population studies or generally these studies that don’t necessarily translate to humans. There has been a lot of poorly executed research studies and there’s been a lot of industry influence over the last couple of decades as far as showing which type of fat is healthier.

There’s a lot of history that goes into the belief that saturated fat is very bad for us. And as far as that goes, there’s actually very little evidence that moderate amounts of saturated fat in the diet has a negative impact on our health. So it’s not as simple as saturated fat clogs our arteries and causes heart disease or stroke. I think that was like kind of the basic understanding of saturated fat up until the last decade or so. And the most recent evidence that’s been published really shows that saturated fat intake in general is not associated with cardiovascular disease or stroke.

And again, I think we’re talking about more moderate amounts of saturated fat, nothing super extreme. A lot of these things are population studies, or if they are randomized controlled trials, they’re not necessarily putting people on like very, very high saturated fat diets. They’re just looking at kind of a normal amount of the percentage of calories coming from saturated fat.

Kelsey, I know that one of the things you wanted to mention here when it comes to chronic diseases talking about fat versus sugar as being a trigger of things like heart disease and stroke, that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Like you were saying, there there’s been this whole idea for many decades at this point that fat, and especially saturated fat, and cholesterol, and those sort of things are the main drivers of cardiovascular disease in particular. Some more recent research is showing that sugar is way more problematic when it comes to heart disease than saturated fat or even just fat in general is.

I think that the tune is changing quite a bit on this whole idea that fat is the problem and fat is the main driver of chronic disease in our society. But I think what can happen and what we see at least in the Paleo community and kind of the real food community is that it’s almost like we’ve kind of gone to the other extreme where we just, I’m sure you see a lot of people in your practice that come to you and I do as well, that are just on very, very high fat diets, very low carb.

They kind of think that the research how it’s going now where it’s saying that sugar is a problem and refined carbohydrates are a problem extends to all carbohydrates and that all carbohydrates are bad. And I think that’s definitely a misconception that’s out there. It really is more about these refined carbohydrates and things like sugar that are particularly problematic. Real food carbs, fruits and vegetables, plant matter, that sort of thing when it’s not highly processed is definitely not nearly as much of an issue. But it seems that a lot of people just blanket everything under that category of carbohydrates and think that all carbohydrates are bad and that if sugar is a problem, then we shouldn’t be eating even things like fruit that contain natural sugar.

I think we have kind of gone to this other extreme where we have vilified carbohydrates in general especially in the Paleo community. I think that unfortunately and fortunately, it kind of goes both ways, it’s a lot more complex than that. Unfortunately, it’s complex so not everybody fully understands all the different nuances that go into this, but fortunately it does mean that there’s some degree of flexibility here. It’s not so black and white and that there is kind of a middle ground that I think makes a lot of sense for most people when it comes to preventing chronic disease.

Laura: We did a show on sugar a couple weeks ago, so definitely check that went out if you want to hear more about our perspective on sugar.

But I think in general, and we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, it’s this pendulum swing that causes the problem. It’s not that sugar in moderation – and we can definitely talk about moderation as like an episode in itself – but sugar in moderation, or foods that have carbs or natural sugars in them, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. And then fats in foods, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. We will talk a little bit about excessive amounts of these things. Certainly in combination, which I think the Western diet is pretty high in both, it tends to be high in sugar and fat, that tends to be a problem too.

We just want to make sure it’s clear that we’re not saying sugar in any amount is like going to cause heart disease. It’s just if you’re chronically getting lots of sugar and probably also getting a lot of fat on top of that, that’s going to be much more of an issue than having a little bit, I don’t even mean a little bit, like a normal amount of saturated fat in your diet compared to the other fats.

This person had asked about if we need saturated fat in the diet or if we can just make it in the body ourselves. That’s a little bit of a loaded question just because technically we don’t need to eat saturated fat.

It’s not an essential nutrient. Essential in nutrition just means that our bodies can’t create it itself, or it can’t create enough of it, I should say, to meet our needs.

Technically saturated fats are not essential fats. Our bodies can produce all the fat it needs from de novo lipogenesis if necessary. De novo lipogenesis is just the process of creating saturated fat from other….well it would be saturated, generally, what we’re creating. But just in general, creating new fats in the body is going to be from things like carbohydrates and maybe some protein as well, but usually just carbohydrate.

Now that’s not necessarily something that the body does a ton of unless we’re eating a very low fat diet and we need to create new fat, or if we’re eating a ton of extra calories and we need to store those calories as fat. That would be the two times when we’re going to be doing more de novo lipogenesis.

I don’t really think that’s something that most people eating a whole foods diet need to worry about that they’re not going to eat enough saturated fat to meet their body’s needs. Most people are not going to have a completely devoid of saturated fat diet. Even other fats that are more monounsaturated sometimes have some saturated fat in them. Having like a zero percent saturated fat diet would be pretty tough.

Kelsey: Yeah, you’d have to try really hard.

Laura: Right. But if you had a zero percent saturated fat diet, it in and of itself that would not cause like a major nutritional deficiency. The downside of avoiding saturated fats would be the fact that a lot of foods that contain saturated fats have a lot of nutrients in them that are difficult to get elsewhere. So particularly the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, and K-2, those tend to be in higher amounts in foods that contain saturated fat. If you’re totally avoiding saturated fats, you may actually be challenged to get adequate amounts of those micronutrients from food. Well really A and K-2 are the biggest concern because D we can get from the sun.

So I would say that it’s not the fat itself that would be essential, it would be more the foods that contain those fats that would be potentially essential to be eating if you don’t create those nutrients super well. Things like vitamin A, our body can convert beta carotene into, but I think there’s some stat that like 50 percent of the population can’t produce enough vitamin A without getting some pre-formed.

So again, essential versus optimal is definitely a conversation that is important to consider here because we don’t need saturated fat from our diet, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t help us to get some. We do need saturated fats in our body. It’s not that we don’t need those fats, it’s just that our body can create them if we do need it.

Saturated fat does play a lot of essential structural roles in our body. That’s why our body will tend to create a lot of saturated fat as part of its fat production process when it’s creating new fat or if it’s turning carbs into fat if we have an excessive calorie intake. Our body can use saturated fat to both store energy as well as create cellular structures like the cell membrane. So we just want to make sure that aware that it’s not that saturated fats are not essential in the body, it’s just that as far as an essential nutrient, they’re not technically essential.

And that again is not super relevant to somebody eating a whole foods diet because you’re not going to be getting a completely devoid of saturated fat diet if you have a mixed omnivorous diet and you’re just eating a variety of foods. I would say that in that situation, when I’m talking about a normal amount of saturated fat intake, I’m considering the people who just eat a variety of foods including higher saturated fat foods like beef, and coconut, that kind of thing. When we start getting into trouble nutritionally is when we’re either going way in one direction or the other. So maybe we’re either completely avoiding all foods that have saturated fat in them and maybe avoiding fat in general, or for at that other end of the extreme where it’s like you just look at saturated fat as this super food that you should just eat as much of it as possible and the more the better.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I don’t necessarily think our listeners have that very extreme mindset, but I have seen it in my clients where they for whatever reason don’t look at fat as being something that they should be controlling portion-wise whereas they look at carbs as something that they should. As an example they’ll put coconut oil in their coffee, but they won’t eat more than half a banana because they’re worried they’re going to gain weight from eating a banana. I think that’s the level of extremity that I tend to see in my clients. What about you, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Yeah, same sort of thing. I think that again goes back to this idea of what you’re saying about that pendulum swing. First we thought that fat was the problem and now we’re really on the other side of carbs are the problem. There never seems to be a balanced discussion about it. It’s either vilifying one or the other. I think that just creates a lot of problems mindset-wise when you start thinking about food and putting that mindset into practice obviously into what you’re actually eating on a daily basis, you tend to see these kind of behaviors come out where it doesn’t even cross someone’s mind to think about I’m putting in a lot of calories from fat into my coffee, but I’m worried I’m going to gain weight from half a banana, which is what? Like 60 calories.

I definitely see that a lot in my practice as well. It’s something that just takes a little bit of education about. That’s what we’re hoping to talk to you guys about today so that you think about the research behind this, you can think about sort of the mindset that you should think about these things with so that you can make a decision for yourself that makes the most sense for you and your goals.

Laura: Definitely. As far as the average healthy person goes, I would argue that consuming these saturated fat containing foods on a regular basis is perfectly healthy for most people and there’s no need to be afraid of these foods in the diet in general.

Now we can talk a little bit about some people who may benefit from a reduction of saturated fat intake, but the average person can eat saturated fat containing foods just across a mixed diet. Of course they’re not going to be eating all beef, or all coconut oil, or coconut products, or something. There’s going to be a mix of other types of animal foods like fish, and chicken, and things like that that have other types of fats in them. There will also be fats from plants like olives, and avocados, that kind of thing.

We’re not necessarily getting an extreme amount of saturated fat intake from these foods. Even something like pork, I think actually the fat is primarily monounsaturated if you look at the percentage of fat in their in their fat. Generally if you’re eating a mixed diet, you’re not going to get the bulk of your fat calories from saturated fat. It’s going to be fairly balanced across the three different fat types.

Now there’s two things we want to talk about for the rest of the podcast. We have the concept that there are some disease states or some genetic states that might benefit from reducing their saturated fat intake, maybe not 100 percent avoiding it, but definitely not making up the bulk of either their calorie intake or their fat type intake.

And then there’s also like we were saying that trend in the Paleo community where people are generally just eating as much as saturated fat as they want, particularly from isolated added fats, things like coconut oil, butter, that kind of thing. We need discuss if that is something that is supported by the evidence as being healthy or if maybe that is a behavior that is worth changing for people listening to the podcast.

Like I was saying before, there is a small subset of the population who could benefit that have chronic diseases that are potentially impacted by excessive saturated fat intake. There are genetic factors that affect the way our bodies process saturated fats. For some people, a higher saturated fat intake actually raises LDL cholesterol and may increase their weight as well.

It’s not everybody and I don’t want everyone to be listening to this thinking that if they eat saturated fat it’s going to raise their cholesterol or cause them to gain weight. But there are some genetic profiles that actually do see a higher risk of this.

So if you want to do genetic analysis, they have some programs out there that can look at your susceptibility to these issues. Of course the genetic risk is not the same thing as the actual outcome. If you’re eating a higher amount of saturated amount of saturated fat in the diet but your calories are appropriate, it’s unlikely that you’re just going to put weight on with no excess of calories.

But if you’re eating a super high saturated fat diet and you have one of these genetic factors, even just a little bit excess may be more likely to cause weight gain and in that kind of person than someone that doesn’t have those genetic factors so.

And then with the LDL cholesterol increase, there are some people that have that like saturated fat sensitive cholesterol levels, so if they eat more saturated fat, they’ll see an increase in their LDL cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their total cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their particle number. It’s not only increasing the total cholesterol, but there’s more cholesterol lipoprotein particles. That is something that’s a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That would be something if you’re noticing that your LDL shoots up on either low carb or high saturated fat diet, that might be an issue where you need to reduce your saturated fat intake.

Kelsey: One thing to consider with that in particular is I know that there has been a lot of talk about how total cholesterol and even LDL cholesterol aren’t necessarily the markers that you should be looking at. But like Laura was mentioning, there’s a lot of other lipoprotein particles that can kind of give us a better indicator or they’re better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

This is something that I see a lot in my practice, and I’m sure you do too, Laura, where you’ll see somebody come in and they’ve noticed that their total cholesterol and maybe their LDL cholesterol has gone up since they started eating more fat. What I usually recommend is that they do like a lipoprotein particle tests so they’re looking at things like ApoB and just they’re different particle sizes and overall particle counts. Again, those are generally considered better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

But the first thing that somebody will tend to see of course is that total cholesterol and their LDL cholesterol going up because those are the things that are being regularly tested by their doctor. So if that is you and you have seen that pattern going up more and more over the years as you’ve been on a higher saturated fat diet, it’s a great idea as the next step to just get one of those lipoprotein particle tests. One of the ones that’s out there that’s pretty easy to get I think it’s called an NMR, like the letters, NMR lipoprotein particle test.

That just gives you a really good overview of all those different particles I just talked about. And again, much better indicator of whether or not you’re actually at risk for heart disease based on originally seeing your total cholesterol and your LDL go up.

Laura: Now I will say that generally like a total cholesterol and LDL number can be useful information if it’s super high. That 200 nanogram…I forget if it’s milligrams or nanograms. I think it’s milligrams per deciliter. I don’t even remember. I should know that. For cholesterol, 200 is kind of like that cut off point for medication for a lot of doctors. I think that’s definitely too low as far as the cut off point is concerned, especially for women.

But there are people out there that are walking around with total cholesterol levels higher than 300 or LDL numbers above 200 that they believe that that doesn’t matter for their heart health. And it’s not necessarily that that number is the say all end all of cardiovascular disease risk. But if you have a number that high, there’s a better chance that you are actually at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: We need to be mindful of again the extreme opinion that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol doesn’t mean anything with heart disease because very high levels are very dangerous. I mean there are people with familial hypercholesterolemia that have higher risk of heart disease just because they have higher amounts of cholesterol in their blood.

I just want to make sure people aren’t thinking that it’s completely useless, it’s just not as useful as some of these other tests.

Kelsey: Right, that’s a good point.

Laura: Anyway, so that would be a person who may want to adjust their saturated fat intake, maybe reduce it, maybe keep their oils to more of those monounsaturated fats.

There also is some evidence that saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity if compared to monounsaturated fat. It doesn’t necessarily affect blood sugar per se, but what they found in research is that if you replace monounsaturated fat with saturated fat, your body has to produce more insulin to get the same blood sugar control as if it was just normally producing insulin.

So even though there is a couple of steps in between that and anything like diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing, if somebody is already dealing with insulin sensitivity issues or if they have actually diagnosed insulin resistance, then eating a super high saturated fat diet may actually contribute to that. For those people, replacing some of those saturated fats in the diet with monounsaturated fat could be helpful in increasing insulin sensitivity.

Again a little bit theoretical because we don’t know what that means for the long term as far as does it matter if you’re producing more insulin and you have the same blood sugar control? But I would say that anyone with insulin resistance could benefit from more monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fat.

I would say those are some of the two major health conditions. So cardiovascular disease, higher cholesterol, both total cholesterol and then the particle count, and then as well as just general metabolic syndrome, diabetes. If somebody has like insulin resistant PCOS, they may want to reduce total saturated fat intake and increase monounsaturated fat.

Again, that’s not super controversial.

Kelsey: I was going to throw in a controversial one in here too, which is just your microbiome in general. I do think that if you’re somebody who’s suffering from microbial imbalances, things like dysbiosis, whether that’s in the large intestine, well I guess we don’t know quite as much about SIBO in particular. But I would say if you have dysbiosis and you’re trying to balance out your microbiome that depending on how high of a fat intake you’re consuming right now, it may be beneficial to reduce your I would say overall fat intake, but saturated fat certainly is part of that because there has been some research that shows that high fat diets do have a negative impact on your gut bacteria.

I think that’s partially why sometimes that they do find higher fat diets to be problematic for things like weight gain and for connecting it with cardiovascular disease too because there is a high degree of correlation between having just dysbiosis and then also having things like metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease because they are connected in that way.

It may be that that’s sort of the connection between the two, between the amount of fat that you’re eating and those disease outcomes is at least partially related to how your microbiome is responding to that dietary input.

There’s definitely been some research showing that there’s a negative impact on your gut bacteria. The reason I say it’s a bit controversial is because a lot of the research when they’re looking at those high fat diets, they’re using vegetable oils as the majority of the fat that is part of that kind of western high fat, high sugar diet that they’re looking at.

We all know that those are highly inflammatory, things that you wouldn’t want to be eating and so we can kind of expect that that would be problematic for the gut bacteria. But there is also some other research that does show that saturated fat itself especially in high amounts can also cause those unfavorable shifts in gut bacteria.

It’s controversial in the sense that we don’t entirely know how much of an impact saturated fat in particular is having on your gut bacteria, but I think there’s at least enough information out there that I’m even less inclined to recommend that people just eat saturated fat to their heart’s content. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later, but I do want to throw that out here when we’re talking about what conditions may benefit from reducing fat intake, and particularly saturated fat intake, that if you have dysbiosis, and then especially if you have dysbiosis and you have another condition that Laura was just talking about like higher risk of cardiovascular disease or you have metabolic issues, I think those two in combination makes it even more important that you really think about the saturated fat intake that you have in relation to its effect on your gut bacteria and then your gut bacteria’s relationship to any of those disease outcomes.

Laura: Yeah. It’s interesting because I feel like you could look at it as a total high fat diet versus high saturated fat diet and both of those have some potential problems with the gut microbiome. So it definitely adds a monkey wrench into things because like you were saying, it can actually be one of the potential driving forces of the higher cholesterol, and the insulin resistance, and fatty liver and all these things that come from a high fat diet in the research. It just adds some complexity.

It’s not like we’re saying that everyone that eats a higher fat diet is going to develop gut dysbiosis, and obesity, and metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing. It’s just something to think about if you either have any of those conditions or if you’re at higher risk for it based on your genetics.

I think again we need to talk about this in the context of the Paleo community because I don’t think anyone saying that eating a normal food appropriate amount of saturated fat is a problem for the average person. We’re really more talking about an excess of added saturated fats here. And again, this is particularly from oils and added fats like butter or coconut oil, that kind of thing, not as much as just eating full fat dairy or eating some coconut products.

This is something that we see in the Paleo community as being really strongly recommended, things like Bulletproof coffee or just like not worrying about fat at all and only thinking about your carb intake as being a problem. As you can tell, Kelsey and I don’t necessarily agree with that perspective. We don’t necessarily look at putting coconut oil in your coffee or dousing your vegetables in butter or even your starches and butter if you’re eating them. We’re not seeing that as the same thing as having like a fattier piece of beef or eating full fat yogurt at a meal.

Those isolated fats, they’re really not necessarily benefiting people if they’re just doing lots of them. We would rather see people eating foods that contain saturated fat like beef, and dairy, and pork, that kind of stuff rather than adding tons of extra fat to foods from these saturated sources.

If people want to hear a little bit more about some of the research behind that, we did just do an interview with Stephan Guyenet where we talked about the potential issues with adding excessive added fats to food. If you want a little bit more about that, just listen to that interview.

The main take home point from that conversation was that most of these added fats are not actually very nutrient dense when we consider the total calories that these fats provide and the amount of micronutrients they contain. They’re very high calorie products. A tablespoon of butter is about 120 calories and that’s what would be in like a whole banana, for example. There are some nutrients in some of these fats, but not as much as I think people tend to think.

And then things like coconut oil, is that’s actually a rather nutrient poor fat. There’s really not much micronutrients in coconut oil at all. If you’re having a large percentage of your calories come from coconut oil, I wouldn’t really say that’s a great move for optimizing your nutrient density in your diet. It’s not that we’re saying that coconut oil is bad for you. I think that whole cooking oil controversy that came out a couple of weeks ago made everyone think that coconut oil is bad. It’s not that using coconut oil as a fat to cook with is so awful, it’s just using it in just like indiscriminate amounts where you just think I can put as much of this into things as I want, or if I get hungry I’ll just eat coconut oil instead, that’s not really a great nutritional strategy to optimize the nutrient density of your diet.

I just think it’s interesting. I’ve seen on some of these food packages like coconut oil fried potato chips and stuff where they call coconut oil a nutrient dense oil. That’s not true at all. I actually am surprised that they’ll put that on products. So just people keep that in mind if you’re eating coconut oil. It’s not a big deal, it’s just one of those things that I don’t want people looking at coconut oil and even like lots of butter or ghee as being super nutrient dense because they’re really not. For a lot of people they’re just adding a lot of extra calories that maybe don’t contain the most nutrition.

If you’re super active and if you need a lot of calories, added fats can definitely come in handy for getting your calorie intake up. But for people that don’t need to be getting a lot of calories, or if they’re struggling with weight loss, or if they’re gaining weight on a Paleo diet, it’s going to be difficult to keep a healthy weight or to lose weight if you’re adding multiple tablespoons of added fat at each meal.

Because we have to remember that calories do matter and the belief in the Paleo community that fats are just healthy in unlimited quantities ends up leading to people overindulging especially in saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. It’s really easy to forget about the extra calories that come from these fats either if you’re cooking with it or adding it to vegetables if you’re not paying attention to the amount that you’re using or if you think like you can just use as much as you want with no problem.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: That’s a little bit of a tangent, but I just want people to keep in mind that if you’re struggling with weight loss and you’re thinking I should try going keto or cutting more carbs out, it might be that you’re just getting too much added fats in your meals that aren’t necessarily benefiting you and reducing those could actually be a better strategy than cutting out carbs.

I wanted to kind of remind people about that and just addressing that thought that saturated fats are just amazing and in any quantity, and it doesn’t matter how much we use, and they’re totally healthy, and all that nonsense about fat being bad for us just has no merit, which again, not necessarily true. That extreme of an opinion isn’t based in reality. And like usual, there is context that affects whether or not you can be liberal with saturated fat or if you need to be a little bit cautious with the amount you’re using.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would say granted I work with a lot of people with digestive issues so I think that colors the way that I think about sort of the optimal diet. But I think it really applies to general health as well and perhaps that’s because of the effect that gut bacteria has on all other aspects of our health as well.

But, Laura, you can tell me if you feel the same way about sort of a balanced diet. The way that I think about it is you know that people should be eating lots of plant matter, different types different colors, like as much variety as you can put in there and just eating a lot of plants, and then high quality proteins, and then fats coming from your proteins as the majority of your fat. So small amounts of add added extra fats of any type basically other than vegetable oils are perfectly acceptable, but the majority of your fat coming from the proteins that you’re eating or like Laura was mentioning before, full fat yogurt, things like that.

We’re not saying that you need to now go on like a “low fat” diet where you’re relying on these low fat products like low fat milk, low fat yogurt, fake butter, and all that sort of stuff. You can certainly use full fat products and I think that’s still the way to go. And small amounts of extra added fats if you need the extra calories or if you’re enjoying them and they fit within your overall caloric needs, then I think that makes sense, so coming from things like butter, olive oil, avocado oil, and even coconut oil. Even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of nutrients, as long as it fits within your overall plan for calories, I think that makes sense.

That is the kind of diet that’s really going to benefit your microbiome. It’s going to make sure that you have a healthy, diverse, and balanced microbiome which is going to help a lot of other health conditions as well. That’s why, at least for me, that’s sort of what I feel like is the optimal diet. And of course there’s nuance within that, like some people are going to be more on the higher carbohydrate side, some people are going to be more on the higher fat side. There’s certainly variability that can come in within that. But as a general overview of like my basic diet philosophy, that’s sort of where I stand. I’m curious to hear what you think about that too, Laura.

Laura: Yeah. I definitely feel like I’m on the same page. We’re not saying that you should never have any added fats. I feel like I look at added fats a lot of times as more of an enjoyment food than something I think is like crazy healthy for me or anything like that. So it’s not that you and I totally avoid butter and never use coconut oil or anything like that.

If I’m going to use butter, it’s because I want to make something taste a little bit better and I understand that I probably should be moderate with it and I don’t need to use a ton of it. Sometimes there’s days where I don’t use it because I don’t think I need to be enjoying every single thing that I eat.

It’s very difficult to make any sort of generalization for any particular person especially because like I said, for people who need a lot of calories, added fats can really come in handy. But like you said, for the average person, eating a lot of plants, eating carbs from plants, eating high quality proteins and having some fat from whole food sources is generally what’s supported by the research as far as the optimal diet. Which again, it’s not rocket science. It’s just you have to kind of be willing to ignore some of the trendy fads that come into the nutrition world. Because again, it’s like there’s just this belief that you can just put as much fat on things as you want.

I’m saying that in the context that I used to do that when I was in college and right in the beginning of grad school when I was like full gung-ho Paleo. I was like I’m just going to have coconut oil instead of a meal or something. It’s not necessarily the best way to live.

But like I said, I think there’s a lot of stuff we could talk about with this question and we weren’t able to get to everything. If people want any sort of follow up information about this topic, please go to TheAncestralRDs.com. There’s a contact tab that you can click to submit a question or if you want some extra discussion on saturated fat because there’s lots of things we could talk about. But hopefully this is a good overview for people and we hope that the information we provided is helpful for making positive decisions with what you’re eating.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. We will see you around next week.

Kelsey. Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You to, Kelsey.

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  1. This could not have come at the best time! I recently got my cholesterol levels checked and I am pre diabetic and my cholesterol was 213 and my LDL was slightly elevated, but HDL way about normal. I started adding just a 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil (MCT oil) in my coffee, but otherwise have a relatively low fat diet.

    Im guessing I should take out the coconut oil?