"What do you think of Dr. Mary Enig's research on fats and her suggestion that saturated fat is not the devil we've been lead to believe?"
That's a hot potato, Autumn.
First, I'll admit I don't know much about Enig's research. I haven't read her book, Know Your Fats.
But, superficially at least, I agree. I don't think saturated fat should be as maligned as it is.
I don't feel comfortable promoting that fact because:
- If you remove the red flag from saturated fat, some people will take that as a license to consume more whole milk, cream, high butterfat cheese, fatty steaks ... which aren't inherently bad foods, but they're more caloric than their low-fat alternatives and can promote weight gain. (Studies provide isocaloric diets. That is, they adjust amounts of macronutrients: fats/carbohydrates/proteins, but keep the same number of calories. In reality, people will eat a serving of, say, yogurt and not adjust the amount depending on the fat, thus calorie, content. That's my experience.)
- Consumption of foods that contain saturated fat supports the livestock factory farming industry. These foods may also come packaged with undesirable substances (antibiotics, growth hormone, prions, E. coli, etc.).
- Regarding our evolutionary past, the selection of genes in meat-eating hunter-gatherers millions of years ago was influenced by environmental pressures distinct from pressures of modern man. For example, infection (which serum fats aid in protection against) may have been a greater health risk then than cardiovascular disease is today. Hunting and gathering are also heart-pumping, calorie-expending activities.
There do appear to be benefits associated with saturated fat consumption:
- SFAs increase HDL (Delta Study). MUFAs1 and PUFAs2 do this too, when substituted for carbs, but SFAs do it best.
- Although SFAs are associated with increases in LDL, they may decrease Lp(a), a type of lipoprotein derived from LDL thought to be an independent risk factor for heart disease. (The saturated fat used in this 2003 study came from coconut oil.)
- One oft-cited study suggested SFAs are the preferred fuel for the heart, at least the rat heart.
- Reduction of saturated fat in the diet is often accompanied by increases in carbohydrate, a macronutrient adjustment that has been shown (example) to increase triglycerides and lower HDL.
So, I'm back to where I started. Some amount of saturated fat in the diet appears to be beneficial. But I don't want to take responsibility for someone construing that to mean I endorse a diet of double bacon cheeseburgers and Ben & Jerry's.
2 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (corn oil, safflower oil)
Photo of New York Strip Steak by Nicole Weston via Slashfood.com. Link includes recipe.