Thursday, January 05, 2012
Saturated Fats, Diet Trends, & How You Should Eat
We’ve been writing diet guides for a long time, always have great results, yet nothing we publish gets much press because, frankly, it’s boring. The diets we write need to be a: short, b: simple, and c: easily followed by people with limited means in both grocery choice and money. But just because we produce what you could call “common sense” diets doesn’t mean we aren’t constantly scrutinizing the latest science. We’re always testing the latest research ourselves (particularly me on moi) and evaluating its place in our diet plans. Today I present Denis Faye’s exhaustively un-conclusive analysis of saturated fat.
Sat fat is one of the latest trends in dieting. Held hostage by the medical community for years as the harbinger of heart disease modern research seems to indicate it’s been falsely accused. And this, of course (given the “it’s either good or evil” mentality of our public) means we now have legions of people sallying forth on a sat fat craze wielding sticks of butter and tubs of lard like they’re light sabers against the dark side that is heart disease. So Faye went to the source, the actual science along with popular books on the subject, and found that this group might be arming themselves with faulty weapons.
My second source is the most authoritative (read: not lame or poorly researched) pro-sat-fat book I could find: Dr. Mary Enig’s Know Your Fats. (Enig was the first real whistle blower on the dangers of trans fat, decades before the rest of the world figured it out.)
To my shock, Enig gave only two instances where she felt saturated fats were of particular benefit. First, she suggests, “research has shown that saturated fat in the diet is needed by the body to enable it to adequately convert the essential omega-3 fatty acid (ALA) to the elongated omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.” I found the study she cited and it turns out that she got it wrong(ish). According to Gerster, sat fats are marginally better than PUFAs for helping ALA convert, but not “needed.” Furthermore, this advice only really applies to vegans and vegetarians, given a healthy, more omnivorous diet should include EPA and DHA-rich foods such as fatty fish.
What’s Faye has done is exhaustively analyze the actual data and show that their enthusiasm might be better placed elsewhere, like doing some exercise or, “no don’t say it” perhaps just eating a balanced diet. Just because saturated fat may not be something that we should avoid doesn’t mean it’s should be the cornerstone of every meal. He concludes:
At the end of the day, I think the answer is to focus on your own biochemical needs. Even Enig admits, “there isn’t any real evidence that everyone needs to consume exactly the same balance of fatty acids.” She also points out that it’s naïve to categorize most foods as sat fats or PUFAs, given both animal and plant-based fat sources tend to be a mix of both. With that in mind, the answer might be as simple as a little self-analysis. Is your current diet working for you? How do you feel? How’s your blood work? Are you having any issues such as inflammation or high LDL cholesterol? If all this looks good, your sat fat levels are probably pretty right for you. If not, it might be time to start experimenting a little, no matter what your Crossfit trainer tells you.
And this gets back to the philosophy behind the Beachbody diet guides. Eat with restraint and common science. If you’re performance increases your body composition will improve. If it’s not working, re-assess and tinker until it does. And this works, oh, about 100% of the time. We have millions of success stories. Among them we have vegans, pesactarians, Paleoers, Atkins-ers, calorie-stricters, Zone-o-philes and probably even some Pritikiners. Because our plans work with you, and your lifestyle, no matter what that happens to be. Nutrition is simply not that tricky. In closing I’d like to say I’m paraphrasing Michael Pollan but I’ve been touting this since long before he wrote it. Eat mostly whole foods, lots of plants, drink plenty of water, and do some exercise and things will get better. Everything else is nitpicking.