In the 1970’s, animal fats earned the title “greasy killers,” writes Monica Bhide in “Why You Should Eat Fat.” The heavy promotion and marketing for vegetable oils replaced many household items like butter with margarine.
Mary Enid, PhD in “Proven Health Benefits of Eating Saturated Fat” explains that Ancel Keys, a researcher, played a hand in giving saturated fats their title. He formulated the Lipid Hypothesis, which positively correlated “the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol to coronary heart disease.” To decrease the risk, he claimed, we should decrease the amount of saturated fat in our diets.
And so, Americans began a love affair with vegetable oils. “During the past eighty years…the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening, and refined oils increased about 400 percent”, states Enid.
That change comes with large consequences. A saturated fat-free diet can leave its participants scrounging for energy, grappling with concentration, weight gain, and depression reports Eid. Saturated fat, on the other hand, is essential in “provid[ing] building blocks for cell membranes” and “the conversion of carotene to vitamin A”.
But what about the rising rates of heart disease? Can we attribute that to our constant consumption of red meat? Enid addresses this disease with provocative statistics: “today heart disease causes at least 40 percent of all U.S. deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase…during the period from 1910 to 1970 the proportion of animal fat in the American diet declined from 83 percent to 62 percent”. Vegetable oils consumption rose. “Sugar and processed foods increased about 60%.”
With that said, that does not mean that your body’s need for saturated fats is an excuse to go on a fast food binge. In 1948, explains Enid, the Framingham Heart Study measured cholesterol of six thousand members of Framingham, Massachusetts every five years.
While individuals in one group consumed more saturated fat and calories had lower serum cholesterol, the study revealed that “those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease.”
If saturated fats are so good, are vegetable oils really that bad? Jennifer McLagan explains that “animal fats are very stable and don’t turn rancid easily. And they have no trans fat.” Polyunsaturated fat, mostly from corn or soy, “tend[s] to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat,” argues Enid. When rancid, it becomes a free radical and “cause[s] damage in DNA/RNA strands, thus triggering mutations in tissue, blood vessels, and skin.”
Emil Venere, researcher from Purdue University, agrees with Enid’s findings. “The rate of metastasis rose a dramatic 300 percent in the mice fed a high-fat diet.” High fat in general—not saturated fat.
Due to research, saturated fats are (relatively) good for you— they add flavor and help your feel fuller. However, to be healthy, overall fat consumption needs to be lower. The current recommendation is 65 mg per day.