How many times have you heard or read that you should stay away from fat? To go easy on eggs, butter, burgers and steak? Or do you stay away from red meat altogether because your doctor told you to?
Then I have some good news for you.
Not only does your body need animal fat – it thrives on it.
Your heart uses animal fat for fuel. In fact, your heart is covered with a layer of animal-based fat that it uses as an energy booster during times of stress.
All native cultures put animal fats at the center of their diet and show no trace of heart attacks or heart disease. The Inuits of Alaska, better known as the Eskimos, eat a diet that is over 80 percent animal fat. And before they were exposed to the typical Western diet they had no history of heart disease.
Today I’ll expose the myths about animal fat (which you probably know as saturated fat). This “forbidden pleasure” is good for you and your body needs it to stay vibrant and healthy—especially your heart.
Meet One of Your Body’s Basic Building Blocks
Saturated fats are the foundation for many of your body’s most important physiological functions. They make up at least 50 percent of all cell membranes. Many key hormones and hormone-like substances are made up of this kind of fat.
Every time you eat fat, it slows down your body’s absorption of food and keeps you from feeling hungry. And of course it’s a source of concentrated energy. This is why people who don’t worry so much about fat are often slimmer and more vigorous than those who do.
More good news about saturated fat: it’s the carrier for a variety of key nutrients, including the “fat-soluble” vitamins A, D, E, and K (butter’s packed with these, by the way), and the heart’s most critical fuel, CoQ10. Without fat, your body couldn’t absorb and use them.
It also needs saturated fat to convert some vital compounds into usable form. For instance, it uses saturated fat to turn carotene into vitamin A. These are nutrients your body must have to maintain optimum health across the board, from eyesight, bone and muscle strength to proper insulin levels, a sense of well-being—and a reduced risk of heart disease.
Here are a few more benefits you won’t hear much about:
- · Saturated fat’s a potent immune booster.
- · It lowers Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates how likely you are to develop to heart disease.
- · It protects the liver from alcohol and other toxins and chemicals (including Tylenol, which can cause liver damage).
- · It helps keep your bones healthy and strong. In fact, my research suggests that at least 50 percent of your dietary fat intake should be saturated to insure optimal calcium absorption.
- · You need saturated fat to make use of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 remains longer in your bodily tissues with a diet rich in saturated fats.
- · Saturated fat possesses important antimicrobial properties. It protects you against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
Jump on the Low-Fat Bandwagon . . . and Raise Your Heart Attack Risk
You’d think that ever since the 1950s, when the government began making “low-fat” dieting official policy—and people started eating less animal fat—heart disease rates would drop off a cliff. But the opposite has happened.
The proportion of traditional animal fat in the average American diet fell from 83 percent to 62 percent between 1910 and 1970. During the same period, the percentage of fat from vegetable sources—including shortening, margarine, and refined oils, shot up by about 400 percent.
Since then, more people have been getting fatter and dying of heart disease than ever before—forty percent of all deaths each year in the U.S. alone. It’s become our nation’s number one killer.
So what’s changed to cause such a drastic rise in heart-related deaths?
One thing that hasn’t—our fundamental physiology, which evolved over millions of years to rely on saturated fat as a major energy source. There’s a reason you have a taste for this kind of fat. It’s good for you, and your genetic make-up adapted to make use of it.
Consider this: if you look at the wild game our pre-historic ancestors most commonly hunted and ate, including the nutrient-packed organ meat as well as the flesh of the animal, their body fat was heavily saturated.
The nuts and seeds they foraged were also rich in fat. To take one example, the fat contained in pecans—a staple of the Native American diet in the Southeast—is 85 percent saturated.
Today mainstream medicine continues to blame animal fat for the rise in heart-related deaths. But modern science shows the opposite is true.
In one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers looked at the diets of 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. They compared two groups in five-year intervals for four decades: those who ate diets low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and those who consumed relatively high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.
The creators of the Framingham Study expected to find much higher rates of heart disease in the high-fat, high-cholesterol group. But after 40 years, the facts spoke for themselves.
The director of the project had to make a reluctant confession:
“In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol . . . We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
A British study involving several thousand men found the same thing. Half quit smoking, switched over to a restricted diet with lowered saturated fat and cholesterol, and ramped up their consumption of “healthy” fats like vegetable oils and margarine. The other half ate what they pleased and even kept on smoking. After only one year, the group who stuck to the “good” diet experienced 100 percent more deaths from heart-related illness than those on the “bad” diet.
Finally, a team of researchers at the Northwest Lipid Research Clinic in Seattle found that a diet rich in saturated fats actually slowed the progression of heart disease in patients already showing signs of poor heart health.
And if you compare rates of heart disease and fat consumption around the world, you find the same thing: more dietary fat means fewer heart attacks. To take just three examples:
- · Scientists in India discovered that people in the northern part of the country ate 17 times more animal fat than people in the south, but their overall incidence of heart disease was seven times lower.
- · The French eat more saturated fats in the form meat, liver, patÃ©, butter, cream, and cheese than people in almost any other Western nation. Yet the heart-related death rate among middle-aged men there is 145 per 100,000, compared to 315 per 100,000 in the US. And heart-related deaths in France are actually lowest in Gascony, the region in France where people eat the most fat.
- · Most people think the Japanese eat a low-fat diet. But this is a myth. The truth is that they get plenty of fat from eggs, chicken, beef, pork, organ meats, and shellfish. The amount of animal fat in their diet has gone up steadily since World War II. Yet rates of heart disease there are among the lowest in the world—and their average lifespan has actually increased.
Bottom line: your body needs saturated fats and is optimally designed to make use of it.
Put These “Fatty Foods” Back on the Menu—Guilt-Free
While it’s true that your body literally thrives on saturated fat, there’s an obvious but overlooked fact about it: in order for it to be truly nutritious, it has to come from natural sources.
Fats from animals raised on their natural diets, with as little processing as possible, are automatically suited to your body’s nutritional needs. Wild game, for example, survive entirely on the food sources their instincts tell them to eat.
Societies that eat a lot of saturated fat with low rates of heart disease generally maintain higher standards of purity than American commercial food makers do. They also raise more of their domestic livestock on grasses, not grains.
The result is that the fat in their meat is in exactly the right proportion for optimum health. Grass-fed cattle, for instance, yield meat that’s packed with omega-3, which we normally think of as coming from fish.
Saturated fat from commercially raised animals today, on the other hand, is bad for you. Cattle, pigs, chickens, and other livestock from modern feedlots are forced to eat grains instead of the grasses they evolved to digest and get pumped full of hormones, antibiotics.
The result is a diseased animal with the fat content in its meat thrown out of healthy balance. Even worse, many pesticides and other toxins get stored in the fat of the animal.
This where the Atkins diet went wrong. Dr. Atkins was right about the nutritional importance of fat, but he failed to take into account the consequences of an adulterated food supply.
You also can’t really eat fat to your heart’s content, as many people who followed Atkins believed. But you can get up to 35 percent of your total daily calories from fat without worry.
Look for meat and animal-derived products that come from organic, grass-fed, and free-range animals. Remember, enjoying meat doesn’t have to mean always cooking a NY Strip on the grill. Here are some other options.
- · Buy a brisket and drop it in the slow cooker an
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Dr. Al Sears is fast becoming the nation's leading authority on longevity and heart health. His cutting edge breakthroughs and commanding knowledge of alternative medicine have been transforming the lives of his patients for over 15 years.
Dr. Sears currently owns and operates a successful integrative medicine and anti-aging clinic in Wellington, Florida with over 15,000 patients. Over the course of his career, he has developed his own approach to heart health, longevity and anti-aging medicine - combining the best of modern medical science with natural holistic techniques and treatments.