Saturated fats, they have been seen as the number one culprit for raising blood cholesterol for so long that few have dared to question this theory. The truth, however, is that the relationship between saturated fats and cholesterol is not so clear cut. Yet, since the 1950’s, this false knowledge has been so ingrained in our society that it has simply been accepted as fact.
How This Myth Got Started
It all started in 1953 when Ancel Keys PHD, an American scientist, published a paper titled “Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health”. Keys studied the relationship between fat intake and mortality rates from heart disease in 7 countries. His findings supported his hypothesis that there was a correlation between high dietary fat intake and death rates from cardiovascular disease. Later, in the 1970’s he expounded on his hypothesis and published a study that concluded that consuming saturated fat (from animal protein) raises cholesterol levels and these elevated cholesterol levels lead to heart disease.
Ancel Keys's studies were later criticized for excluding data from any countries that didn’t support his theories. There was data available for 22 countries, and when the full picture was looked at, there was found to be no relationship between dietary fat consumption, high cholesterol levels and heart disease.
Despite this, and numerous other studies that dispute the saturated fat hypothesis, mainstream medicine and the general public are still sold on the dangers of saturated fat.
Saturated Fats and Their Affect on Cholesterol
There are several types of saturated fats, for example stearic acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid.
Stearic Acid: Stearic acid has been found to have little to no effect on blood cholesterol levels. This type of saturated fat is found primarily in animal products. The body converts most stearic acid to oleic acid in the liver. Oleic acid is considered by health professionals to be a healthy saturated fat.
Palmitic Acid: Palmitic acid is found in palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and meat and dairy products. This saturated fat has been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels and cause a low HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol) ratio.
Myristic Acid: Myristic acid is found in palm oil, coconut oil, dairy products and whale oil. This type of saturated fat is also known to raise blood cholesterol levels.
Lauric Acid: Lauric acid is found primarily in coconut oil and palm kernel oil. There is debate as to what effect lauric acid has on cholesterol levels. Some studies suggest that lauric acid will slightly increase blood cholesterol levels but lower triglyceride levels. It’s also thought that lauric acid improves the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
As you can see, consuming some types of saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels while consuming other types can improve the ratios of blood cholesterol. It’s interesting to note that the main saturated fat of animal products has little effect on blood cholesterol levels. Good news for meat lovers!