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Posted on: May 24, 2018 at 1:05 pm
Last updated: May 28, 2018 at 12:37 pm

For years the media has claimed that fat is bad, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. It seems counterintuitive to eat fat if you’re trying to lose fat.  Recently there is increased hype focused on the importance of including fat, (yes, even saturated fat), in your diet regardless of your weight. And high-fat diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have grown in popularity.  In fact, saturated fat is an important type of fat to include in your diet and can be beneficial to weight loss.

The Problem With “Low-Fat” For Weight Loss

is saturated fat bad

The problem with low-fat products, (think fat-free yogurt), is that they usually contain added fillers like fruit puree and sugar (you will see this labeled as dextrin, sucrose, glucose-fructose,etc.) to help improve the flavor and texture, both of which are impacted when fat is removed.  

This means more carbohydrates are in the average low-fat diet, which spikes blood sugar, increasing insulin and leading to cravings for more sugar (or carbohydrates in general). Diets that are higher in carbohydrates, especially sugar, in an attempt to avoid more fat, are linked with obesity.  

On top of that, these high-carb low-fat diets can increase serum triglycerides and LDL (the small, dense type of cholesterol that’s linked with increasing heart disease risk).

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A study published in 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that reviewed 72 separate studies about fat’s link with heart disease, encouraged consumers to eat a well rounded whole food diet, that contains all forms of naturally occurring fat, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Is Saturated Fat Actually Bad?

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There are different types of saturated fats that range in length – some are short and others long! You may have heard of MCT oil (usually derived from coconut oil) which is a type of saturated fat that stands for medium-chain triglycerides.  Studies have looked at how MCTs might impact body composition as well as support cardiovascular health.  Short-chain fatty acids have between 2-4 carbons, which is found in butter and MCTs have between 6-12 carbons, which is found in coconut oil.  On the other hand, long chain fatty acids (found in other types of oil, nuts, fish, meat) are usually released into the bloodstream and take longer for the body to metabolize.  Studies have found that MCTs are linked with either improved body composition or have no effect on body composition as opposed to long chain triglycerides.  

  1. Saturated fat keeps you satiated for longer.  This is especially important if you’re trying to lose weight to prevent overeating or binging.  This will help you get from one meal to the next.
  2. Saturated fat helps stabilize blood sugar, so instead of spiking your insulin levels and making you crave more sweets and carbs, you’ll feel balanced throughout the day. Plus stable blood sugar prevents type 2 diabetes.  
  3. Insulin tells your body to store excess carbs, that aren’t used as energy, as fat.
  4. When you eat more fat your body releases a hormone called glucagon, which signals your liver to release stored glucose.  Glucagon kicks in when your blood sugar is low, so when you don’t eat carbs that means your blood sugar stays low. Glucagon also signals your body to metabolize stored fat as fuel. This study found that a low carb keto diet combined with crossfit exercise helped people lose weight.

Healthy Sources of Saturated Fat:

Coconut Oil and Grass Fed Butter – Both of these fats are digested quickly by the body and have health benefits.  Keep reading below to learn more about them!

Organic or Pastured Eggs- If you do eat eggs, they are great source of lecithin, which helps protect cholesterol from oxidizing, which in turn protects your arteries.  The liver also needs lecithin for many of its detoxification functions.

Grass Fed Meat and Pastured Poultry- If you do eat meat or poultry, it’s best to choose grass-fed or pastured.  Animals that don’t eat grains have a healthier fat profile that contains more of the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.  It’s important to note that these foods contain long chain fatty acids, which are more difficult to digest than the saturated fat found in coconut oil and butter.

Butter vs. Coconut Oil For Losing Weight

is saturated fat bad

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Why Coconut Oil is Good For You

Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT).  Many studies have found that eating MCT’s from coconut oil is associated with increased energy expenditure and weight loss. Lauric acid is a fatty acid that composes about 45-53% of coconut oil and is responsible for much of coconut oil’s positive properties.  This can be attributed to the way our bodies metabolize lauric acid- it’s transported directly to the liver where it’s used for energy right away instead of being stored as fat.

Why Butter is Good For You

Butter is one of the easiest types of fats to digest because it’s a short chain fatty acid.   Butter contains a specific type of short chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which actually helps feed the good bacteria in your gut which can help keep your colon healthy.  If you’re sensitive to dairy you might enjoy ghee as an alternative. Ghee is clarified butter, in which the milk solids (the lactose) have been removed and you’re left with healthy fat.  Butter, like coconut oil, will help you feel satiated after a meal so that you are less likely to get hungry in between meals.

How Much Coconut Oil or Butter Can You Eat?

As with everything, coconut oil and butter should be eaten in moderation, unless you are following a high-fat diet, such as the ketogenic diet.  As part of a well-rounded diet, using a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil or butter to saute vegetables each day is a good way to incorporate them in your diet.  If you are trying to increase your intake of fat, then you can add 1 to 2 Tbsp of coconut oil to a smoothie or 1 to 2 Tbsp of coconut oil or butter to your coffee for the popular beverage bulletproof coffee.

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Bhavsar, Nilam and Marie-Pierre St-Onge. The diverse nature of saturated fats and the case of medium-chain triglycerides: how one recommendation may not fit all. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2016; 19 (2): 81-87. Published March 2016. Accessed 16 April 2018.

Dayrit, Fabian M. The Properties of Lauric Acid and Their Significance in Coconut Oil. Journal of American Oil Chemists Society. 2015; 92: 1-15. Published 2015. Accessed 16 April 2018.

Dulloo, AG. Twenty-four-hour energy expenditure and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in a human respiratory chamber. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1996; 50(3):152-8. Published March 1996. Accessed 7 May 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8654328

Lawrence, Glen D. Dietary Fats and Health: Dietary Recommendations in the Context of Scientific Evidence. Advanced Nutrition. 2013; 4: 294-302. Published 2013. Accessed 16 April 2018.

Liau, Kai Ming. An Open-Label Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil in Reducing Visceral Adiposity. ISRN Pharmacology. 2011; 949686. Published March 15 2011. Accessed 7 May 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226242/

Myers, Esther F. New Insights or Confusion — Is Butter Really Back? Nutrition Today. 2015; 50 (1): 12-27. Published January/February 2015. Accessed 16 April 2018.

Papamandjaris, AA. Endogenous fat oxidation during medium chain versus long chain triglyceride feeding in healthy women. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. 2000; 24 (9): 1158-66. Published September 2000. Accessed 7 May 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11033985

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Sarah Grossman
Nutritionist
Sarah is a nutritionist and loves empowering others to feel healthier and manage chronic health conditions by eating nutritious food in a sustainable, practical way. She is the co-founder of The Living Kitchen in Toronto, a nutrition and private chef company. Sarah is also a food photographer and author, her cookbook The Living Kitchen (Appetite by Random House) will be available in January 2019.

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