For the past 60 years, everyone has been told by the government and the mainstream media that to avoid heart disease one should eat a low fat diet that is high in carbohydrates and very low in fat & cholesterol. This huge nutrition myth has made us weaker, shorter and fatter. Today I’m here to tell you why saturated fat & cholesterol is not only good for you, but why they are absolutely essential when it comes to eating a healthy diet and living a healthy life. I will also explain how bodybuilders can benefit greatly from ingesting more saturated fat.
Before we begin, let’s take a look at the different types of fats.
- Saturated fats: Found in animal products such as meat, eggs, cheese and butter. Solid at room temperature and is fully saturated with hydrogen atoms.
- Monounsaturated fats: Found in things such as nuts, olive oil, canola oil and grape seed oil. Liquid at room temperature and contain a single double bond in the fatty acid chain.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Found in things such as fish, different types of seafood, soybeans and fish oil. Can be solid or liquid at room temperature and contain more than a single double bond in the fatty acid chain.
If you could pack all of human history into one year, we have only been eating grains and agricultural products since about yesterday. This is also when we became shorter and fatter. We have only been consuming processed vegetable oils about 10 minutes ago, which is when heart disease became America’s number one killer. For more than 99% of human history however, we ate abundant amounts of saturated animal fat (it was our main source) but did not eat any grains, since agriculture did not exist at this time. In fact, heart disease was unheard of until about 100 years ago, and it was around this time that we also started consuming large amounts of sugar and processed carbohydrates (soda pop, cookies, candies, white bread, etc.). Not only that, but in the past 30 years saturated fat consumption in America has decreased significantly. If you look at heart disease now however, the numbers don’t lie. This year alone heart disease will account for 25% of all deaths in the United States. That’s outrageous! The diet that our ancestors ate (also known as the hunter/gatherer diet), was composed of mostly saturated animal fat and protein, with the exception of some natural earth bound fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Evolutionarily, this is the type of diet we lived off of for millions of years. And if you ask me, I don’t think we would have gotten this far if everyone was falling over dead from heart disease.
In the 1950s a biochemist named Ancel Keys conducted a study that compared fat consumption and heart disease in a half dozen countries. Keys presented a very convincing argument. In the 6 countries he studied, the trend line was unmistakable and it seemed that the more fat the country consumed, the more heart disease was prevalent. What many people do not know however, is that Keys did not just study 6 countries. As a matter of fact, Keys had reliable data from 22 countries, but decided not to publish the other results because otherwise he would not have had a convincing argument. After Keys published his results, he not only got his picture on the cover of time magazine, but also became known as the father of “The Lipid Hypothesis”. The Lipid Hypothesis states two things:
1.) Saturated fat increases the cholesterol in your blood.
2.) High cholesterol causes heart disease.
Let’s disprove these step by step.
“Saturated fat increases the cholesterol in your blood.”
Okay, Keys is somewhat right on this point, since saturated fat has been proven to raise certain types of cholesterol. The types of cholesterol that saturated fats raise however are not bad types of cholesterol. As a matter of fact, saturated fats only raise good types of cholesterol.
“High cholesterol causes heart disease.”
Once again, Keys is somewhat right on this point since some types of cholesterol are not good to have in high amounts of the body. But again, saturated fats only raise good types of cholesterol. Having a high amount of certain types of cholesterol in the body is not only a good thing; it is absolutely necessary for proper bodily functioning.
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance found in almost every single cell of your body. Without cholesterol, you would be dead. Your doctor has probably told you that you want to have a high HDL, while keeping your LDL as low as possible. This is simply false.
First of all, HDL and LDL are not actually cholesterol. Instead, they are proteins that carry cholesterol throughout your bloodstream.
Second of all, what many people do not understand is that saturated fat in the diet actually makes HDL go up. HDL is good to have in high amounts of the body. Also, not all LDL is ‘bad’ either. There are actually two types of LDL.
Pattern A LDL are large, round particles that carry cholesterol throughout your blood. This type of cholesterol has been proven in several studies to not be harmful at all.
On the other hand, Pattern B LDL are small, BB like particles that also carry cholesterol throughout your blood. This type of LDL is not good. Nevertheless, heart disease does not start when you have a high level of Pattern B LDL. Heart Disease is actually caused by inflammation of the arterial wall. When this inflammation occurs, small LDL then does its job by carrying cholesterol to the site of inflammation. But sometimes small LDL can become damaged by oxidation that can occur during the recovery process. When this happens, the small LDL particles can penetrate the artery wall. If the inflammation and oxidation continue, a plaque will begin to form. This is the beginning of heart disease. Many people believe that saturated fats raise pattern B LDL. But actually, pattern B LDL is increased by eating too many carbohydrates. It has been shown in the medical literature over a dozen times, that reducing carbohydrate intake (especially simple carbs) and increasing fat intake results in a shift from a small LDL pattern to a large LDL pattern. Remember, large LDL is not harmful whatsoever.
So now you might be asking yourself, how does this benefit me as a bodybuilder? Well, several important muscle building hormones are created from cholesterol. Testosterone, human growth hormone and glucagon are just to name a few. And since dietary fat has been proven to increase cholesterol in the blood, it would stand to reason that all of your muscle building hormones would be increased as well.
Of all of the different fats, saturated fat and monounsaturated fat has been proven to be the most effective at boosting these muscle building hormones. I’m not saying to cut out all of your polyunsaturated fats, but for those looking to increase their muscle building hormones the most then it would be recommended to get a majority of their dietary fat intake from saturated and monounsaturated sources. For me, a 40/40/20 ratio of Saturated/Monounsaturated/Polyunsaturated fats seem to work best for gaining muscle.