When you come across the words “saturated fat,” what food comes to mind?
If you are in the Paleo community you might think of coconut oil but for most people the first food that comes to mind is meat, particularly beef. This is not surprising given that for years the message has been to cut saturated fat by reducing the amount of beef eaten.
In the last few years the “common wisdom” that dietary saturated fat has a relationship to heart disease has been challenged and outright refuted. Suddenly saturated fat is back on the menu – including beef and coconut oil.
If that is where it ended I would be ecstatic. Finally, the health community as a whole is recognizing that eating things that we’ve been eating for centuries and millennia is not what is making us sick. This is true and yet a door has also been opened. Beef and coconut oil are not the only – and probably not even the greatest – dietary sources of saturated fat.
Not all saturated fats are equal. The saturated fat that you find in real food, properly raised/grown - beef and tallow, pork and lard, coconut oil, etc. – have been a part of our diets for a long, long, long time. They occur in nature as is. The only thing needed to extract the fat is to either press it or render it (heck, sometimes you manage to render it without trying – hello, bacon fat!)
This is not true of all saturated fats. When so-called “vegetable” oils are hydrogenated they are considered to have functionally gone from an unsaturated fat to a saturated one. And this is how it is labeled on food packaging. I am not going to go into the process of how this transformation happens or the creation of trans fats along the way, but lets just say it would not be possible without modern industrial equipment and you certainly couldn’t do it at home.
Perhaps these fats function within products the same way as saturated fat; perhaps they behave as and look like saturated fats on a molecular level, but I am very wary to believe that they behave the same way in our bodies.
Manufactured saturated fat has been so far removed from a whole, real food source that I cannot imagine that it does not have some bearing on how our bodies function. And this is my concern with the whole sale calling back of “saturated fat” from the depths of nutritional canards.
We have left the door open to this other “saturated fat.” We need to make sure that people understand that there is a difference. Processed, manufactured products are not he same thing as real, whole food.
What is called “saturated fat” on the label of a candy bar is sure as heck not the same thing as what’s in the tub of tallow in my fridge. I’ll stick with the tub.