Saturated Fat and the Thermostat

“It’s unfortunate that coconut oil has been given this health halo” says the latest human nutrition expert.  Here we go again! Nutrition advice about a food that is bad, then good, then bad to eat.  In CBC news, a recent article makes the same old argument about foods, like coconut oil that are naturally high in saturated fat, increase cholesterol – particularly “the bad stuff”. 

Let’s get the facts straight first.  Saturated fat increases LDL (the cholesterol touted as “the bad stuff”) at the same rate as it increases HDL (the cholesterol touted as “the good stuff”).  Saturated fat is an ‘up regulator’; in other words it increases the body’s production of cholesterol to make necessary things like hormones.  Its job is to repair and replenish and without saturated fats, the body is left depleted of everyday essentials. 

Monounsaturated fats, like those predominately found in olive oil are ‘down regulators’.  They help the body turn off the production of things when there is enough for the body to sustain itself.  It does this by reducing cholesterol production.  Monounsaturated fat works in conjunction with saturated fat to maintain a perfect balance. 

The crazy part is that the body can make saturated fat from monounsaturated fat and vice versa as it needs to.  This explains why people all over the world who eat mostly saturated or mostly monounsaturated fats have thrived on both types of fats.  Lard, the most common fat used throughout the world, has the closest balance of saturated to monounsaturated fats.

There may never be an answer to the question, “What type of fat is best to eat?” but the age old advice to eat everything in moderation remains the most important advice to follow.  Like a thermastat, the body will always be fluctuating between heating and cooling, working and resting, on and off, all year round.  It will use saturated fat and monounsaturated as it needs to maintain a stable environment and dare we get in the way of its unrelenting efforts to keep us alive.

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