Biological importance of Saturated Fat

Saturated fat preconception Agnes Ryu

A misguided fallacy persisting to this day is the belief that saturated fat clogs the arteries and increases cholesterol levels, the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. This is simply a myth that has been harming our health for the last 40 years. Even conventional prenatal nutrition policies advocate a low fat diet and advise women and men to limit their intake of fat, especially saturated fat which many follow with good intentions.

The truth is, saturated fats are superior energy sources giving endurance and satiety. Without raising your blood sugar or insulin levels, fat supplies a consistent, slow burning stream of energy. Saturated fat provides the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances by which signalling is enabled throughout the body.

· Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50 percent of your cell membranes. They are what give your cells the necessary rigidity, insulation and integrity.

· They play a vital role in the health of your bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into your skeletal structure, at least 50 percent of your dietary fats should be saturated.

· They lower Lp(a), a substance in your blood that indicates propensity to heart disease.

· They protect your liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol and other drugs.

· They enhance your immune system.

· They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega-3 fats are better retained in your tissues when your diet is rich in saturated fats.

· Saturated fat is the preferred fuel for the heart. Your heart continually draws on the reserve of fat and use it as a source of fuel during energy expenditure and stress

· Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect you against harmful microorganisms in your digestive, urinary, vaginal tract.

· They are useful in actually lowering cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)

· They are modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid)

Embrace fat before, during, after pregnancy

Saturated fats act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes. There are high demands for cholesterol, choline, omega-3 fats, and a variety of fat-soluble nutrients during conception and pregnancy. All these demands are pronounced when the fetus is developing, especially in the brain, which is approximately 60% fat. As one researcher puts it, “Because the brain is predominantly made of fat, almost all of its structures and functions have a crucial dependency upon essential fatty acids, which we get directly from our food.” Cholesterol itself plays a key role in the development of your baby, is required for hormone synthesis (in you and baby), and is a part of every cell in your (and your baby’s) bodies. We know that essential fatty acid levels in the baby mirror the levels in the mother, which should give even more incentive to eat wisely.

If you’ve been told that fat should be limited in your diet during pregnancy, this advice doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Your body’s need for fat-soluble vitamins and the other nutrients found in high-fat foods goes up during pregnancy. For example, requirements for choline and vitamin A, both concentrated in liver and egg yolks, rise significantly in pregnancy. Choline intake directly affects your baby’s brain development, with effects on memory and learning that can impact even in adulthood, and low choline intake is also a risk factor for neural tube defects. Inadequate vitamin A intake raises the risk for birth defects, improper lung and liver development, low birth weight and other complications.

Reject vegetable oils, use suet, lard and butter liberally

Saturated fat is actually incredibly healthy and nourishing. It is the fat of our choice as it is most stable in structure meaning it doesn’t go rancid or induce oxidative stress unlike vegetable oils. Humans thrived on natural fat during our evolution and virtually all traditional cultures have relied on saturated fat. There’s strong evidence that eating high-fat dairy improves fertility while eating low-fat dairy contributes to infertility. In fact, among women who have become pregnant through IVF, the chances of having a live birth are highest among women who consume the most dairy products and, specifically, the most dairy fat.

Your diet should include these healthy sources of saturated fat:

  • Grass-fed organic beef and beef fat (contains more healthy omega 3 fats than fish)
  • Naturally raised lamb (great omega 3:omega 6 ratios)
  • Organic raw dairy products (butter, cheese, milk, cream)
  • Coconut oil

The fats that should be limited are those high in omega-6 fats, such as vegetable oils, and man-made trans fats such as margarine or hydrogenated fat. Saturated fats from unprocessed real foods, including meat and dairy, are always important sources of nutrients but are critical during pregnancy.

The Complex and Important Cellular and Metabolic Functions of Saturated Fatty Acids
Agnes Ryu

Agnes Ryu

Dr. Ryu is a clinician and biochemist specializing in integrative medicine. Her clinical interests include fertility, hormones, metabolism, healthy ageing, menopause, and natural breast cancer care. As an integrative practitioner, Dr. Ryu aims to uncover the root causes of health issues and strives to empower patients with the knowledge and tools to take charge of their own health.

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