We have been told time and time again that eating meat, saturated fat and cholesterol is unhealthy, which is why a number of people are turning to vegan and vegetarian diets to improve their health BUT what is the evidence surrounding these claims and is it true that meat and fat are bad for us?
To understand if red meat is increasing saturated fat levels and contributing to increased cholesterol….We first need to take a look at FATS in general.
You can’t deny it, fats get a bad rap or so they have in the past. We are becoming more and more aware of their benefits and why the right fats are an ESSENTIAL component of our diet.
The right fats are essential for supporting immune function, a health microbiome and gut, insulating organs, maintaining healthy skin, regulating hormones, aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K and many many other functions.
Let’s GET BACK TO THE BASICS and introduce the different kinds of fats.
We have four major categories of fats (lipids):
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans Fats: which can be naturally occurring OR artificially made.
Are further divided into three kinds based on their structural length:
- Long-chain saturated Fats (LCSF): Found predominantly in animal products such as milk meat of grass grazing animals such as cattle and sheep. This kind of saturated fats are the core structural fats in the body, making up to 75-80% of fatty acids in our cells.
- Medium-chain saturated fats: Found in coconut milk and breast milk! These travel a little different to LCSF as they do not require bile acids (stomach acid) for digestion and pass directly to the liver. They are easy to digest, have antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties (hello breastmilk) and are also shown to enhance fat burning in the body. (Sometimes called Medium Chain Triglycerides MCT’s)
- Short-chain saturated Fats known as Short chain Fatty Acids (SCFA’s): The best example of these are Butyric Acid or Butyrate. These are uncommon in the diet but found in butter and ghee. Instead, they are made when beneficial gut bacteria ferment dietary fibre in the colon. ESSENTIAL in the formation/ health of the gut lining.
*** Side note: All Saturated fats are identified as being solid at room temperature i.e. butter, ghee, animal fat
These, like saturated fats form the core structural fats in the body and are non- toxic even at high doses. They are known for their beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease:
- reducing LDL (bad cholesterol)
- increasing HDL (good cholesterol)
- reducing inflammation through the body
- Lower blood pressure
- May reduce incidence of heart disease
These fats are found predominantly in:
- Olive oil
- Some meats
*** Side note: the structure of these fats usually makes them liquid at room temperature
*** Always liquid at room temperature
These play both a structural and regulatory role in the Body. They:
- Help form cell membranes
- Regulate gene expression
- Aid in cell function
The two major types are:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are our:
- Alpha-linoleic Acid (ALA): Must be obtained by the diet. Found in foods such as walnut and flaxseed.
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): Essential for brain development and found in foods such as fatty fish like salmon, sardines, oysters and mussels.
While ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body the conversion is less than 5% which means that eating only plant based sources will not meet our bodies needs.
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids: There are two major types:
- Linoleic Acid (LA): referred to as essential as it can’t be produced in the body. Small amounts of LA are found in fruits, vegetables, meat and grains. BUT it is largely present in industrial processed and refined oils such as sunflower, canola and vegetable oils.
*** EXCESS LA has been shown to cause VIT E depletion, gut dysbiosis, inflammation as well as increased weight gain, liver disease, cancer and autoimmune disease.
- Arachidonic Acid (ARA): Present in cell membranes and cell signalling it is necessary for: growth, repair of skeletal muscle tissues and brain development. This is found in animal foods such as eggs, beef and chicken.
While trans fats universally have a bad name, it is important to know there are two kinds: NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL trans fats.
- Natural Trans Fat: This is known as Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) found in moderate amounts in GRASSFED animal meat and dairy products. Benefits include:
- Improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
- Reduce Cancer risk
- Lowers risk of heart disease
- Some research also suggest it can reduce body fat.
- Artificial Trans Fat: have a slightly different structure to natural trans fat BUT HAVE MAJOR HEALTH EFFECTS IN THE BODY.
- Promotes inflammation
- Increases LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Damage gut lining
- Damage lining of blood vessels
- Increase obesity risk
- Increase heart disease risk
- Increase cancer risk
** can be summarised by your typical junk food.