In Part I of The Health Benefits of Grassfed Beef, we learned about the nutritional differences in grassfed / grass-finished and grain, corn, or soy-fed meat and some of the science behind it. In this article we’ll cover the importance of saturated fat and cholesterol for well-being and balanced health. For decades, conventional health recommendations have told consumers and health seekers to avoid these elements in our diets. Yet, chronic disease rates continue to increase.
Q: Red meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol. Aren’t they harmful to my health?
A: No. Contrary to popular health advice, cholesterol and fats are vital to our health.
The history of processed foods and heart disease in the U.S.
In 1900, less than 10% of the population died from heart disease. One of the most well-known inventions, Crisco, entered the American marketplace in 1911. German chemist E. C. Kayser helped Proctor & Gamble develop the process of hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen atoms to the fatty acid chain and changed liquid cottonseed oil into a solid which closely resembled lard. Crisco was produced from cottonseed oil, and was billed as a “healthy alternative” to lard and tallow, formerly used by nearly every household in the nation for years for all types of cooking as well as soap and candle making.
By the time World War I was over, consumption of animal fats started to go into decline but consumption of modern, hydrogenated and industrially produced vegetable fats and oils showed a dramatic increase. After World War II, heart disease became rampant during a time when people started consuming more and more convenience foods which had a lot of calories, were highly processed, devoid of nutrition, and were made with artificial fats and other ingredients.
Many medical doctors and other experts refer to The Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing research effort started in the 1940s through Boston University as proof of the “lipid hypothesis”, which states that cholesterol and saturated fats cause heart disease. However, the study’s director Dr. William Castelli has now admitted that after 40 years of examining the diets of over 6,000 people, “we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, who ate the most saturated fat, who ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” In summation, no connection between cholesterol and fat and cardiovascular disease actually exists.
What actually causes heart disease?
From the Weston A. Price Foundation:
Deficiency of Vitamins A and D: During the 1930s, Weston A. Price, DDS, observed that the incidence of heart disease increased during seasons when fat-soluble vitamin levels in local butter went down (late fall through early spring months when grass and plants weren’t receiving enough solar exposure to be green and lush).
Deficiencies in Vitamins B6, B12, and Folic Acid: Kilmer McCully, MD, PhD, demonstrated that deficiencies in these nutrients led to elevated levels of homocysteine, a recognized marker for heart disease.
Trans fatty acids: Fred Kummerow, PhD, and others have linked heart disease to the replacement of saturated fats with trans fatty acids; saturated fats actually protect against heart disease in many ways.
Mineral deficiencies: Deficiencies of magnesium, copper and vanadium have are shown to be connected to higher incidence of heart disease.
Milk pasteurization: J.C. Annand, a British researcher, observed a rise in heart disease in districts that implemented pasteurization compared to those where milk was still sold unpasteurized.
Stress: Heart attacks often occur after a period of stress, which depletes the body of many nutrients.
Why cholesterol isn’t a cause of heart disease
Dr. Malcomb Kendrick MbChB, MRCGB observed a study set up by the WHO (World Health Organization) to monitor trends in cardiovascular disease. The highest average cholesterol levels come from Switzerland, where they experience some of the lowest heart disease rates in the world. Aboriginal populations possess the lowest cholesterol levels in the world and possess the highest levels of heart disease – higher than France, and 15 times higher than the U.K.
Scientific studies have shown time and again that when ratios of Omega-6 essential fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids exceed 4:1, people experience more health issues, including inflammation which leads to an increase of cholesterol levels in the body. By way of comparison, grain-fed beef can have ratios exceeding 20:1 in Omega-6 to Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Grassfed /grass-finished meats are closer to the ideal 3:1 ratio.
Similar ratios are found in most grain, corn, and soy-fed livestock products (milk, eggs, pork, poultry, etc). It’s more than safe to state diets rich in meats and fats from animals raised traditionally do not cause dangerous issues with cholesterol and heart disease. The exception would be if the person consuming fats and proteins produced in unhealthy environments such as commercial and factory farms where animals are confined, fed corn, grains, and soy, and administered antibiotics, hormones, and exposed to pesticides and other chemicals in their feed.
Cholesterol and saturated fats are critical for health
From the Weston A. Price Foundation (Myths and Truths About Cholesterol), cholesterol is essential to maintain the following:
Cholesterol is produced by almost every cell in the body.
Cholesterol in cell membranes makes cells waterproof so there can be a different chemistry on the inside and the outside of the cell.
Cholesterol is nature’s repair substance, used to repair wounds, including tears and irritations in the arteries.
Many important hormones are made of cholesterol, including hormones that regulate mineral metabolism and blood sugar, hormones that help us deal with stress, and all the sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
Cholesterol is vital to the function of the brain and nervous system.
Cholesterol protects us against depression; it plays a role in the utilization of seratonin, the body’s “feel-good” chemical.
The bile salts, needed for the digestion of fats, are made from cholesterol.
Cholesterol is the precursor of vitamin D, which is formed by the action of ultra-violet (UV-B) light on cholesterol in the skin.
Cholesterol is a powerful antioxidant that protects us against free radicals and therefore against cancer.
Cholesterol, especially LDL-cholesterol (the so-called bad cholesterol), helps fight infection.
From The Truth About Saturated Fats by Dr. Mary Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon:
When we eat saturated fats in our food, they help to slow down absorption rates and provide feelings of fullness and satiety so that we can go longer without being hungry.
Saturated fats from animal sources deliver concentrated sources of energy to cells and are the building blocks of hormones, hormone-like substances, and cell membranes.
Food with saturated fat help our bodies to transport critical fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K which are important for immune, bone, digestive, reproductive, endocrine, brain, and cardiovascular health.
Saturated fats from animal sources are an important source of Vitamin K2, which is essential in bone metabolism, and keeping bones strong. Source: 1999; 340 (25): 1994-1998 “Trans Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease,” The New England Journal of Medicine.
Saturated fat aids in uptake of calcium into bones. To ensure optimal calcium uptake, more than half of dietary fat should be from saturated fats. Source: Clin Calcium. 2009 Dec;19(12):1797-804.
Recent research reveals that consuming enough saturated fat prevents strokes. Specific types of saturated fatty acids, only found in natural fats such as animal fats, protect kidneys from disease.
Over 50% of our cell membranes are made up of saturated fats. Phospholipids, which form cell membranes, are comprised of saturated fat. These provide stability for cells and cause greater permeability for nutrients to enter cells. This is especially true for parts of our brains where more than 80% of the phospholipids carry half of their fatty acids as saturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids, such as 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. Source: Lawson, L.D. and F Kummerow, Lipids, 1979, 14:501-503; Garg, M L, Lipids, Apr 1989, 24(4):334-9
Grassfed / grass-finished products are abundant in nourishing, healthy fats that are now starting to be recognized as health-supporting and low in the fats that are connected to the development of chronic disease.
When you consume organic, grassfed meat and other animal foods, not only are you going to experience flavor that is superior to modern-raised meats from animals on feedlots, you can also feel confident that you are making the best, most natural choice for your own and your family’s health.