“But isn’t all that butter and ghee and coconut oil bad for you? Doesn’t it have so much cholesterol? Won’t you get a heart attack from eating it?
I get asked this sort of question a lot. A LOT.
And it’s late on a Friday night and I’ve got a big event to cook for and I’m hoping my sleeping toddler doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night again, but I will NOT be able to sleep in peace or move forward with the work at hand until I throw a first version of what I know on a page. So here goes.
What I’m about to tell you will blow your mind. You may or may not be able to handle it.
1. Cholesterol is NOT the enemy. It’s essential for body repair and VITAL for brain function. We’ve had it backwards for over half a century based on some questionable science and politics (most paleo and low-carb circles flame the Ancel Keys “Seven Countries” study for this, but the smart-and-funny Denise Minger does a much better job of understanding what Ancel did or didn’t do right.)
2. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function. Whatever it doesn’t get via ingested food, the liver will make. So whether or not you eat cholesterol-containing foods, your body will make sure it gets the amount it needs. Basically, the amount of cholesterol in your body will STAY CONSTANT, whether you eat it or not.
3. When you eat cholesterol-containing foods (e.g. saturated fats like butter, ghee, lard, tallow), it’s a common visual to imagine these very fats traveling as-is into your arteries and spreading themselves inside them like a butter sandwich, creating a greasy buildup leading to a heart attack. Gross, but TOTALLY NOT HOW IT WORKS. Fats are metabolized into the body first, broken down into its components which are then shuttled off to wherever they need to go.
4. Cholesterol in the bloodstream DOES create buildup in the arteries — but do you know WHY? Imagine this: you scrape your hand on a thorn. You get a nasty cut. The body’s defense mechanisms stop the bleeding and create a protective, tough layer of scar tissue to cover the scratch while it heals underneath. If you repeatedly scratch the scab before it’s healed, it will get thicker and thicker as the inflammation underneath continues and the wound isn’t allowed to heal. Eventually you may end up with a permanent scar because of the repeated damage.
5. NOW, take that analogy into the arteries. SOMETHING “scratches” their surface, causing inflammation and irritation; essentially a “wound” of sorts. GUESS WHO COMES TO HEAL IT: Yup, cholesterol. Now when that wound continues to be irritated and inflamed, the cholesterol has to keep building protective layers. And yes, these layers eventually become thick and block bloodflow, leading to cardiac disease (and other health problems). So in a sense, yes, the cholesterol buildup is the immediate factor in heart disease, BUT NOT THE ROOT CAUSE. The culprit is the thing that is causing the repeated inflammation — the continuous scratching — in the first place. SO WHAT IS THE REAL THORN? THE ACTUAL PROBLEM?
6. By now you might have guessed it: SUGARS. Excessive amounts of sugars in the body — which can come from not just “white sugar” and “white carbs” like rice/potatoes/bread, but ANY starchy or sweet thing — will cause this sort of inflammation in the body. This is NOT to demonize “sugar” and “carbs” as unilaterally evil — not at all — but to recognize that in our modern lifestyle we consume WAAAAAY more of these than our body can handle, and our sedentary lifestyles make it so that this primary energy source (all carbs, no matter from where, get turned into glucose for energy) is floating around the body in such an excess that it (a) gets stored as fat which is rarely accessed, since we’re taking in far more glucose than we’re using up, and (b) causes insane amounts of inflammation in the body, which the cholesterol has to run around creating protective layers for — meaning that (i) there’s more buildup, (ii) there is less cholesterol available for vital body functions (hello, lethargy and mental fog), and (iii) the body is using precious resources to keep repairing itself because it keeps getting beaten up and not allowed to heal. Cholesterol gets the bad rap while the silent killer lurks free.
Saturated fats are the BEST to cook with — they have a high smoke point so don’t get oxidized quickly the way mono- and poly-unsaturated fats do (so it’s best to leave the olive oil, sesame oil, and avocado oil for cold use e.g. finishing dishes & dressing salads). Oils like vegetable & seed oils are best avoided entirely (sunflower, safflower, soybean, grapeseed & corn oils) from this point of view. They cause inflammation and are prone to oxidation (which produces free radicals –> cancer).
Consuming healthy saturated fats can dramatically increase your “good” cholesterol levels, while keeping you feeling sated and full, and providing a steadier source of energy than the spikes and crashes from refined carbs. Drastically limiting your carbohydrate (sugar) intake helps normalize insulin response (Google “insulin resistance and (low carbohydrate diets” for more).
This is the late-on-Friday-night dummies’ edition of the science, but it’s enough to get you starting to think about a fundamental change in mindset around health. Consider Time Magazine’s cover story last year about butter. Even though the info in there is far more conservative/reserved than what I’ve shared above, it’s on the same track. http://time.com/4386248/fat-butter-nutrition-health/
(There’s also a link in there to a 2014 Time article called “Ending the War on Fat” which is only available to subscribers.)
Are you still here or did I lose you around Point #2?