I don't think saturated fat is evil, its just another nutrient. But I don't think its anything special either.. The diet of our paleolithic ancestors was actually very low in saturated fat (7-12% of daily caloric intake) because they mostly ate fish, shellfish and wild game.. The western diet is actually much higher in saturated fat. Many pro-paleo articles, studies and reviews say that the ancestral diet was low saturated fat, i have never seen otherwise, i have looked through pubmed for 3 hours.
Sources: 1) "Estimated Saturated fat intake in ancestral diet: 7.5 - 12% " http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/2/295/T2.expansion.html
2) "Until 500 generations ago, all humans consumed only wild and unprocessed food foraged and hunted from their environment. These circumstances provided a diet high in lean protein, POLYUNSATURATED FATS (especially omega-3 [omega-3] fatty acids), MONOUNSATURATED FATS, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial phytochemicals"
Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14708953
3) "anthropological evidence continues to indicate that ancestral human diets prevalent during our evolution were characterized by much lower levels of refined carbohydrates and sodium, much higher levels of fiber and protein, and comparable levels of fat (primarily UNSATURATED FAT) and cholesterol.
Paleolithic nutrition: twenty-five years later. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21139123
4) "The Paleolithic diet is characterized by lower fat and LOWER SATURATED FAT INTAKE than Western diets; a balanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids; small amounts of trans fatty acids, contributing less than 2% of dietary energy; more green leafy vegetables and fruits providing higher levels of vitamin E and vitamin C and other antioxidants than today's diet and higher amounts of calcium and potassium but lower sodium intake. "
Evolutionary aspects of omega-3 fatty acids in the food supply. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10471132
So why is coconut oil (a saturated fat) so popular in the paleo community? Yes, there are antimicrobial properties, etc but I don't believe its a miracle food. I'm from a culture which traditionally eats a lot of coconut oil (kerala, south india) its the only oil we use, yet we have a high rate of heart disease, among the more affluent classes anyway, who eat more oil. Also, why is coconut oil recommended for cooking? I've heard people say its heat-stable but it has a very low smoke point, the point at which the oil starts to degrade, at just 177 degrees celsius. Extra virgin coconut oil probably has an even lower smoke point. Avocado oil, a healthy monounsaturated oil , on the other hand, has a smoke point of 271 degrees celsius.
Polyunsaturated fats are very fragile and oxidized easily, but monounsaturated fats seem stable, thats why I mostly use avocado oil, macadamia oil (for high heat) and olive oil (for low heat) cooking.
Can someone please tell me why saturated fats like coconut oil and sometimes butter are so populuar in the paleo community when it goes against the central idea of the paleolithic diet - which is to eat what we evolved to eat, what our ancestors ate, and they definitely weren't eating lots of saturated fat.
I can tell you that anyone who says they know what kind of fat people in the paleolithic ate is bullshit (AKA they are a nutritionist writing about archaeology). Last time I looked at a skeleton from the paleolithic, I didn't see any fat residue. You can extrapolate based on biological environment, but last time I checked, people in the paleolithic inhabited everywhere from Siberia to Indonesia.
You can try to extrapolate from African game to try to figure out what lower paleolithic hominids were eating (the paleolithic lasted for over 2 million years!!!), which are low in fat, but even that's confusing because there are some high-fat species that were more common in different stages of the paleolithic and in certain regions, like eland:
Klein has argued for many years that MSA hominins lacked not only the technological know-how of the people who followed them during the ensuing Later Stone Age (LSA), but they also lacked the cognitive wherewithal. Interestingly, eland remains in these caves are central to his line of thinking, and hence the reason for this detour. And, as I have been doing throughout the book, I will let Klein speak for himself. In contrast to the other ungulates, the eland in MSA sites include a large proportion of primeage adults, and the age profile has a catastrophic shape…. The most likely explanation is that MSA people had learned that, unlike most other large African bovids, eland can be easily driven, without much personal risk. An eland herd caught in the right position could be forced over a cliff or into a trap…. However, MSA people could not have driven eland herds to their death very often or the species would have become extinct, since its reproductive vitality would have been sapped by the continuing loss of a large proportion of the available prime adults. Not only did the eland survive, but there is no evidence that it became less numerous during the long MSA time span…. Thus, MSA people were probably not very successful at hunting eland, and this makes it especially interesting that eland is the most abundant ungulate in the MSA faunas. The clear implication is that MSA people must have been even less successful at hunting other species that are less common in the sites- From John D. Speth
and since we've come out of Africa hominids radiated into several other types of hominids that then bred back into the homo sapiens line.
So we don't really know what type of fat paleolithic hominids ate, except they didn't eat industrial trans-fats or highly oxidized PUFA. The worst parts of S. Indian cooking are the constant frying of stuff. I think any S. Indian would be better off never eating fried foods, even fried in coconut oil, but I see a lot of synthetic vegetable ghee used by the S. Indian community in the US these days and I wouldn't be surprised if it were also common back home. Particular genetic variants predisposing to CHD are quite high in the S. Indian population.
You should eat a level of saturated fat that works for you. For many of us, high saturated fat levels do not affect our CHD risk. My whole family eats a decent amount of saturated fat and our cholesterol has always been normal.
I don't seek out saturated fat, per se, I'm just not afraid of it anymore.
Hi, fellow Indian paleohacker. Welcome to Samosa Club. Watch out for this guy named Aravind.
The question of "saturated fat: is it all that?" has been addressed a few times. Check it out...
Kurt Harris addresses this issue a couple times on his website, basically saying that saturated fat is healthy, our ancestors may have preferentially eaten fatty bits, and even if not we should go for what's healthy and not necessarily recreating the paleolithic diet. I personally get about a third of my calories from overall fat, and a little under half of that from saturated. So a fairly moderate amount. No amount of evidence has ever convince me to attempt to eat more or less saturated fat than this moderate amount, but if someone writes a nice treatise, I am certainly open to change. :) #paleo
"Why is saturated fat popular in the paleo community when the ancestral diet was LOW in saturated fat?"
I certainly don't speak for the paleo community, but it seems to me that the paleo community is all about following the good science. If it turns out that the good science dictates something that maybe wasn't strictly "paleo," then many of us are willing to follow the good science at the expense of being strictly paleo.
I'm gonna leave it to someone else to point to the articles, but I believe there is plenty of debate to your assertion. Many of the "low sat fat" paleo arguments ignores the abundant fat in the wild game you speak of. We're not just talking muscle meat. And when you add in all that fat you get whole new set of numbers.
The problem with your question is the assumption that we have a good idea of what our ancestors ate. While we have an idea of some things they ate there's a wide variety of things that were eaten during the paleolithic period and we just don't know the amounts of each kind of food our ancestors ate. So when we wanna compare a food we eat now to what they ate, the best approach is to see what the science says about that food and also study the history of the healthiest cultures that have eaten that food, and then leave it up to the anthropologists to figure out if our ancestors ate it or not and in what quantity. It's a known fact that coconut oil has many health benefits, this articles summarizes them http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html. Coconut oil is popular and rightly so because the majority of its saturated fat is medium chain triglycerides, which are processed differently by the body than long chain triglycerides. They're transported directly to the liver and burned for fuel without requiring digestive enzymes. Whereas long chain fats require pancreatic enzymes to be digested and are circulated throughout the body and stored in fat cells. Also, maybe they did have lots of unsaturated fats, but they had less sources of oxidation than we do and more antioxidants in their diet to prevent the oxidation of those fats. Coconut oil or any saturated fat is good to cook with because it's much more resistant to oxidation than polyunsaturated fats. Keep in mind that our ancestors ate the organs of the animals they killed which were very high in saturated fat. Many people in the paleo community recommend eating a diet high in saturated fat because if you don't, you'll most likely replace it with lots of carbs, which are turned into saturated fat to some degree anyway. There are other healthy foods that our ancestors couldn't eat that we do today, so if we can improve upon the diet of our ancestors, why not try to? Keep in mind, our ancestors only ate what was available, which wasn't always ideal at the time, but it became that way as evolution separated the more fit individuals from the less fit ones. They didn't have science to show them which foods were most likely to increase their health and longevity, whereas we do, although their intuition was pretty good. We have to face the reality that our soil isn't as nutrient rich as it was back then, our stress levels are higher, and we aren't as physically active. People tend to forget that diet is only one aspect of the paleo lifestyle.
Thank you for listing your sources. As I was reading your original post, I was thinking to myself, "this information sounds like it's coming from Cordain." Sure enough, two of the four papers were co-authored by him.
Nothing wrong with that. Cordain has done some excellent work on the general subject of primitive human diets. But although it's not (anywhere near) my area of expertise, my understanding is that many biological paleoanthropologists (or whatever they're called) who do specialize in this area believe that Cordain's group is wrong about the levels of saturated fat commonly consumed by our paleolithic ancestors. So Cordain's assertions should not be taken as fact without recognizing that there are competing views.
(I would consider Konner and Eaton to be part of Cordain's group. I'm not familiar with Simopoulos, but his paper is from 1999, so it may carry less weight than more recent papers on the subject. And besides, it is unclear from the abstract what Simopoulos is basing his estimate on — his own research, or a previously published paper?)
In any case, I think the reason saturated fat is generally smiled upon in the paleo community is that, unlike with polyunsaturated facts, there's no known (factually supported, logically consistent) mechanism for how dietary saturated fat might cause harm in humans. It's stable; it doesn't oxidize easily; it just seems highly respectable and generally upstanding as far as macronutrients go.
You may be correct about the amount of saturated fat being less way back then, although it appears natural for us to eat a large amount of meat.
The other day I was browsing through a lengthy interview with Ward Nicholson regarding his book, Beyond Vegetarianism, and if you have the time to read the interview, which includes updates on scientific observations cited in the book, you'll find it's a very thoughtful, rational piece.
In a nutshell, he was once part of the Natural Hygiene movement but left because he believes the available science indicates we're meant to eat meat. I'm not sure whether he considers himself part of the ancestral eating community, but he definitely knows what he's talking about.
Here's a brief excerpt of the interview:
"Organ meats favored in preference to muscle meats in hunter-gatherer diets. Observations of modern hunter-gatherers have shown that muscle meats (the leanest part of the animal) are least preferred, sometimes even being thrown away in times of plenty, in preference to the fattier portions. Eaten first are the organs such as brains, eyeballs, tongue, kidneys, bone marrow (high in monounsaturated fat), and storage fat areas such as mesenteric (gut) fat. (Even this gut fat is much less saturated in composition, however, than the kind of marbled fat found in the muscle meat of modern feedlot animals.) There is no reason to believe earlier hunter-gatherers would have been any different in these preferences, since other species of animals who eat other animals for food also follow the same general order of consumption."
I occasionally wonder if Cordain had a low sat fat stance on how paleo ought to be done so that it would have less resistance to entering mainstream thought...
You need to eat less grains... Ok, says the general public.
You need to eat more meat and fish... Ok, says the general public.
You need to eat sat fat with all that 8^). No way! Says the mainstream... That's one step tooooo far.
The modern environment makes it difficult for many people to trust animal fats. Coconut oil is a 'safe' way to add more fat to the diet, particularly if you can't access grass-fed or game meat. The fact that it's mostly saturated simply means to most of these people that there is no balance issue in consuming it.
Plus I'm highly sceptical these days of the motivations of anyone who concludes that saturated fat intake should be limited, particularly without any evidence of adverse affects.