Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saturated fats in foods-Are they villains or just harmless players?

Thousands of treatise have been written, millions of words printed, umpteen number of seminars and workshops organized and many national and international advisories issued regarding the dangers inherent in consuming diets rich in saturated fats. Practically every school going child has been indoctrinated into believing that saturated fats are not good for health and almost every nutrition and health expert of some standing "villainize" these fats endlessly with no respite. Can we hold all of them irresponsible in making such claims during the last 3 decades? One cannot help getting a feeling that they are all prisoners of the big hype created against saturated fats based on inadequate interpretation and improper appreciation of the knowledge already available. It is good that this record of denunciation is being set right by recent massive studies to decide once for all whether saturated fats are really as bad as it has been made out to be.

According to new studies surfaced during the last 2-3 years saturated fat when consumed as a part of a balanced diet can never be harmful to the body though on a nutritional scale unsaturated fats may score over the former. Dramatic shift in the attitude of Westerners towards saturated fats in favor of their  unsaturated counterparts during the last 3 decades, did not bring down the incidences of diseases like CVD, Blood Pressure, Obesity and Diabetes among the population there! On the contrary this shift in dietary changes in favour of unsaturated fats containing MUFA and PUFA with emphasis on Omega-3-acids has increased the obesity and over weight population to a record high of 35% of the total population in a typical wealthy country like the US! Against this background can any one claim that consumption of more unsaturated fats has contributed to this epidemic? The lesson one has to draw is that diet needs to be considered in a holistic way, not based on the presence or absence of one particular ingredient such as saturated fat.  

One of the defining moments in the history of American dietary habits was demonizing saturated fats which led to a situation when industry literally went over board, curtailing and eliminating fats altogether from their products. Instead of fats, the new range of products contained more sugar and highly refined carbohydrates to replace the pared down fat ingredients. One of the consequences was that these products were not able to create necessary satiety in the consumer, to stop him from eating more, leading to the phenomenon of binge eating and uncontrolled weight gains. The industry did not stop at that and went on creating more and more eye catching products with high sensory attraction to tickle unsatiated consumers who responded to this by buying such products more frequently. It is said that a consumer can eat a product containing no fat almost double the quantity compared to a normal product with normal fat concentration! This is how the history of American obesity epidemic is going to be written for posterity. Can we claim that saturated fats caused this? Positively not! 

Health pundits are now more or less agreed that saturated fat when consumed from a mixed diet in which carbohydrate components are derived from whole cereals, unprocessed legumes, fruits and vegetables can never cause those diseases from which world is suffering to day. When discussing about fat,  one should not forget to mention the role of trans fats which are created by man in food products, by bad processing practices and which is really considered harmful to human body without any doubt. Where does it come from? Many creamy products to which people including kids are addicted, use hydrogenated fats made from liquid oils through catalytic saturation using heavy metal catalysts. It is rather mysterious why no country in the world has banned production of hydrogenated fats which during its process of manufacture generate trans fatty acids. The policy of restricting its presence to certain levels came rather late after some procrastination and mandatory declaration of the same on front of the pack labels are right steps that can contribute to better health of the consumers.

Though the above commentary makes it clear that consumers should not abhor saturated fats altogether, further work with human subjects through well designed clinical trials can confirm the above facts beyond a shadow of doubt. Mean while if one wants to continue to use liquid oils in preference to saturated fats like Palm oil or coconut oil they are free to do so, probably for a better health index. Recent publication about the beneficial effect of a blend of raw sesame oil and refined rice bran oil.on human beings, in terms of lowering cholesterol levels and reducing blood sugar levels is refreshing in these days of fat bashing! These findings clearly bring out that unrefined foods, as natural as possible can be the game changer for the survival of humanity with sound health.  

It is good that the world is slowly coming to the realization that low fat foods do not achieve much in terms of health and probably lower consumption of refined carbohydrates like white sugar, HFCS, refined grain flours and restricting salt intake would do more good in the long run. A low fat product loaded with refined carbs and salt may put the consumer in the comfort zone without realizing that such diets can be more harmful that saturated fats. Those advocates who promote low fat and zero fat consumption must realize that there are many fat soluble ingredients including vitamins, some micro nutrients and a variety of plant derived health protectants that will not get access to the blood stream unless adequate fat is present in the diet consumed every day. The ultimate "mantra" for good health is live like a normal human being as our ancestors lived by adopting a diet which is based on natural, unprocessed and unrefined food components as much as possible without caring whether they contain saturated fat or not!  


No comments: