I learned the positive effects of saturated fat on my health and well being firsthand. No longer do I subscribe to the decades-old hype that all saturated fats make us fat and unhealthy. My eating decisions are now based on a higher authority - my own firsthand experience. Aided, of course, by the small group of nutritional renegades who have worked to expose the misconception.
Turns out, the studies conducted decades ago implicating saturated fats in disease and obesity didn't distinguish between laboratory-produced saturated fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils full of trans fat) and natural saturated fats (such as milk fat [butter], animal fat, and tropical oils). So all saturated fats basically took the rap for the negative effects of trans fats.
But no more. Studies (at least those done outside the pockets of the vegetable oil industry), now segregate these different fats and are finding many healthful advantages to the inclusion of natural saturated fats in the diet. They are additionally finding that the refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils are detrimental to our health.
While I'm usually not one to tell long and potentially boring stories about myself, this one deserves telling:
After a couple years of struggling with diet choices, I finally found myself eating just the way I'd always wanted to, had been secretly drawn to for many years. Whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables were my mainstay. Grain and fruit for breakfast, grain and vegetables for lunch, and a salad with a healthy dressing for dinner.
Never had my diet been so pared down, so "clean", so free of chemicals and processed foods. It was a simple diet, comprised of uncomplicated natural foods, just grains and veggies.
I had transitioned slowly into this diet, moving away from my old foods a little more every day, over about a 3-4 month period, until I was finally at my destination. I was so proud of myself!
Problem was, I began to feel awful.
For a 2-3 week period of the "cleanest" eating I've ever accomplished, I was feeling inexplicable lethargy, where all I could do was sit down. From the moment I got out of bed in the morning, I was tired. I'd pour myself a cup of coffee and survey the dirty kitchen I'd been too tired to clean up the night before, and felt utterly overwhelmed. The energy it would take to clean it up was more than I could fathom, and all I felt capable of doing was sitting down with my cup of coffee. Simple acts, like picking up the newspaper the cat shredded, required an exertion mustered only with an internal pep-talk. "You can do it. You need to do it. You'll feel better if you do it." I have to tell you, this was NOT my norm!
Mentally, everything was overwhelming as well. I had to think long and hard before doing anything, nothing came naturally. I couldn't explain anything to anybody, couldn't gather my thoughts enough for that. Multi-tasking in any form was not possible, and the myriad of details to running website were more than I could juggle. Not to mention the writing. How can you write clearly when you can't think clearly?
With a website, there's always a to-do list a mile long. Little changes to make here and there, edits that need to be done, links to new pages to add, pictures to take, html to figure out, and always, the research and writing. During this period lasting 2 or 3 weeks, I got little done. And not because I wasn't trying. Not because I wasn't sitting in front of the computer with every intention of getting things done. I just couldn't properly focus on one thing without worrying over all the others. Everything seemed to be pressing in on me. Everything seemed urgent. And yet everything felt meaningless anyway.
A sort of hopelessness settled into my psyche. A feeling that life will always be this meaningless struggle.
At first I thought it was just a cleansing reaction; that the healthful, nutrient-rich foods I was eating were creating an environment for cleansing of my body. It'll pass, I thought, hang in there. But after two weeks, with no improvement, actually a further decline, I began to think differently. Through my mental haze, I found the words I needed to describe my current state - 'loss of vitality'. Totally unacceptable. No matter how good I felt mentally/logically about the foods I was eating, they clearly were not supporting me appropriately.
So what did I need to do differently? Am I one of those people who just doesn't do well on a vegetarian diet? Am I one of those people who doesn't do well on a grain-based diet? Even though I was soaking and cooking the whole grains properly?
I asked for guidance.
But, since I'm a scientist at heart, I wanted to make changes one at a time, so I could accurately gauge the results, and meat was feeling like the likely contender.
So I continued with the grains and salads, exactly the same, but added a lean steak (organically-raised) to dinner one night. In the morning, no change was apparent, so I ate some beef with lunch that day, and with dinner. No change that day or the next in my 'loss of vitality'. While I was pleased to know meat wasn't causing me any additional negative reactions, it clearly wasn't the solution.
I asked for guidance.
This time, saturated fats came to mind. I'd known for some time the talk going on about natural saturated fats being good for us, and I did actually believe it. Or thought I believed it. But I wasn't living it. I was still eating lean meat and being stingy with the butter on my morning hot grain. Closer inspection of my true beliefs was revealing a definite, lingering, "fear of fat". I needed to let it go.
So I reread all the things I had read before and searched for new things to read on the internet. Despite what everyone was saying, I just couldn't kick the feeling that it would make me gain weight. Get over it, I told myself, you can always lose it again. Besides, feeling good and vital is infinitely more important to me than how much I weigh. And with that, I jumped in.
Butter and cream cheese became my friends that first day. I put a decadent amount of butter on my little bowl of morning grain. Reheated the leftover grain for lunch (in a skillet, not in the microwave!) and did the same, slathering it and my vegetables in butter. Had an afternoon snack of toast (from bread made with soaked and sprouted grains) with plenty of butter and added cream cheese just to be extra decadent. For dinner, I added more cheese to my nightly salad.
The next morning, I was definitely more energetic. Got morning chores done without having to give myself a pep talk. The simple act of cleaning the kitchen became simple again. As the days progressed, and I continued with the butter and cream cheese, I was feeling better and better all around.
I don't know how many days it had been, 3 or 4 I think, when I sat down to do my work, with my mile-long to-do list in front of me, and chose one thing, got it done, chose another, got it done, chose another..... Several hours later, and about 8 things checked off my list, I realized the fog had truly lifted! I was back to my old self, only better!
I was getting things done, checking things off the list like I used to in the past, but now there was so much more focus and clarity, more optimism and fun. There was little to no anxiety or overwhelment. Things felt in perspective. I was beginning to feel happiness again.
And, I was beginning to feel a sense of "belonging"; that I belong in this world, that I have a "place" in it, and a role to fulfill (even if I don't know what it is). This sense of belonging wasn't dependent on some great esoteric meaning and purpose in every moment. You know, that kind of MEANING we're all looking for, that "reason for being". I didn't need it. There was satisfaction in the little things, even the boring repetitious things, like cleaning the kitchen.
Too, I found myself wanting to move more. Standing in front of the pantry looking, thinking, deciding what to prepare, I noticed I was unconsciously stretching my legs, doing little leg lifts. Sitting, watching tv became boring and confining, so I moved to the floor and did stretches and exercises.
All this from one change in my diet! Additional natural saturated fats.
Over the ensuing weeks, I happened onto a source for raw milk with the cream top and began adding the fresh cream to my morning grain and butter. I made fresh cream cheese from a jar of this milk and starting mixing it with my afternoon grain. I replaced 1/2 the olive oil in my nightly salad dressing with coconut oil. I ordered prime rib at a restaurant one night and ate the fat just like I used to do in my early twenties, before all the hype convinced me it was unhealthy. (No, I don't eat mouthfuls of plain fat. You cut a little piece of fat and stab it with the fork along with a chunk of meat, just the way my dad taught me, and it's delicious!)
Did I gain weight?
Nope. Not an ounce. And it's been 5 months as of this writing, with zero weight gain. (And my butter consumption has probably doubled since I learned to make homemade bread!)
Is there a limit to how far I can take this? I don't know. And I may never know, because what I 'm eating now is so satisfying, both in taste and satiation, there's no compelling reason for me to overdo.
I've found I get hungry less frequently, negating any need for snacks, and am less drawn to quick-fix foods in the grocery store. Three hours after eating brown rice with butter and whole cream, I breezed through the beautiful, oh-so-fragrant bakery section of a big grocery store on my way to the produce and was astounded that I wasn't tempted in the least. A quick mental check of my belly (to be sure it was still there, I guess) revealed a lingering sense of satisfaction. It was like my belly said to me, "I'm still doing just fine with this rice and butter and cream." And I had to smile, the memory of that delicious bowl of rice with butter and cream was such a pleasant one.
I guess if one is an emotional eater (I'm not), s/he could overdo on the natural fats. Except I feel with all my heart that those healthy fats might just calm them emotionally - the brain NEEDS saturated fat to function properly.
I'm not necessarily recommending others mess with their diet as drastically as I did (but I absolutely recommend some personal experimentation), but I'm glad it all happened the way it did for me. I now have such clear personal experiential evidence of the effect of saturated fats on MY body. I now have a clear understanding of how necessary saturated fats are, and how they effect me personally, and how I felt without them. What I read about saturated fats providing energy and being necessary to brain function, I know with every ounce of my being to be true. And I would add that part of that enhanced brain function, for me, meant a feeling of greater connection, a sense of "belonging", peace.
I think of all the people suffering with depression and confusion and excess weight, and wish I could shout from the rooftops, "eat natural saturated fats!" But in the meantime, I am in deep gratitude to those who HAVE been shouting from the rooftops, that their message finally got through to me.
Important Note I think there's a critical point to highlight that I think greatly affected my astounding results: I was completely free of polyunsaturated vegetable oils. By not eating any processed, packaged foods, nor any restaurant foods, there was no soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, etc. in my diet. Just one of the many problems with these oils is that the omega-3/omega-6 ratio is horribly off, negatively affecting one's ability to properly metabolize fats.
I am concerned that if someone adds additional saturated fats to their diet while still consuming the refined vegetable oils, they may simply gain unwanted weight. But I do know, adding butter and coconut oil, in particular, will not cause weight gain, as they're mostly medium chain fatty acids which are burned for energy rather than stored by the body.