This is the very first blog in my upcoming series: Sidelining of native traditional foods. And what better place to start than the Ghee and the Saturated Fat Fiasco!
Do you know that this post is 6 years old this year (2018)! It was one of the very first blogs I wrote, and on revisiting it this week was thunderstruck that it is every bit as relevant! Welcome back to an ode to Ghee, the most ancient and the most vilified (wrongly) of foods. If you eat a “low-fat” diet void of Ghee, I hope this will help you reconsider. The original blog with some alterations and editing lies below:

The low-fat diet is endemic in India
After seeing old people, young people, nice people, bad people, with a diagnosis of high cholesterol (most often with a co-diagnosis of high blood sugar) religiously shunning fats (read GHEE), and substituting carbs, it was time to unfurl the research (if there was any).  
The premise here is that a food that has been eaten for centuries, culturally, can’t be bad for you (unless genetically modified in some way). 

Myth 1: Eating Ghee (or any fat) increases cholesterol, risk of heart disease, etc.

The guy that started this  hypothesis (read myth) was Ancel Keys. He is really famous in the nutrition community (and even graced the cover of Time in the 70s). He published a very famous study called the “Seven country study” where he studied people in seven countries and drew correlations between fat intake and heart disease. And he found that higher fat intake correlated with higher incidence of heart disease. Recent analysis has found that he had data available from 22 countries. And that, if he had included all that data, he would have found NO correlation. 
This is a classic case of a hypothesis being repeated so often that it has come to be regarded as truth.
An excellent summary of available historical data (available in youtube) by Andrea Garber, Associate Professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UCSF actually shows that most studies have found no changes in weight loss, or cholesterol levels in people that follow low-fat diets (50,000 women were followed over 8 years).
In fact, some studies have found that low-fat diets may increase LDL cholesterol levels relative to low-carb diets.

Myth 2: Saturated fat is heart-unhealthy

The data on this is so contradictory that it is a wonder it is accepted as truth. Yes, there is some data showing that saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. But there is a some data showing that it makes no difference at all, and actually has the same risks as excess refined carbohydrate intake.

Harvard school of Public health has 10 years worth of studies proving that total fat intake has no correlation with heart disease. And they also found that increasing saturated fat intake has the same effects on heart health as increasing refined carbohydrate consumption.
A collaboration between Harvard School of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute analyzed data spanning 5-23 years and 350,000 people, and saw…. guess what? NO correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease.

Myth 3: Saturated fat is bad, so ghee and coconut oil must be bad. 

Saturated fat can be short-chain, medium-chain, or long-chain fatty acids. Now, short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids are converted into energy much more quickly than longer chain animal derived saturated fats.

Ghee and coconut oil have significant amounts of short- and medium- chain fatty acids respectively.

Research on animal husbandry operations has shown that animals that are fed coconut oil lost weight and became toned, which made it necessary for feedlot owners to feed them unsaturated fats like corn oil, sunflower oil, etc to fatten them.
Ghee is only 65% saturated (well the only is my take), and 25% short- and medium chain fatty acids. So it is also more easily metabolized than most other saturated fat of animal origin.
I can’t emphasize this enough: there is NO evidence (at least that I have seen) showing any association of increased ghee consumption with cardiovascular disorders. 
There have been tons of studies in India. Ghee has been shown to be anti-carcinogenic, good for HDL, anti-inflammatory, and a host of other good things. But high and bad LDL cholesterol? Nope.

Myth 4: Unsaturated oils are good for health. Safflower, Sunflower, Vegetable Oils, Canola, etc.

These oils are unstable at higher temperatures, easy to oxidize, have actually been shown in some studies to be carcinogenic if heated to high temperatures.
Most of the “refined” oils that we use are already heated to extract them from the seed efficiently. Heating heated oil, is like re-using your deep-frying oil for cooking. 
These oils are best used cold-pressed, and un-refined, and in moderation. Canola, in particular, is an oil that I avoid because the very seed is Genetically Modified..

Summary

  • 85% of the cholesterol in your body comes from … your body. Only 15% comes from your diet. So eat that egg, drink the full fat milk (if you can tolerate dairy). It is OK, in moderation.
  • Low-fat diets do not reduce cholesterol: there is very little research to prove this and abundant research to disprove this. Replacing fat with sugar and refined carbs increases risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Saturated fats are not bad, in moderation.
  • Remember, refined carbohydrates, not fats have a higher association with risk of cardiovascular disease (cholesterol, triglycerides, other indicators).
  • Coconut oil is different from animal-derived saturated fats. Coconut oil is awesome. There is a ton of research chronicling the cardiovascular and other health benefits of coconut oil.
  • Ghee is awesome too. High smoke point (can tolerate high temperatures), anti-carcinogenic, increases HDL, does not increase LDL, can soothe wounds, the list really goes on.

References:

  1. Henry Blackburn, MD. Overview: The Seven Countries Study in Brief.  
  2. Gary Taubes. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health.
  3. Ravnskov, U. The questionable role of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Epidemiol. 1998;51(6):443-60.
  4. Sally Fallon. Nourishing Traditions
  5. Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial
  6. Andrea Garber, UCSFFad Diets: what really works for Weight Loss. 
  7. Andrew WeilFat or Carbs, which is worse. 
  8. Harvard School of Public Health. Fats and Cholesterol, Out with the bad, in with the good
  9. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:535-46.
  10. Micha R, Mozaffarian D. Saturated fat and cardiometabolic risk factors, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a fresh look at the evidence. Lipids. 2010;45:893-905.
  11. Astrup A, Dyerberg J, Elwood P, et al. The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010? Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93:684-8.
  12. Feranil AB, Duazo PL, Kuzawa CW, Adair LS. Coconut oil is associated with a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):190-5.
  13. Papamandjaris AA, MacDougal DE, Jones PJ. Medium chain fatty acid metabolism and energy expenditure: obesity treatment implications. 1998;62(14):1203-15.
  14. Kumar, PD. The role of coconut and coconut oil in coronary heart disease in Kerala, South India. Trop Doct. 1997 Oct;27(4):215-7.
  15. Gupta R, Prakash H. Association of dietary ghee intake with coronary heart disease and risk factor prevalence in rural males. J Indian Med Assoc. 1997 Mar;95(3):67-9, 83.
  16. Kumar MV, Sambaiah K, Lokesh BR. Effect of dietary ghee–the anhydrous milk fat, on blood and liver lipids in rats. J Nutr Biochem. 1999 Feb;10(2):96-104.

SEVEN SECRETS TO BRING FOCUS TO A CHILD

Sign up Below to receive your copy of 7 secrets to a FOCUSED child. 

Just one more step - please watch out for the confirmation email in your Inbox!