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I was 10 miles up on a beautiful mountain trail called Tonga Ridge, eating a backcountry lunch, when everything changed. It all started when my boss, a Forest Service wilderness ranger, casually told me that he aimed to get about half of his calories from saturated fat.
I spat out my mouthful of dried mango. “What!?”
I was in disbelief — mostly because my boss was in great shape. Eating lots of fat, being in good shape… impossible! So I thought, at the time.
Like many in my generation (I was born in 1991), I thought dietary fat intake led to body fat increase. I was the kind of guy who used to sponge the grease off my pizza with a paper towel.
Nowadays, I usually get half of my calories from saturated fat, and I’ve experienced health benefits so profound that they inspired me to start a business producing saturated fat.
Here’s what I didn’t know:
Learning these truths has changed my life drastically for the better, and can probably change your life, too. So let’s take a few minutes to examine these ideas a bit closer.
Truth #1: Eating (Good) Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat or Cause Heart Disease.
It seemed obvious: if you eat fat, it becomes fat, in your body. But in reality, digestion is not that simple, and eating fat can help you be fit.
(Note that I am specifically referring to “Good” fat. There are also many bad fats, the industrial seed oils, which cause all kinds of health problems. Avoid those like a plague. More info on industrial seed oils here. (LINK))
It is well-known that obesity and heart disease have been increasing, in America, for the past century, especially during the last fifty years. This is often blamed on meat and animal fat. But animal fat consumption has actually decreased:
Source: Nourishing Fats, by Sally Fallon Morrell, page 27.
Yes, 1909 Americans ate FIVE TIMES more lard than 1985 Americans. And I would wager that lard consumption (as well as tallow and butter) has continued to drop since 1985, while oil consumption has risen.
Sure, other environmental and social changes have also contributed to obesity — but the high animal fat intake and low obesity rates of 1909 prove that eating animal fat is not the culprit for obesity. So what about heart disease? Doesn’t saturated fat clog arteries, just like it can clog kitchen sink pipes?
In short, no. Your digestive system is nothing like a kitchen sink pipe, thank God.
Here are two simple charts that illustrate that saturated fat intake is actually GOOD for your heart:
Source: Nourishing Fats by Sally Fallon Morrell, Page 26.
Yes, that is my handwriting, noting that the “French paradox” is NOT a paradox. Maybe you’ve heard of this paradox: How can French people eat the most butter and high-fat cheese, and suffer the lowest rates of heart disease in Europe?
The answer: French people have very low rates of heart disease BECAUSE they eat high amounts of saturated fat. Unlike poor Azerbaijan, which gets 70% fewer calories from saturated fat, and suffers more than 7x more fatal heart disease than France. If I were a doctor in Azerbaijan, I would prescribe MORE BUTTER, and yes, MORE PEMMICAN (LINK).
In her excellent book Nourishing Fats, Sally Fallon Morrell explains that artery clogs are not made of pure fat, and what fat they have is only 26% saturated (Page 83).
Unsaturated fats, particularly Polyunsaturated fats, are the real problem: “During the 1970s,” Morrell explains, “Researchers from Canada found that animals fed rapeseed oil and canola oil developed heart lesions. The problem was corrected when they added saturated fat to the animals’ diets.” (Page 84)
Wow. Perhaps you’re wondering: What other health problems can be corrected by eating MORE saturated fat?
Truth #2: Good fat is CRUCIAL for many body processes, including Immunity, Brain Function, Fertility, and more.
Here is some fat math:
And many of those molecules need to be saturated, or else our cell membranes will be floppy and porous. So what happens if we don’t eat enough saturated fat? Well, the answer to that is the third truth that we will discuss at the end of this article. First, let’s go over how saturated fat supports the most important functions of your body.
There is a reason why people who get organ transplants are advised to avoid saturated fat and eat polyunsaturated fat, instead: saturated fat boosts the immune system, so that it will target foreign cells, making a foreign organ more likely to be rejected by the body. There is a correlation between low levels of saturated fat intake and low white blood cell effectiveness. Furthermore, short and medium-chain triglycerides (both types of saturated fats) are antifungal and antiviral, helping to protect us from microbes from the inside out. As long as you’re not receiving a transplant, of course, a robust immune defense is a good thing.
The human brain, even more than all the rest of our cells, consists largely of saturated fat. The brain also relies on cholesterol, another demonized nutrient. An enormous study conducted in Hawai’i found that lower blood serum cholesterol correlated with development of dementia. (Nourishing Fats, page 77.) Examining how our brains react to fat consumption really highlights the stark health differences between saturated animal fats and unsaturated industrial seed oils: a 2009 study, fed rats a high-unsaturated fat diet (lots of canola oil, corn oil, etc.), and found that the rats experienced short-term memory loss and difficulty exercising. Saturated fat is the smart brain choice.
As you may know, our society is experiencing a slow-burning epidemic of hormone dysfunction. Levels of testosterone in men, and progesterone in women, have fallen precipitously, leading to cascading health and reproduction problems. There are many reasons for this — one of the main ones is the switch from saturated fat to polyunsaturated seed oils. Returning to traditional saturated fats can boost sex hormone production, leading to better overall health and higher fertility.
BONUS: Liver and Alcohol
When I was a teenager, a friend’s dad learned that I was going to go drinking with some friends, and he very seriously pulled me aside and said, “Listen — I’m not going to admonish you not to drink, I’m just going to give you two pieces of advice. First, don’t drink and drive. Second, eat a big steak before you drink. It helps your liver.” I loved steak, so I was happy to take his advice. I always assumed that the protein is what helped. As it turns out, it was the saturated fat, all along. Multiple studies have confirmed that saturated fat consumption reduces liver damage from alcohol consumption. If you’re going to party, party with good fat.
Clearly, the body needs lots and lots of saturated fat. And so if we don’t eat it… our body has to synthesize it.
Truth #3: If you don’t EAT Saturated Fat, your body will produce it, at great cost.
I have a few vegan friends, and they all have a SERIOUS sweet tooth. Fruit, sugar, candy… they crave it like kids. And that’s because they truly need these sugars — because unless they’re eating lots and lots of coconut oil (the smarter ones are), they’re deficient in saturated fat.
Your body has an incredible ability that I like to call “De novo lipogenesis.” (I like to call it that because that’s the official medical term.) Basically, this latin phrase means “Making fat.” In particular, saturated fat, made out of simple carbohydrates such as sugar and flour.
The process of de novo lipogenesis has a fancy Latin name for a good reason: it’s very expensive for your body to perform this process. Creating saturated fats depletes niacin, causing even more strange cravings for the low-saturated-fat dieter, and opening the door for oxidative stress in all of your organs, including your heart.
Basically, there is no such thing as a low-saturated-fat diet, because even if you don’t eat saturated fat, your body will still produce it. And we should be grateful for this, because each one of us really really needs saturated fat.
Next Step: Re-Saturating Your Life
Okay, so now you’re AWARE that saturated fat is a beneficial ally, rather than a villain to avoid. But how do we integrate this new knowledge into our daily lives, and begin to experience the health benefits?
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a simple three-step plan to re-saturate your life:
1) Obliterate all seed oils.
Canola. Corn. Cottonseed. Soybean. Sunflower. Safflower. Peanut. It’s a travesty of our modern food system that these innocent seeds should be abusively crushed, bleached, squeezed, burnt, and marketed as food. These oils are only fit for engines, if anything. (You can read more about the evils of industrial seed oils here (LINK).)
2) Find pasture-based fats for cooking.
Many of our ancestors loved lard and lived long. Butter, tallow, cream… bone marrow, bacon, fatty steaks. Go ahead and fry your eggs in bacon grease. Butter your biscuits. Try making fries with beef tallow, like McDonald’s in the good ol’ days. And for ultimate grandma points, make a pie crust with leaf lard. You’ll be glad you did.
3) Travel with pemmican.
Yes, the signature ingredient of pemmican, including Steadfast pemmican, is pasture-based animal fat. One of the amazing things about animal fat, properly rendered, is its incredible, well, steadfastness. Rendered and vacuum-sealed, pemmican is a lightweight, satisfying health food that keeps for years or decades. Whether you’re on a mountaintop or running late for a morning meeting — pemmican has your back (and your heart, and your brain, and your liver, and all your cell membranes, too).
Thanks for reading this nutrient-dense, highly-saturated article. We’re curious: what woke you up to the goodness of saturated fats? How have they improved your life? Let us know in the comments below, or shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article relies heavily on Sally Fallon Morrell’s excellent, deeply-researched book Nourishing Fats, which you can purchase here.)
I just started the carnivore diet and am realizing just how upside down the standard American is . Great article ! I have some of your Pemmican, but have not tried it yet, saving for an emergency .