Last month, after I had my cholesterol tested and then subsequently freaked out over the results, I finally calmed down because I was directed toward the emerging evidence about cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease. Rumors were flying that saturated fat doesn’t cause high cholesterol…and that high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. This goes against everything we’ve been taught about a healthy diet, so at first, I was pretty skeptical.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time since then doing research on my own, reading books and articles on this topic, and now I’m definitely a believer. Research is research and the research is pro-butter.
Good Calories, Bad Calories is about as dense as a stick of butter, packed with a lot of science. But it’s pretty compelling; in the intro, Taubes just lays it out and explains how basically, the idea that saturated fat is bad became a widely-accepted truth because of politics and a few overzealous researchers — not actual fact.
From the Washington Post:
In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes tries to bury the idea that a low-fat diet promotes weight loss and better health…Taubes is a relentless researcher, shining a light on flaws in the scientific literature. Taubes’s tales of lame science and flawed laboratory tests are at times brilliant and enlightening.”
The book is pretty serious stuff, because, like the Post said, it’s relentlessly researched. (Which is why it’s not exactly light beach reading.) But his bottom line is: all saturated fat isn’t bad for us and high cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad for us either.
Good Calories, Bad Calories doesn’t promote any specific diet, which is what I liked about it. It’s really just about evidence, from a science journalist’s point of view. Eat Fat, Lose Fat is really a diet book, but it actually came out before GCBC and has a lot of great evidence as well. It may as well be called “the coconut diet,” because it promotes a diet high in fat from coconut oil, coconut milk, as well as full-fat organic dairy in the form of cream, raw milk cheese, and butter. The argument is that not only are saturated fats not bad for us — and some are good — they are also delicious and satisfying. They keep us full, happy, and healthy.
While this completely challenges conventional wisdom, so did the research on unsaturated fatty acids in the last decade. Like I said, research is research. And that research has compelled me to make changes in my diet; namely, I’m incorporating many of the foods that have come up time and again in this research as healthy saturated fats: organic unsalted butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, full-fat coconut milk, raw milk cheese (raw milk cheese is better for lactose intolerant people anyway, as are most full fat-dairy products), eggs, organic and nitrate-free bacon and bacon fat, and full-fat Greek yogurt. I’ve started slowly making these changes in the past couple weeks and all I have to say is…Hallelujah.
The main thing I’ve noticed a huge change in how hungry I am. When I eat animal fats, I’m fuller longer. It’s not magic; there are times when I’m hungrier than others. But when I have eggs cooked in butter, bacon, veggies sauteed in bacon fat, and toast with butter for lunch, I don’t need an afternoon snack. So while I didn’t aim to change how many calories I eat in a day, I find myself often taking in less because I’m just not as hungry.
And while the whole idea of portion control comes up a lot, just like it does in discussions on unsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts, etc….the thing is, it’s pretty hard to overeat butter or other animal fats, especially when you’re eating whole, real foods. I can easily overeat fatty foods that contain a lot of sugar, carbs, and vegetable oil, but I tend to automatically stop myself when I eat richer animal fats. I can tear into a bag of Doritos and not want to stop, but debating whether to fry a third egg in butter just doesn’t ever happen.
Since I’ve embraced this, I’ve also been eating a ton more produce. Why? Because veggies just taste really good when you cook them in butter! So does fruit! When I first heard the idea of sauteing fruit in butter or coconut oil, I think I said, “Is this some kind of a f*cking joke?” But it’s an amazing snack or dessert — and I find myself eating less than if I had had fruit and a nut butter. And my cooking has improved overall. Why? Because butter tastes really good. There’s a reason it’s in French food…and French food is amazing…and yet we have the French paradox. (Or we did until recently, when French people started eating a more “American” diet.)
It felt really weird at first to go against conventional wisdom, but if we didn’t accept science and change, we’d still be dying in childbirth and using leeches in surgery. So yes, I’m embracing butter, and my recipes and meals will begin to reflect that. I definitely recommend everyone read some of this compelling research and swap in some butter! You might be surprised by how liberating (and tasty) it is.