7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat


Photo: Eduardo Amorim

I’ve invited Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades, two of my favorite bariatric (obesity treatment) doctors in the US and the first to introduce insulin resistance to the mainstream, to explain the facts and benefits of increased saturated fat intake…

The sub-headings are mine, and a few edits have been made for space and context. Please see Dr. Michael Eades’ references and responses to questions in the comments.

Mid-Section Fat Loss: Problem Solved?

A couple of generations ago two physicians—one on the East Coast, one on the West—while working long hours with many patients, serendipitously stumbled onto a method to rapidly decrease fat around the mid-section. We’re sure that other doctors figured out the same thing, but these two were locally famous and published their methods. Interestingly, neither was looking to help patients lose weight.

Blake Donaldson, M.D., who practiced in Manhattan, was looking for a treatment for allergies; Walter Voegtlin, M.D., a Seattle gastroenterologist, was trying to figure out a better method for treating his patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Dr. Donaldson got his inspiration from a meeting he had with the aforementioned Vilhalmur Stefansson; Dr. Voegtlin came up with the same idea based on his knowledge of comparative anatomy. Though they came at two different questions from very different angles, they arrived at the same dietary answer. Both solved the problems they were seeking to solve and, coincidentally, noticed that their overweight patients lost a tremendous amount of fat from their abdominal areas while undergoing the treatment. As happened later with us and with Dr. Atkins, word of their success in combating obesity spread rapidly, and before long both physicians were deluged with overweight patients seeking treatment, completely changing the character of their medical practices. In retirement, both wrote books about their methods. Donaldson’s was published in 1961; Voegtlin’s in 1972. And as far as we can tell, although their years of practice overlapped, they never knew one another.

What was their secret? What did these two men independently discover? What kind of nutritional regimen did they use to bring about such great results in their patients?

Both had their patients follow an all-meat diet.

An all-meat diet?

Yes, an all-meat diet. Remember that when these physicians were in practice, there hadn’t been all the negative publicity about saturated fat and red meat that there has been in recent years. At that time, most people considered meat as simply another food, just like potatoes, bread, or anything else. No one worried about eating it. The (misguided) hypothesis that fat in the diet causes heart disease hadn’t reared its ugly head, so telling people at that time to go on an all-meat diet didn’t provoke the same sort of knee-jerk emotions that it does—at least in some quarters—now.

The patients who followed these all-meat diets rapidly lost weight from their midsections and improved their blood sugar and blood pressure problems if they had them. Calculations of cholesterol in all its various permutations was still decades away, but both doctors even used the all-meat diet for their patients with heart disease without problem. The all-meat diet proved to be a safe, filling, rapid way to help patients lose abdominal fat while improving their health. And remember, one of these diets was developed to treat GI problems, the other to treat allergies. The rapid weight loss that followed was a surprising, but welcome side effect.

7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat

In the not-so-distant past, the medical establishment considered all fats equally loathsome: all fats were created equal and they’re all bad for you. Things have changed in that quarter, if only slightly. You have no doubt heard the drumbeat of current medical thinking on fats: some fats are now good for you—olive oil and canola oil*—but others are bad for you—trans fats and all saturated fats. That’s an improvement from the old cry, but far from the truth.

It seems that no matter how the story spins from the denizens of the anti-fat camp, one piece of their advice remains staunchly constant: “You should sharply limit your intake of saturated fats.” The next admonition will invariably be, “which have been proven to raise cholesterol and cause heart disease.” Their over-arching belief is that saturated fat is bad, bad, bad.

You see with just a glance at [our suggested meal plans] that we’ve included fatty cuts of meat, chicken with the skin, bacon, eggs, butter, coconut oil, organic lard, and heavy cream in the plan. Aren’t we worried that these foods will increase your risk of heart disease and raise your cholesterol? In a word, nope. In fact, we encourage you to make these important fats a regular part of your healthy diet. Why? Because humans need them and here are just a few reasons why.

1) Improved cardiovascular risk factors

Though you may not have heard of it on the front pages of your local newspaper, online news source, or local television or radio news program, saturated fat plays a couple of key roles in cardiovascular health. The addition of saturated fat to the diet reduces the levels of a substance called lipoprotein (a)—pronounced “lipoprotein little a” and abbreviated Lp(a)—that correlates strongly with risk for heart disease. Currently there are no medications to lower this substance and the only dietary means of lowering Lp(a) is eating saturated fat. Bet you didn’t hear that on the nightly news. Moreover, eating saturated (and other) fats also raises the level of HDL, the so-called good cholesterol. Lastly, research has shown that when women diet, those eating the greatest percentage of the total fat in their diets as saturated fat lose the most weight.

2) Stronger bones

In middle age, as bone mass begins to decline, an important goal (particularly for women) is to build strong bones. You can’t turn on the television without being told you need calcium for your bones, but do you recall ever hearing that saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively incorporated into bone? According to one of the foremost research experts in dietary fats and human health, Mary Enig, Ph.D., there’s a case to be made for having as much as 50 percent of the fats in your diet as saturated fats for this reason. That’s a far cry from the 7 to 10 percent suggested by mainstream institutions. If her reasoning is sound—and we believe it is— is it any wonder that the vast majority of women told to avoid saturated fat and to selectively use vegetable oils instead would begin to lose bone mass, develop osteoporosis, and get put on expensive prescription medications plus calcium to try to recover the loss in middle age?

3) Improved liver health

Adding saturated fat to the diet has been shown in medical research to encourage the liver cells to dump their fat content. Clearing fat from the liver is the critical first step to calling a halt to middle-body fat storage. Additionally, saturated fat has been shown to protect the liver from the toxic insults of alcohol and medications, including acetaminophen and other drugs commonly used for pain and arthritis, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, and even to reverse the damage once it has occurred. Since the liver is the lynchpin of a healthy metabolism, anything that is good for the liver is good for getting rid of fat in the middle. Polyunsaturated vegetable fats do not offer this protection.

4) Healthy lungs

For proper function, the airspaces of the lungs have to be coated with a thin layer of what’s called lung surfactant. The fat content of lung surfactant is 100 percent saturated fatty acids. Replacement of these critical fats by other types of fat makes faulty surfactant and potentially causes breathing difficulties. Absence of the correct amount and composition of this material leads to collapse of the airspaces and respiratory distress. It’s what’s missing in the lungs of premature infants who develop the breathing disorder called infant respiratory distress syndrome. Some researchers feel that the wholesale substitution of partially hydrogenated (trans) fats for naturally saturated fats in commercially prepared foods may be playing a role in the rise of asthma among children. Fortunately, the heyday of trans fats is ending and their use is on the decline. Unfortunately, however, the unreasoning fear of saturated fat leads many people to replace trans fats with an overabundance of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which may prove just as unhealthful.

5) Healthy brain

You will likely be astounded to learn that your brain is mainly made of fat and cholesterol. Though many people are now familiar with the importance of the highly unsaturated essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish (EPA and DHA) for normal brain and nerve function, the lion’s share of the fatty acids in the brain are actually saturated. A diet that skimps on healthy saturated fats robs your brain of the raw materials it needs to function optimally.

6) Proper nerve signaling

Certain saturated fats, particularly those found in butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil, function directly as signaling messengers that influence the metabolism, including such critical jobs as the appropriate release of insulin. And just any old fat won’t do. Without the correct signals to tell the organs and glands what to do, the job doesn’t get done or gets done improperly.

7) Strong immune system

Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil (myristic acid and lauric acid) play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Human breast milk is quite rich in myristic and lauric acid, which have potent germ-killing ability. But the importance of the fats lives on beyond infancy; we need dietary replenishment of them throughout adulthood, middle age, and into seniority to keep the immune system vigilant against the development of cancerous cells as well as infectious invaders.


*We advocate the use of olive oil, but recommend against the use of canola oil, despite its widely perceived healthful reputation. In order to be fit for human consumption, rapeseed oil (which is canola oil) requires significant processing to remove its objectionable taste and smell. Processing damages the oil, creating trans fats. Also, the oil is sensitive to heat, so if used at all, it should never be used to fry foods.


The above post is an exclusive excerpt from Dr. Eades’ newest book, which is directed at people who want to reduce abdominal fat. Despite the title, the principles it details are ideal for anyone who wants to decrease both visceral (internal) and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat in the abdomen.

Posted on: June 6, 2009.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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640 comments on “7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat

  1. Wow, great post. Saturated fats and Unsaturated fats are one of those things I often get confused. Many times I find myself standing in the middle of the grocery isle staring at the nutrition label pondering, am I supposed to get more…or less of this one. Usually you can’t go wrong with Olive oil and nuts, and by staying away from processed food. The final tip on Rapeseed oil, and Canola oil was very helpful. While I recognize it, I often forget the significance of Rapeseed oil in the ingredients list.

    Thanks alot for this one.


  2. Thank you! We also must be mindful of palm oils widely sourced from rain forests. Do we put the health of self before the health of our planet? Wrestling with this question…great post!


    • Dear Marcie,

      Along time ago man ate nothing but mostly meat, nuts and wild friuts and berries. The planet was fine then and it will be fine now. Meat was meant to be consumed it was part of the grand design for the planet. You are also part of this grand design and as such should appreciate the fact that as long as it’s nature it should be respected and used for it’s intended purpose. Cows for example were not put on this planet for the purpose of keeping the grass down. In science we are taught the basic understanding of photosynthesis. Plants take in CO2 and produce O2 therefore eliminating the C = Carbon so as long as we have plants to feed the cows we have plenty of plants to take care of their poo.

      The planet is a far greater Eco system than you give it credit for.



      • Actually, it looks like cows (and other animals) may have been put on this planet to keep stuff down! Permafrost for one: http://tinyurl.com/7f5rp5a

        I’m a huge meat eater but our over consumption of cows has led to mass production of them and 20% of the entire US methane output (greenhouse gases) is from cow farts! Here’s some statistics to show how much gas those roaming burger and steak beasts put out compared to others: http://tinyurl.com/4qtqknk

        Maybe it would be better to think less of cows and other meat we eat as ‘free meals’ and let them do their job of keeping things down. More power to ‘ground beef’! (not the kind you eat though).


  3. Man, there’s some much contradictory health advice out there that it’s hard to figure out which to follow. It’s definitely interesting to hear a positive view of saturated fats though. Not that I need to lose weight (the opposite actually) but it’s interested to hear about their necessity for proper lung function and the improvements to immunity.


    • @David- In my clinical experience, most people who need to gain weight are able to do so through a high fat diet with carefully calculated ratios, though this weight is through muscle.


    • I know, it can be quite frustrating, what i’ve learned from seeing this is that all foods (that aren’t processed) should be eaten in reasonable amounts. It’s about having a varied diet so you can get all the necessary vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins, and fats.


      • I agree on this. Being too extremist in diets is very un-healthy it could lead to serious problems in long term. I got all the problems when in my teenage years I was keeping strict diets just to look fit. In couple of years I get serious chest pain and cannot sleep. It’s because of un-healthy diets and plans. Be carefull of what you are doing, don’t plan it for this year, plan it for your life – your body is not something you should mess with!


    • Jason,

      I agree with you on that. The lack of sources makes it hard to verify claimis. We are basically taking Eades word on this. For a good take on saturated fat that does cite sources you might like “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes.


    • Good to site sources for sure. Just watched last night “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and have been looking at Markus Rothkranz’s YouTubes. He is the most healthiest health teacher I have yet to see. Not that I would NEVER eat meats again, but considering the chemical additives, no, not for now. What to do then? Superfoods, juicer, blender, dark leafy greens juiced and fruits blended into smoothies seems to be the ticket for those who are still getting their energies from foods (i.e. not breatharians like Sunfire Genesis). Of course, one can still eat processed foods, including meats, and just be healthier for adding the juiced leafy greens, and fruit and veggie smoothies. Take a look on YouTube at the 71 year young woman who drinks her green smoothies every morning,

      But, first this old body has to be cleaned out and for me that is the start of my Autumn fast with good water, baking soda and molasses, until the body tells me it is back in balance. In the meantime plenty of meditation and contemplation on the cycle of “To Eat To Be Eaten” which is our biosphere system.

      I prefer subjective certainties lead to objective data I need to iimplement physical realities.


  4. Tim,

    This is a great article, and it’s interesting timing as well. I also subscribe to the Crossfit Journal and I recently watched the videos with Dr. Sears lecturing on the Zone Diet, and importance of fish oils. (found here: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/09/diet-inflammation-and-disease-part-5.tpl#featureArticleTitle)

    I appreciate the idea of a diversity of fat intakes. My rule is to try limit my fats to those that are naturally occuring. I do this by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, with lots of grilled meat. I try not to eat much pasta or bread, and if I eat bread or rice, I try to find varieties that still have the germ intact.

    Dr. Sears sees a huge problem in that there has been a dramatic increase in the usage of corn and other vegetable oils, and refined grains in the foods we consume. This is combined with a drastic decrease in intake of monounsaturated fats (fish oils). I think he’s on the right track, but I think the problem lies more in a lack of diversity of nutrient intake in the current mainstream American diet.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the much needed evolution of the American diet.

    -Josh Groves


  5. Tim,

    As you are always experimenting and being yourself a guinea pig for good purposes, have you ever tried a vegetarian (not vegan) diet, and still have good physical performance?
    If so, are you publishing it on your next book (the superhuman one)?

    I’m as interested in those subjects as on your metrics/entrepreneurial posts.


    Leo Kuba
    Sao Paulo/Brazil


  6. Interesting. I started working out and read a lot of articles on eating healthy…All of them said to avoid saturated fats. I suppose I should start adding them into my diet! Thanks Tim.


  7. Tim,

    I know you’re always investigating a lot of this stuff, and you’re quite thorough in your research. Gotta’ say though, this runs contrary to just about everything I’ve ever read on the topic of saturated fats, as well as what my own docs have suggested (not news to you, I’m sure). That said, though, I presume it’s why you’re bringing it up. I’ll have to take a look at the theories of your recommended authors, but as a consumer and someone always looking at healthy options when it comes to food, the idea that one should actually consume more saturated fat as part of a “healthy” diet seems to be quite a leap of faith, and one not worth pursuing without a substantial medical record to support the claims of it’s benefit.

    Perhaps that’s forthcoming?



  8. This article was not convincing that we need to gorge on saturated fat for regular body functioning. One can easily argue that cholesterol is needed for proper cell membrane formation, but that doesn’t mean you need to seek out cholesterol-rich foods if you’re already eating a well-balanced diet.

    Until there is a double-blind study that tracks two group of individual, one on a saturated fat rich diet and the other on a “normal” diet, over a long period into middle age where people start dropping dead of heart attacks, it would be foolhardy to pack your diet with butter and cream in the hopes of getting a “strong immune system.”


    • Those randomized double-blind studies have already been done and have existed for many decades.

      Avoid sugars, starches, carbohydrates and eat all the saturated fat you want (eating saturated fat curbs hunger, which makes it even easier to lose weight as well as burns stored fat as well as fat that is being consumed).

      The results are conclusive.

      Read Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, published in 2007 (an exhaustive, 550 page book that covers the science — all of the controlled, randomized studies done on how a diet high in saturated fats and low in carbs and sugar results in higher HDL, lower LDL, and lower triglycerides).

      For a shorter version of that much longer book, read “Why We Get Fat:
      And What to Do About It.” This shorter version by Gary Taubes also documents the plethora of randomized, controlled studies you seem to think haven’t been done yet — as well as the science behind the health benefits of a high-fat, low-carb, low-sugar diet.

      Do not assume you are right until you have done the research, my all-knowing friend.


    • The key is to drastically reduce consumption of carbs, starches, and sugars AT THE SAME TIME that you increase consumption of saturated fats. If you eat all the sugars, carbs, starches, AND saturated fats you want, you end up with the “standard American diet” (SAD), which results in heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

      Note that crucial difference. You MUST drastically reduce (even eliminate as much as possible) consumption of starches, sugars, and carbs AT THE SAME TIME that you increase consumption of saturated fats in order to get the health benefits of lower LDL cholesterol, higher HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and lower blood sugar (glucose) levels that comes with the high-saturated-fat, low-carb, low-starch, low-sugar diet (actually, it’s a lifestyle, a permanent way of life, or you are wasting your time).

      I have lost 40 pounds in six months by drastically reducing my starch, sugar, and carb intake while increasing my saturated fat intake —
      AND, my triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDL) and blood pressure numbers have all decreased to normal levels while my HDL (good cholesterol) level has increased.

      are way down


      • Re jack: that’s a huge component to raising fat of any kinds to the diet is to lower/eliminate sugar,processed carbs (bread,flour,etc…) thanks for putting that info out there


    • What a great read! Everything old is new again. Even to this excerpt:

      “One material point I should be glad to impress on my corpulent readers—it is, to get accurately weighed at starting upon the fresh system, and continue to do so weekly or monthly, for the change will be so truly palpable by this course of examination, that it will arm them with perfect confidence in the merit and ultimate success of the plan. I deeply regret not having secured a photographic portrait of my original figure in 1862, to place in juxta position with one of my present form. It might have amused some, but certainly would have been very convincing to others, and astonishing to all that such an effect should have been so readily and speedily produced by the simple natural cause of exchanging a meagre for a generous dietary under proper advice.”

      Everyone should read this little book all the way through. It is available as a free e-book on the same web page.


  9. Wow, this is a fantastic paradigm shift. Being a vegetarian, I’m not about to go buying beef steaks just to trim my belly, but I definitely plan on not counting out saturated fats anymore. I’ve always been scared to death of fat because, well, it seemed simple enough that eating fat makes me fat. But that’s why I love you, Tim. You make me question my beliefs.


    • I have been on a body building firness diet for a year now and i have to admit, After reading this article I included a potion of saturated fat into my diet after I had gone through a whole year of very low close to Niel saturated fat diet, I noticed that not only do I have more energy but I can focus more at work which was something I was having an issue with for a long time.

      I’m 183cm tall and I was 68kg and was feeling continuously tired and forgetful, now I’m 73kg and I feel more energetic and great after adding saturated fat to my current diet.

      At the same time I’m beginning to get confused on what else out there of the unknown that should be known.

      Thanks anyways Doc, this was an awesome artical, I’ll buy the book.


  10. Caught wind of this book a few days ago- good to see you posting this up Tim. Admittedly though, I’m curious to see how your readers respond. I guess this post will be an interesting scale on which to weigh mainstream thinking at the moment (or better put, which way the scale is now tipping).

    Let’s hope it’s for the better =).

    Also, I have a post coming out tomorrow (Sept 7th) around noon on my blog that I modeled after your WordPress/blogging speech post (it’s a video from my convention).

    Coincidentally, I also talk about saturated fat and cholesterol at certain points of the presentation.

    Gonna go pound some saturated fat =)



  11. @David Turnbull

    I’ve seen research showing increased levels of testosterone from upping your saturated fat intake. Surely helpful for bulking up a bit =). Also, foods high in saturated fat often contain other nutrients beneficial for building muscle (red meat, egg yolks, etc).


    I’m sure the authors have a good deal of citations in the book. I for one have been a guinea pig though- gorging on saturated fat for over a year now =D. Coconut oil in particular is a favorite.



  12. Interesting however, some years ago I did the Atkins diet and lost 14 pounds, ate meat and salad and some cheese. turned out it sent my uric acid levels of the charts, I decided to cut red meat for a week to see what happened (had so much energy, and clarity…)and never went back to it, later became a vegetarian and been for the last 10 years. I tried the raw food diet and lost more weight easier, unbelievable energy levels, but the raw diet requires, imagination, preparation tools and patience, so I got bored after 5 months went back to grilled tofu, boca burguers, ñoquis, and wine and got the pounds back,
    I am eager to read your new book, and test


    • @ Tatiana- Have you tried adding in high amounts of saturated fat from vegetarian sources like coconut, avocado, etc and and other healthy fats like olive oil, omega 3’s etc? Just curious if this might help weight loss and energy levels in a vegetarian diet.


  13. Thanks, Tim. I always look forward to your challenges to the conventional wisdom of the masses.

    Question: In your opinion, how does this vary from Atkins or any of the other low-carb diets? Is there something new that I’m missing?

    Having tried Atkins years ago, I can say I completely agree that if you are looking for a way to rid mid-section fat, this works! The challenge is sustaining this kind of diet for any length of time. I LOVE meat, but even I hit the point about six weeks into it where I couldn’t stand to look at another steak, chicken breast or piece of bacon. I had to go completely the opposite way for two weeks just to detox.



    • You know, I’ve been on Atkins for ten years now, I’m at the outermost limits of the carbs allowed, and I don’t get this claim that all you eat is meat when you go Atkins.

      It’s simply not true.

      I was on the strictest carb diet for over 6 months, and I ate plenty of vegetables. In fact, it was the same amount of vegetables I ate before; I only ate better vegetables for me. It takes a lot of vegetables to get to 12-15g of carb, if you know what you’re doing!

      Most days for lunch, I had some kind of meat and a salad of romaine, spinach, bell pepper, celery, cucumbers, parsley and chives. The carb level for the entire meal was 3-4g, depending on the dressing. I’d eat the bulk of my remaining vegetable allowance at dinner, and it was a LOT of food.

      Because I worked a lot of different shifts at the time, a lot of people saw me dropping pounds like crazy, and were even more shocked when they saw me doing it with bacon and eggs for breakfast, a super-marbled steak and salad for lunch, and shrimp alfredo with creamed spinach and buttery zucchini for dinner (old family recipe). I couldn’t be losing weight that way.

      But I was.


  14. @John

    There is a book that recently came out titled “The Primal Blueprint”. It’s a good and balanced read (on nutrition, I’m into other exercise protocols)- including saturated fat intake. The author also discusses transitions from conventional diets to a more “primal diet”- for our purposes one that is relatively high in saturated fat.

    It’s definitely worth checking out and should provide some insight on how to vary your diet, and transitional hiccups (ditching a carbohydrate addiction, for example).