- Saturated fat in foods like butter and dairy has previously been linked to poor heart health.
- Emerging research suggests that there are several types of saturated fat and some improve health.
- A surprising link to the Navy’s dolphin research prompted a scientist to explore the potential benefits.
A type of saturated fat called C15: 0 found in butter and whole dairy may be good for you, new evidence suggests.
Stephanie Venn-Watson, a public health researcher and veterinary epidemiologist, told Insider that years of Navy dolphin research have unearthed the nutrient’s significance through an intriguing parallel between the animals’ age-related disease risk and the our.
Now, the Venn-Watson Fatty 15 company is conducting research to better understand how we might benefit from more saturated fat and supplemental C15: 0.
Studies suggest more C15: 0 in the diet, with foods like grass-fed butter in moderation can reduce the risk of disease and improve health and well-being.
Some saturated fats can be healthy, despite years of recommendations to the contrary
In recent years, nutrition advice has moved away from the misconception that all dietary fats are bad.
However, saturated fat remains stigmatized as a “bad” fat, with sources such as red meat, butter and dairy linked to increased risk of heart disease.
But not all saturated fats are created equal. A fatty acid called C15: 0 has been linked to health benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver. The molecule was first identified in 1945, but recent research by Venn-Watson and others suggests it plays an important role in our health.
Since we can’t make it in our body and have to get it from food, research suggests it’s an essential fatty acid similar to other healthy fats like omega-3, which can help prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases.
“We have an opportunity in a relatively simple way to bring an essential fatty acid back into the diet,” he said.
Whole dairy and butter can play a role in a healthy diet
Current evidence suggests that foods such as butter, whole dairy, certain fish species, algae and mushrooms can help raise C15: 0 levels. More research is needed to determine the optimal levels for humans and how best to achieve them.
But unsurprisingly, fatty foods play a role in a healthy diet with a variety of food groups, dietician Brigitte Zeitlin told Insider.
“Foods that are supposed to contain fat, there is always an advantage in the whole version. Saturated fat, by itself, is not a fat to be feared. The source is important,” he said.
Zeitlin recommends incorporating no more than one tablespoon of high-quality butter per day (for sautéing vegetables or on wholemeal toast, for example) and servings of dairy products per day, to reap the benefits without overdoing it.
Evidence also suggests that grass-fed butter and dairy products may be a richer source of C15: 0.
Navy dolphin data paved the way for a better understanding of human nutrition, aging and chronic disease
Although research had shown a link between C15: 0 and better health in humans, it was unclear whether the cause could be milk fat. Venn-Watson’s years of research with the Navy found that dolphins were more likely to age healthily if they had elevated C15: 0 levels, which helped narrow the link between fatty acid and human health.
“Dolphins don’t get cheese or ice cream in their diet, they get their C-15 from a completely different source in fish,” he said. “What the dolphins couldn’t tell us is how they felt. They didn’t say ‘I’m sleeping better’ or ‘I’m less hungry’.
The next goal, she said, is to understand why humans who increase C15: 0 report the benefits of sleeping better and being less hungry, including Venn-Watson herself.
“The big question I have is, can we figure out who can get the most out of the C-15,” said Venn-Watson.