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Nourishing Menopause and Beyond: Embracing Healthy Saturated Fats for Hormonal Balance and Vitality

Exposing Dietary Myths Part 2 – The American Heart Association

This is part 2 of exposing dietary myths. Last week, I covered the Ancel Keys “Seven Countries Study” and I hope that helped you understand how public health policies are shaped and influence eating habits in the United States. Not always for the best interests of the population; they are often for monetary gain. Speaking of monetary gain. As I did research for this post, I discovered the American Heart Association’s (AHA)  involvement in “The Heart Health Hypothesis” I described last week. 

The AHA is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization and long a respected leader in the field of heart disease. In 1961, Ancel Keys was appointed to the AHA’s nutrition committee where he had the greatest influence. Not only was the idea of limiting saturated fat to become public policy in the United States but this also became a global recommendation extending to governments around the world. Just when you thought that institutions like the AHA were noble and all about worthy causes, think again.  

It’s also worth mentioning that in 1948 the American Heart Association had a conflict of interest when it received $1.7 million dollars ($20 million in today’s numbers) from P & G (Proctor and Gamble) who make Crisco. This donation propelled the AHA into a larger more powerful organization. They obviously had to promote Crisco which is a pro-inflammatory vegetable oil. Vegetable oils such as Crisco have reaped the benefits of this recommendation ever since, as Americans increased their consumption of these oils by nearly 90% from 1970 to 2014. The percentage of heart disease cases began increasing in the 1950’s and have steadily climbed ever since. I hope this sets off alarm bells and motivates you to want to know more about where your food comes from so you can make better choices.  

Good News for Healthy Saturated Fats

The good news is that in the last ten years or so the stigma against saturated fats has lifted to some extent. There’s still a good percentage of people, including those in the medical industry and food industry with conflicts of interest who subscribe to the belief that butter is bad. “C’est La Vie.” 

Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life, marking the end of her reproductive years. It’s a significant transition accompanied by various changes, including hormonal fluctuations that can impact overall well-being. While this phase can bring challenges for some, incorporating certain dietary elements, particularly healthy saturated fats, can play a pivotal role in supporting women’s health during and after menopause.

The Role of Healthy Saturated Fats

Healthy saturated fats, such as those found in beef tallow, butter, avocados, coconut oil, and grass-fed and grass-finished fatty meats, offer a myriad of benefits for menopausal and postmenopausal women.

Hormone Health

Hormonal imbalances during menopause affects some women, contributing to symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and fatigue. Not every woman experiences menopause symptoms, but for those who do, there are dietary adjustments you can make to feel better. While the ovaries cease estrogen production during menopause, the adrenal glands continue to secrete small amounts of estrogen. Saturated fats are crucial for hormone production as they provide the building blocks for steroid hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Incorporating these fats into the diet can help support hormone balance, potentially alleviating menopausal symptoms.

Brain Health and New Research on Long Chain Fatty Acids and Cognition

Cognitive changes, such as memory lapses and difficulty concentrating, are frequently reported by menopausal women. Saturated fats are essential for brain health, as they make up a significant portion of brain tissue and support neurotransmitter function. Research shows that diets rich in healthy saturated fats can improve cognitive function and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Associate professor, Danni Li, PhD, in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Minnesota, conducted one of the biggest national studies on the correlation between improved cognitive change and fatty acids. Dr. Li’s research focused on the effects of very long-chain saturated fatty acids and found a positive association with a lower change of cognitive function over 20 years. We need to hear more studies like this on the importance of saturated fat. “Dr. Li also discovered that very long-chain saturated fatty acids’ beneficial effect on slowing cognitive decline is in the same magnitude as OMEGA-3 fatty acids, which are known to be helpful for cognitive function. This means people who do not like fish like salmon, which are high in OMEGA-3 fatty acids, can get the same cognitive benefit by eating nuts and dairy products (preferably raw dairy from A2 cows).”

Sleep Quality

Sleep disturbances are common during menopause, often attributed to hormonal fluctuations and other physiological changes. If you’re someone who has been struggling with either falling asleep or staying asleep (i.e you can fall asleep but may wake up to use the bathroom, but it’s hard to go back to sleep again), I recommend trying the following: 

  1. Make sure your room temperature is on the cooler side
  2. Do some blood work to check fasting glucose, HgA1c and also a hormone panel that includes cortisol levels. High insulin levels can cause sleep interruption as well as too low. 
  3. Aim for 30 – 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 4 to 5 times a week. Exercise helps regulate blood sugar, improves mood and sleep. The opposite is also true. Too high an intensity more than 2x/week can also throw off hormones and impair sleep
  4. Stress – Other than hormonal changes that need to be addressed thru diet and lifestyle, it’s important to find ways to help you process stress whether thru yoga, meditation, prayer, dancing, singing, tapping (EFT-emotional freedom technique) or music etc… There are many options to use that can help calm your nervous system and improve your overall well being to help you with sleep. 

Saturated fats play a role in promoting restful sleep by supporting the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep-wake cycles. Additionally, these fats provide a stable source of energy throughout the night, helping to prevent blood sugar imbalances that can disrupt sleep.

Heart Health

Contrary to popular belief, higher cholesterol levels are not necessarily harmful, especially for menopausal and postmenopausal women. Adequate intake of healthy saturated fats has been associated with improved cholesterol profiles, including higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and a favorable ratio of LDL (bad) to HDL cholesterol. This can reduce the risk of heart disease, which becomes a significant concern post-menopause. I’ve mentioned this in past blogs re: You can do an LDL cholesterol particle test if yours are outside the normal range. The particle size provides more detailed information. The larger the size the better and it’s not a concern. Also taking a CAC test (calcium score test measures calcium in the arteries and if there’s blockages). 

In my college physiology class, I learned about the famous Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham heart study began in 1948 at Vanderbilt University led by professor George Mann. Dr. Mann did a dietary investigation collecting detailed food-consumption data from 1049 subjects. When he calculated the results in 1960, it was very clear that saturated fat was not related to heart disease. Concerning the incidence of coronary heart disease and diet, the authors concluded, simply, “No relationship found.”  However, not until 1992 did a Framingham study leader publicly acknowledge the study’s findings on fat. “In Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate. … the lower the person’s serum cholesterol… and [they] weighed the least,’ wrote William P. Castelli, one of the Framingham directors, in an informal commentary. As a consequence of the nonpublication or disregard of study findings contrary to the diet-heart hypothesis, the idea that saturated fat had possibly been unduly vilified was for decades not seriously considered by most nutrition experts.”

Incorporating Healthy Saturated Fats into the Diet

Now that we understand the importance of healthy saturated fats for menopausal and postmenopausal women, let’s explore practical ways to include them in the diet:

  • Cook with beef tallow or coconut oil instead of vegetable oils for added flavor and nutritional benefits. 
  • Scramble eggs with grass-fed butter or use it for sautéing vegetables.
  • Enjoy fatty cuts of grass-fed and grass-finished meats like ribeye steak or lamb chops.
  • Add coconut oil to smoothies or use it in baking for a tropical twist.
  • Switch from conventional dairy to raw dairy from A2 cows. A2 is the protein in dairy from beta casein and easier to digest than A1. Raw yogurt, cheese or milk has beneficial enzymes and probiotics that are not destroyed in the pasteurization process. Look online for reputable dairy farms where you can purchase these products. 

Conclusion

As women navigate the menopausal transition and beyond, prioritizing their nutritional needs becomes increasingly important. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to educate yourself and read. I’m pretty sure that the average doctor doesn’t have time in his or her busy schedule to read up on studies that show the relationship between nutrition and disease. They have a general knowledge but may not have ever heard of someone like Ancel Keys or science writer and journalist Gary Taubes. You may find that you end up knowing more on this topic than your own physician! 

Healthy saturated fats, including beef tallow, butter, coconut oil, and grass-fed and grass-finished fatty meats, offer a wealth of benefits for hormone health, brain function, sleep quality, and heart health. By incorporating these nourishing fats into their diets, women can support their overall well-being and embrace this new chapter with vitality and resilience.

Wishing you blessings for abundant health and wellbeing! 

 

Look ~ Feel ~ and ~ be ~ Kuhle

 


Tags

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