With new evidence showing saturated fats like those found in fatty meats don’t have the detrimental health effects we’ve been led to believe, quality meats are once again growing in popularity.
Nutritional authorities have been advising us to choose lean meats for decades, but the faulty reasoning based on fears about saturated fat contributing to the development of heart disease and other chronic modern disorders kicked off this fading trend.
While individual physical circumstances and requirements should always be taken into consideration, fatty meats can be an important part of a healthy diet for most people.
Fatty meats nourish the brain and nervous system, as well as insuring proper function of the eyes and heart; every cell in the body needs fat for maximum performance (1) , and when dietary fats are limited, vital body processes can be negatively impacted.
Understanding how fatty meats affect overall nutrition can help you make an informed decision.
Macronutrient and Micronutrient Content
Fat packs 9 calories per gram, while protein weighs in at 4, so fatty meats can occupy a heftier slot when you’re looking at caloric intake.
Let’s look at the difference between 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chicken breast, which is a lean meat, and the same quantity of chicken wings including skin:
- Lean breast meat contains 165 calories, 31 grams of protein and 4 fat grams (2)
- Wing meat runs at 290 calories, with 27 grams of protein and 19 fat grams (3)
You’ll get nearly twice the calories if you choose the fatty wings, but read on for more information before you put too much emphasis on the calorie count.
Meat contains at least some of nearly everything we need, which is why our ancestors were able to thrive hunting down wild animals for sustenance.
But animals in those times foraged for food, eating whatever they could find. Their bodies are designed to eat natural foods, and the majority of animals raised today for commercial meat are fed largely soy and corn products.
This changes the micronutrient content of the meat, although the difference is not huge. As compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef, contains more of these fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K2. (4)
The conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in fatty meats has been shown to reduce the incidence of cancerous tumors in animal studies. (5)
For the richest source of micronutrients, choose organic organ meats.
Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The modern diet is generally high in omega-6 fatty acids, and most people don’t eat enough foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like those found in naturally fed fatty meats and wild fish. (6)
Genetically speaking, we evolved eating about equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, where the current average ratio runs at about 15 or 16 to 1. Skewing the ratio between these fatty acids can lead to inflammation, autoimmune diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease. (7)
Conventionally fed commercial meats contain far less omega-3 fatty acids than animals consuming a natural diet, which can contribute to a poor ratio (8, 9) , increasing the risk of developing modern chronic diseases.
If you’re eating grain-fed meats, it’s especially important to avoid processed vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, as well as including fatty fish (or a fish oil supplement) in your diet to balance the ratio.
Weight Loss and Body Composition
Body builders and athletes often prefer eating lean meats because the protein content is higher than fatty meats, as we saw in the example given above.
For anyone wanting to drop excess weight, the choice can be more complex, depending on the type of diet followed. While it may seem counterintuitive to eat fatty meats because of the higher calorie count, it works well on low-carb plans.
Low-carb diets are more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets, and offer a range of health benefits including lower blood sugar levels, reduced blood triglycerides and decreased blood pressure. (13, 14, 15)
When you’re not getting a lot of calories from carbohydrates, fatty meats can provide the fuel you need for energy. The fat content ensures you’ll feel satisfied, which makes sticking with the diet much more likely than if you’re always hungry.
Despite the fact that you’ll ingest more fat when including fatty meats in a low-carb diet, you’ve got a better chance of decreasing abdominal fat as you slim down. This visceral fat is linked with a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. (16)
When generous amounts of dietary fats are eaten, people usually end up consuming fewer calories at each meal. (17) Fatty meats are an ideal food for cultivating a greater satiation factor, allowing portion control to become less of an issue. (18)
Getting adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids like those found in grass-fed animal products has been shown to assist in weight loss. (19)
Omega-3 fatty acids also promote the balance of hormones necessary for losing weight, and turn on genes that trigger fat-burning processes in the body. (20)
If your physical circumstances require maximum protein for minimum calorie expenditure, lean meats may be a better choice; people eating a high-carb diet might also decide to forgo fatty meats, since combining the two could lead to weight gain.
Fatty meats can play an integral role in ketogenic diets, which have been used since biblical times to normalize electrical activity in the brain. Eliminating nearly all carbohydrates is effective in reducing seizures for epileptic patients, and new studies show promising results for treating other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (21)
While most people wouldn’t require such an extreme approach, ensuring adequate dietary fat through including fatty meats may protect the brain in other ways as well.
Because of the satiation factor mentioned above, eating fewer foods high in carbohydrates is often the natural result of eating fatty protein sources. Neurologist David Perlmutter, who wrote Grain Brain: the Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killer believes the modern glut of carbohydrates in the diet can cause chronic inflammation in the brain, leading to headaches, dementia, depression, anxiety and disorders like ADHD. (22)
Recent research confirms that saturated fats don’t harm heart health, so there’s no need to exclude delicious, satisfying meats from your diet.
Summary: Fatty meats contain beneficial macro- and micronutrients that can positively affect overall health in a number of ways, including weight control, body composition and neurological function.