Saturated fats, cholesterol are bad! Low-fat and non-fat products, all polyunsaturated, homogenized and hydrogenated fats, are good! This is the bill of goods we’ve been sold by the vegetable and food processing industries (including the sugar companies whose “goods” fill in the taste void created by low-fat and chemicalized fat products), based on the theory – called the lipid hypothesis – that the greater the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, the higher the incidence of coronary heart disease. Proposed by Ancel Keys, a researcher in the late 1950’s, the theory was subsequently found to contain numerous flaws in data and conclusions. Nonetheless, the food industry ran with it, making sure that Keys’ study far overshadowed alternative views in the public arena, and funding further research to support it. The smokescreen continues to this day. Why? Because the commercial processing industry simply can’t make money from whole healthy foods – primary competitor of their denatured cuisine – and that is the major contributor to our epidemic of heart disease, as well as many other chronic degenerative conditions.
The facts are that most people, especially infants and growing children, need more fat in their diet, not less. Fats from animals and vegetable sources provide materials that are crucial to heart and overall health. They supply a concentrated source of energy, building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of vital hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats in a meal slow down absorption so we can go longer without feeling hunger. They act as carriers for vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and a host of other processes.
But fats and oils must be chosen with care! Here are some important points to help you become a savvy fat consumer:
ALL FATS AND OILS – VEGETABLE OR ANIMAL ORIGIN – ARE SOME COMBINATION OF THE FOLLOWING 3 DEGREES OF SATURATION.
Saturated fats. These are found in animal fats and tropical oils and made in the body from carbohydrates. Saturated fats are so-called because all carbon bonds are filled by hydrogen atoms and, therefore, highly stable which means they don’t go rancid even when heated in cooking.
Monounsaturated fats. These have just 1 hydrogen atom for every 2 carbon bonds and so tend to be liquid at room temperature, but are relatively stable. They don’t go rancid easily and, thus, can be used in cooking. The most commonly found monounsaturated fatty acid is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil, as well as oils in almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados. Your body also makes monounsaturated fatty acids from saturated fatty acids for use in a number of ways.
Polyunsaturated fats. These fats lack 4 or more hydrogen atoms relative to their carbon bonds and, thus, are highly unstable (reactive). They remain liquid, going rancid easily and must be treated with care. Polyunsaturated oils should never be heated or used in cooking. Because they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food, they are called “essential.” The two polyunsaturated fatty acids most frequently found in foods are omega-3 and omega-6. In whole natural foods the ratio of these is a beneficial 1:1. During the typical manufacturing process, however, this ratio becomes unbalanced in favor of omega-6 along with subtle changes in the carbon bond configuration.
FATS ARE CLASSIFIED NOT ONLY ACCORDING TO THEIR DEGREE OF SATURATION, BUT BY THEIR LENGTH:
Short-chain fatty acids (4-6 carbon atoms). These are always saturated, found in butterfat from cows or goats. They have antimicrobial properties, protecting us from viruses, yeasts, pathogenic bacteria in the gut and generally enhancing immune function. They are absorbed easily for quick energy and are less likely to cause weight gain than olive or commercial oils.
Medium-chain fatty acids (8-12 carbon atoms). These are found mostly in butterfat and tropical oils. Like short-chain, these are quickly absorbed for energy and have antimicrobial and immune enhancing properties.
Long-chain fatty acids (14-18 carbon atoms). These can be either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Stearic acid is found chiefly in beef and mutton. Oleic acid is the chief component in olive oil. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is found in evening primrose, borage and black current oils. GLA is used in the productionof hormones that regulate many cellular processes. Palmitoleic acid is found almost exclusively in animal fats and has strong antimicrobial properties.
Very long-chain fatty acids (20-24 carbon atoms). These tend to be highly unsaturated. Some people can produce these from Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) but those whose ancestry ate a lot of fish lack enzymes to produce them and must get them from animal foods like organ meats, egg yolks, butter and fish oils. These fatty acids play a vital function in hormone production and the proper function of the nervous system.
SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS?
A century ago most fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsatured: primarily from butter, lard, tallows, coconut oil, small amounts of olive oil. Today most of our dietary fats are polyunsaturated, chemically processed from soy, corn, safflower and canola. Modern diets consist of as much as 30% of calories as polyunsaturated oils, but science indicates it should be no more than 4% of calories, in about equal proportions: 2% omega-3 and 2% omega-6.
Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a wide range of disease conditions, including cancer and heart disease, Parkinsons, Alzheimer’s, cataracts, impaired immune function, liver damage, reproductive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain. One reason is their highly reactive nature, as mentioned. When rancid or heated, free radicals are produced which attack cell membranes and red blood cells, causing damage to DNA triggering mutations in tissue, blood vessels and premature aging of the skin.
TOO MUCH OMEGA-6
Commercially produced polyunsaturated oils contain far more omega-6 in proportion to omega 3 fatty acids – while in nature the ratio is roughly equal. Recent research has shown that excess omega 6 interferes with prostaglandin production and can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation in the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.
TOO LITTLE OMEGA-3
The American diet is generally deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which is necessary for proper cell oxidation, amino acid metabolism, hormone production. Such deficiency can lead to asthma, heart disease, learning deficiencies.
Besides the lack of omega-3 and large amounts of omega-6 in commercial vegetable oil, industrial agriculture practices reduce amounts of omega-3 in vegetables, eggs, fish and meat. Organic eggs from hens allowed to feed on insects and green plants contain a beneficial balance of omega-3 and omega-6, whereas, typical factory farm supermarket eggs can contain as much as 19 times more omega-6 than omega-3!
THE IMPORTANCE OF SATURATED FATS
- Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of our cell membranes, giving them the necessary stiffness and integrity to function properly.
- They play a vital role in bone health. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
- They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.
- They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
- They enhance the immune system.
- They are necessary for proper utilization of essential fatty acids, especially better retention of omega-3 in the tissues.
- Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
- Short-and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
DO SATURATED FATS CLOG ARTERIES?
When scientific evidence is objectively evaluated, there is no support for the claims that “artery clogging” saturated fats cause heart disease. Evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals only 26% is saturated; the rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.
WHAT ABOUT CHOLESTEROL?
Again, the public has been misinformed. Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, but rather a potent weapon against it. Our blood vessels can become damaged in many ways – free radical irritations, structural weakness, excess polyunsaturated fats and chemically processed foods, etc. When this happens the body’s healing substance of choice is cholesterol, manufactured in the liver and most human cells. However, cholesterol, damaged by exposure to heat and oxygen, can promote injury to arterial cells and plaque build-up. This damaged cholesterol is found in processed foods like powdered eggs and in meats and fats heated to high temperatures, as in frying.
The many vital roles of cholesterol:
- It maintains cell membrane integrity
- Acts as precursor to vital hormones that help us deal with stress and protect against heart disease and cancer, as well as sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, progesterone.
- It’s a precursor to Vitamin D, key fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune function.
- Bile salts, crucial to digestion and fat assimilation, are made from cholesterol.
- It acts as an antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage that can lead to heart disease and cancer.
- It’s necessary for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is our natural “feel good” chemical. Low cholesterol levels have been associated with aggressive and violent behavior, depression and suicidal tendencies.
- Mother’s milk is especially rich in cholesterol. Babies and children need cholesterolrich foods to ensure proper brain and nervous system development.
- Dietary cholesterol helps maintain the health of the intestinal wall, which in lowcholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.
THEN WHAT CAUSES HEART DISEASE?
There are a number of heart disease-causing factors inherent in modern diets:
- Excess intake of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats.
- Excess refined carbos in the form of sugar and white flour.
- Mineral deficiencies, particularly low levels of magnesium and iodine; vitamin deficiencies of vitamin A, C and D and D.
- Disappearance of antimicrobial fats in our food supply, namely, animal fats and tropical oils.
- High levels of homocysteine, rather than serum cholesterol levels, have been linked with a tendency to form clots and plaque build-up. Nutrients in mostly animal foods – folic acid, vitamin B6, B12, and choline – lower serum homocysteine levels.
HOW TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE
The current focus on lowering cholesterol – either by drugs or diet – is not the answer. The best prevention is a diet with animal foods rich in protective fats and vitamins B6 and B12; maintaining good thyroid function with adequate iodine intake (a little daily seasalt is a good source); avoiding nutrient deficiencies with a whole foods diet rich in antimicrobial fats; eliminating processed foods containing refined carbos, oxidized cholesterol and free-radical-containing vegetable oils. Of all substances ingested, polyunsatured oils, are rendered the most dangerous by modern food processingtechniques, including:
- Extraction (using high heat instead of slow-moving stone presses – cold-pressed – used in the “old days”)
- Hydrogenation (turns liquid fats to solid at room temperature with high temperatures, emulsifiers, bleach, dyes, etc.)
- Partial hydrogenation (even worse – changing the molecular structure to transformation or transfats, rarely found in nature and toxic to the body). Avoid like the plague (e.g., margarine, shortening)!
- Homogenization (great pressure used to strain fat particles, making fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity which may contribute to heart disease).
- Avoid low-fat and non-fat products. These are missing valuable nutrients that can lead to serious deficiencies down the line, interfere with proper fat metabolism, do not satisfy hunger and generally contain too much sugar, salt, synthetic or chemicalized fat substitutes. Stick with unaltered whole foods, including full-fat unpasteurized dairy.
- Avoid excess sugars, especially refined sugars and white flour which play havoc with the body chemistry, especially fat metabolism.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FATS AND OILS:
- Olive oil (extra virgin cold-pressed )- 75% monounsaturated. Ideal for salads and cooking at moderate temperatures. It should be cloudy (unfiltered) and golden yellow in color (from fully ripened olives). It’s the safest oil you can use, but don’t overdo.
- Flaxseed oil (extra virgin cold-pressed)- 57% omega-3! providing an excellent counterbalance for the typical high amounts of omega-6 found in diets today. Always keep refrigerated and consumed in small amounts in salad dressings, smoothies, etc., (not for cooking!).
- Sesame oil (extra virgin cold-pressed)- 42% monounsaturated so relatively stable. Good for occasional stirfrys as it contains antioxidants not destroyed by heat, but does have a relatively high percentage of omega-6, so should not be overused.
- Tropical oils (extra-virgin cold-pressed coconut, palm) – more saturated, naturally, than other vegetable oils. However, saturated as medium-chain triglycerides, which are metabolized very efficiently compared to long-chain. These oils have strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties, very stable at room temperatures so can be kept without refrigeration for many months without fear of rancidity. Excellent in baby formulas, smoothies, good for cooking and baking. Populations that consume coconut oil have low rates of heart disease.
- Other good fat sources -quality butter from grass-fed cows, eggs and meats from pastured animals sustainably-raised, avocados, raw nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts and seeds (e.g., pumpkin, sunflower). Today, because of pollution in our rivers and oceans and the fact that toxins are stored in fat, lean white-flesh ocean fish (cod, halibut, sole, flounder, etc.) are preferable; wild (not farm raised) fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, should be eaten less often, though smaller fish, like sardines, have less toxic build up and are excellent sources.
In 1920 coronary heart disease was extremely rare in the U.S. By the mid-1950’s, heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans, and remains so today. From 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animals fats in the diet declined from 83 to 62%; butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per person a year to 4. During the same period, the percentage of dietary vegetable oils, like margarine, shortening, refined oils, increased about 400%; sugar and processed foods intake increased about 60%. There is a problem, but it’s not traditional animal fats.
Most people, especially infants and children, benefit from more fat in the diet than less. But choose fats wisely and, most importantly, be skeptical of everything you hear from commercial food interests!
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig
Weston Price Foundation
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert H. Lustig, M.D.
Mercola.com: “Saturated Fat is NOT the Cause of Heart Disease”