As long as we’re on the topic of dietary myths, I thought I’d write about the one food group that we are all programmed to avoid: fats. We’re told that eating fat, particularly saturated fat, will make us fat and sick.
Before we dive into the truth, let’s stop and think for a minute. Ask yourself, how long have we been advised to eat a low fat diet? How long have we been told that eating saturated fat will make us fat and sick? I know I’ve heard this message for the last 25 years; before that I was too young to notice. Since Ancel Keys (more on him later) first suggested a link between saturated fats and heart disease in the late 1950s, the food manufacturers have jumped on board and produced everything and anything in low-fat, non-fat form: chips, yogurt, chocolate, you name it. We, in turn, began doing everything we could to avoid fat. I know there were years when I survived on pretzels, pasta and saltines because they were cheap and low fat; I thought they were healthy choices.
Now, let’s ask ourselves another question: since we’ve begun reducing fat are we getting skinnier and healthier? To answer that question I’d suggest you simply look around. Considering the epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, I think it’s fair to say that we are not healthy or thin.
Which leads me to the point of this post: certain fats, including saturated fats, are essential to your health. You read it right. A non-fat diet is not only less than optimal, it’s downright destructive.
Saturated fats form an essential part of the cell membranes throughout your body. In addition, these fats partner with cholesterol to compose about 80% of your brain. Cholesterol is the main precursor to all the major hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and the stress hormones like cortisol. The bottom line is this: saturated fats and cholesterol are essential nutrients and you need them to thrive.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are a disaster. When you eat too many unsaturated fats, like those found in vegetable oils, the fats adversely affect the chemistry of the cell membranes. Consuming these unsaturated fats will cause your cells to be nutritionally starved and set the stage for chronic disease. Your energy drops, your nerves don’t fire, your hormones and metabolism quit functioning properly. You’re tired and hungry and you gain weight.
Consider the fact that mother's milk, nature’s perfect food, provides a higher proportion of cholesterol than almost any other food. It contains over 50% of its calories as fat, mainly saturated fat. Both cholesterol and saturated fat are essential for growth in babies and children, especially the development of the brain. Yet, the American Heart Association is now recommending a low-cholesterol, low fat diet for children! I cringe with concern when I think of all those kids’ brains being starved and how that’s affecting their mental health, not to mention their IQs.
When Dr. Gonzalez reviewed my diet with me, he told me I can eat an unlimited amount of fat; that is, an unlimited amount of natural, saturated fats. He said “the more, the better”. Well, I almost jumped up and hugged him right there (I probably would have but it would have embarrassed my husband, not to mention my new doctor might have thought I was a bit strange :) ). After two years of not eating any fat, he made my day because I love eating fat. That’s right…..butter, avocados, coconut and red meat. Bring ‘em on.
If fat is so good for us, then why are we told to avoid it?
Ancel Keys, a researcher in the 50s, first suggested that a diet high in saturated fat causes heart disease. When Keys published his analysis, it was discovered that he used data from only six countries and ignored the data from the other 16 countries that were included in the study. When a country with high fat intake had no heart disease, he excluded the data.
As a result of Keys’ fraudulent misrepresentation, Americans were soon encouraged to substitute vegetable fats for animal fats, and to avoid red meat completely. Government agencies began bombarding the public with advice to eat a low fat diet. In 1960, The American Heart Association changed its position on dietary fat to support Keys’ theory.
The vegetable and food processing industries were happy to jump on the low fat bandwagon. After all, they don’t want us eating whole, unprocessed forms of fat such as butter and cream. If we did that, we’d be so satisfied with our diets, we wouldn’t have any need for their junk. They want us to stay ignorant and continue eating out of packages loaded with vegetable and hydrogenated oils. These oils extend the shelf life of packaged foods, so good press about these oils directly impacts the bottom line.
What about the subsequent studies that connect fat and heart disease?
The problem with the studies that link fat and heart disease is that they do not differentiate between saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are those whole, unprocessed fats that make everything delicious: eggs, butter, full fat cream, red meat, coconut oil, etc. Trans fats are the vegetable (think: canola) and hydrogenated oils that are in packaged foods and bottled salad dressings. Trans fats will clog your arteries and cause diabetes. They will make you fat.
There have been several studies that have proven there is no correlation between saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease but these studies are largely ignored. The vegetable oil and processed food manufacturers don’t want you to think that their products are making you sick and they spend lots of money on lobbyists to ensure that the studies that support their businesses are the ones promoted.
What actually is linked to heart disease is polyunsaturated fats which became wildly popular during the late 21st century. As we decreased our intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, we increased our intake of polyunsaturated fats which are particularly prone to free radical damage and oxidation. These damaged oils will impair the arteries, lead to inflammation and cause heart disease. Saturated fats and cholesterol are not the problem; our bodies need these essential nutrients and they are protective. If you’re like most, you may not know that the majority of people with heart disease don’t have high cholesterol.
If you’d like to read a good book about cholesterol and saturated fats, you could check out “The Great Cholesterol Con” by Malcolm Kendrick. Or, if you only have a few minutes, go to www.mercola.com and search on “cholesterol”.
But won’t eating fat make me fat?
The idea that eating fat will make you fat is total nonsense. If you doubt this, once again, I’d encourage you to think about how fat and unhealthy we’ve become since we began adopting low fat diets several decades ago.
When we eat a diet low in fat, one of the problems is that we are constantly hungry. Our brain knows it needs fat so it sends out hunger signals when it doesn’t get enough. In turn, because people are programmed to not eat fats, they load up on carbohydrates to address their hunger pains. In fact, the epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in America correlate with the decrease in the intake of fat and increase in the intake of carbohydrates.
Lately I’ve noticed that when I eat a substantial amount of fat at a meal, particularly coconut butter and red meat, I feel satiated; I don’t crave sweets and my meals hold me for hours. What a revelation! What a gift! I’ve craved sweets my whole life and to think I may be able to feel satisfied without them is liberating.
For years we’ve been told to eat low fat this and low fat that. “Eat tons of carbs, reduce your sugar but whatever you do, don’t eat fat.” This piece of advice, along with many others, is the result of dogma, not facts. As Dr. Gonzalez says “So much of science is not science, it’s religion. The low fat obsession is really a fanatical religion. When you look at the scientific studies you find that it doesn’t report what the low fat fanatics claim.”
I’m sharing this information to blow out the myths that have become adopted here in the west. It seems that with all of our technology and our brilliance and our universities, we’ve gotten so much horribly wrong. Let’s work together to change that, shall we?
1. Quit reading the fat content on labels. Fat is great for you; you need it to survive and thrive. Instead of being so concerned with fat, focus on reducing your sugar intake.
2. Don’t buy anything that has hydrogenated oils or vegetable oils in it: canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower/safflower oil, margarine, shortening, anything with “partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list. These foods are poison and they will make you fat and sick.
3. Enjoy saturated and animal fats: olive oil, full fat yogurt, raw full fat milk, butter (especially grass fed), coconut oil/butter, palm oil, ghee, animal fats, red meat, avocados, eggs and red meat and other fatty meats, lard, tallow, nuts and seeds. Tune into your body, if something makes you feel bad, don’t eat it.
4. When purchasing animal fats, try to buy organic. The doses of hormones and antibiotics in the conventional food won’t serve you well.
5. Try the recipe below made of full fat, organic ingredients. You’ll be glad you did.
2 C almonds
2 C coconut
1/3 c coconut oil
1/3 c honey or maple syrup
¼ t sea salt
½ t vanilla
Process all ingredients in food processer. Use a small scoop to scoop cookies onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment. Freeze for 15-20 minutes and store in the refrigerator.
*This recipe makes about 24 cookies and each cookie contains about 2/3 teaspoon of syrup or honey.
*The title of this post “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” is also the title of a book by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Check it out if you’d like to learn more about healthy fats or try out some healthful recipes.