Eat more fat to stay healthy
We have long been told to reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources as they contain cholesterol, presented as the villain clogging our arteries. This theory (called the lipid hypothesis) claimed, that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease. It was proposed by a researcher named Ancel Keys in the late 1950’s. Numerous subsequent studies have questioned his data and conclusions. Nevertheless, Keys’ articles received a lot of publicity. The vegetable oil and food processing industries who benefited from this theory began promoting and funding further research designed to support the lipid hypothesis.
In fact, there is very little evidence to support the conclusion that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces death from heart disease. On the contrary, before 1920, coronary heart disease was rare, and clogged arteries were a medical rarity. During the next forty years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically (4 million deaths in Europe per year, in the United States it is 1 in every 4 deaths) despite the fact that the proportion of traditional animal fat in the diet declined.
Traditionally used animal fats like lard or tallow were replaced by vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils. In this same period, the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased. The Framingham Heart Study is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis. This study began in 1948 and involved some 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Two groups were compared at five-year intervals-those who consumed little cholesterol and saturated fat and those who consumed large amounts. After 40 years, the director of this study had to admit: “In Framingham, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol… We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
Evidently, the idea that saturated fats cause heart disease is simply wrong. But it is true that some fats are bad for us. To understand which ones, we need to dive deeper into the chemistry of fats. The take home message is that elevated triglycerides in the blood have been positively linked to proneness to heart disease, but these triglycerides do not come directly from dietary fats; they are made in the liver from any excess sugars that have not been used for energy. The source of these excess sugars is any food containing carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar and white flour.
To understand why polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils are bad for us, we need to classify fatty acids as:
Saturated: highly stable, do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes, they form a solid or semisolid fat at room temperature (grass-fed butter, coconut oil, lard etc.).
Monounsaturated: tend to be liquid at room temperature. Like saturated fats, they are relatively stable. They do not go rancid easily and can be used in cooking (oleic acid in olive oil.) At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil and small amounts of olive oil. Today most of the fats in the people's diet are polyunsaturated from vegetable oils derived mostly from soy, corn, cottonseed etc..
Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions. One reason the polyunsaturates cause many health problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture as in cooking and processing. Rancid oils are characterized by free radicals which can cause premature aging, autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and cataracts.
Polyunsaturates in commercial vegetable oils are in the form of omega-6 linoleic acid, with very little of omega-3 linolenic acid. This fatty acid is necessary for cell oxidation, for metabolizing important sulphur-containing amino acids and for maintaining proper balance in prostaglandin production. Deficiencies have been associated with asthma, heart disease and learning deficiencies.
Most commercial vegetable oils contain very little omega-3 linolenic acid and large amounts of the omega-6 linoleic acid. In addition, modern agricultural and industrial practices have reduced the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in commercially available vegetables, eggs, fish and meat. Oils processed in large factories are obtained by crushing the oil-bearing seeds and heating them to high temperatures. The oil is then squeezed out at high pressures generating even more heat. During this process the oils are exposed to damaging light and oxygen. The last 10% of the oil from crushed seeds is extracted by using solvents - usually hexane. In addition, antioxidants, such as fat-soluble vitamin E, which protect the body from the free radicals, are neutralized or destroyed by high temperatures and pressures.
Margarines, which are often the only fat many people eat are the worst fats to eat. They are obtained by hydrogenation, a process that turns polyunsaturates, normally liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature. To produce them, manufacturers begin with the cheapest oils-soy, corn, cottonseed or canola, and mix them with tiny metal particles-usually nickel oxide. The oil with its nickel catalyst is then subjected to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high- temperature reactor. Next, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency; the oil is yet again subjected to high temperatures when it is steam-cleaned. This removes its unpleasant odour. Margarine’s natural colour, an unappetizing grey, is removed by bleach. Dyes and strong flavours must then be
added to make it resemble butter. Doesn't sound very appetizing, does it?
Vegetable oils (which should be called seed oils as they do not come from vegetables at all) and margarines are man-made trans fats which are toxic to the body, but unfortunately your digestive system does not recognize them as such. Instead of being eliminated, trans fats are incorporated into cell membranes and they wreak havoc in cell metabolism. Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with a host of serious diseases, not only cancer but also atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low- birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons. Margarine provokes chronic high levels of cholesterol and has been linked to both heart disease and cancer. In addition, all processed vegetable oils are packaged in plastic bottles and all plastics have residual polymer reactants and additives that are not necessary locked in and can leach out (mainly Bisphenol A).
Corn, Sunflower, Soybean and Cottonseed Oils contain only minimal amounts of omega-3. Researchers are just beginning to discover the dangers of excess omega-6 oils in the diet, whether rancid or not. Use of these oils should be strictly avoided.
They should never be consumed after they have been heated, as in cooking, frying or baking. High oleic safflower and sunflower oils, produced from hybrid plants, have a composition similar to olive oil, namely, high amounts of oleic acid and only small amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and, thus, are more stable than traditional varieties. However, it is difficult to find truly cold-pressed versions of these oils.
Canola oil was developed from the rape seed, a member of the mustard family. Rape seed is unsuited to human consumption because it contains a very-long-chain fatty acid called erucic acid, which under some circumstances is associated with fibrotic heart lesions. Canola oil has a high sulphur content and goes rancid easily. Baked goods made with canola oil develop mold very quickly. During the deodorizing process, the omega-3 fatty acids of processed canola oil are transformed into trans fatty acids, similar to those in margarine.
Which fats are healthy?
Fats from animal (lard, tallow, duck fat) and vegetable sources (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil) provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat- soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.
All oils should be stored in glass bottles or cans (without BPA coating) and should be kept out of direct sunlight.
As you can see in my Shopping List To Regain Health, I recommend using only animal fats (grass-fed butter, ghee, duck fat etc.) and oils like avocado, olive, coconut or walnut oil. Let's look at some oils and their benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing olives between stone or steel rollers. This process is a gentle one that preserves the integrity of the fatty acids and the numerous natural preservatives in olive oil. If olive oil is packaged in opaque containers, it will retain its freshness and precious store of antioxidants for many years. Olive oil is ideal for salads and for cooking at moderate temperatures.
Coconut oil: I could go on and on with writing about benefits of coconut oil. It is one of my favourite oils for cooking (I use it also as a home remedy, in homemade cosmetics, etc. more on that later). Just to name one benefit, coconut oil contains lauric acid, found in large quantities in both coconut oil and in mother’s milk. This fatty acid has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties. This oil is extremely stable and can be kept at room temperature for many months without becoming rancid. It does not contribute to heart disease.
It is of utmost importance which fats you use in your kitchen. Don't forget, health begins in your own kitchen and it is empowering that you can change your health with every bite!
To learn even more go to The Truth About Saturated Fat