The two questions I get asked the most are, “Why do you use so much fat in your recipes?” and “Can you give me new lunch ideas?” This week, I want to tackle both questions for you and today we’ll start with the question of fat.
I rode the non-fat bandwagon for many years. I tried to eat as little fat as possible (eggs were completely shunned in our house, along with butter and whole milk) but never felt good or satisfied. I had problems keeping weight off and my energy levels up. About six years ago, when I took on an organic diet, I began reading about the importance of fats and discovered some very interesting information. We need fats. Unprocessed, saturated fats are essential for energy, hormone production, a healthy immune system, and many other important functions. This information intrigued me, but also confused me a little. Wasn’t fat bad? Doesn’t fat cause heart disease? Doesn’t fat make me fat? I wanted the answers to these questions so I began digging.
The low-fat message began in the 1950’s with a theory called the “Lipid Hypothesis”. This hypothesis proposes a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Ancel Keys, the researcher behind the Lipid Hypothesis received a lot of publicity especially from the vegetable oil and food processing industries. Many experts preach the validity of a diet low in fat and cholesterol for decreasing the risk of heart disease. I was shocked to learn there is very little scientific evidence to support this claim.
“Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare in America; so rare that when a young internist named Paul Dudley White introduced the German electrocardiograph to his colleagues at Harvard University, they advised him to concentrate on a more profitable branch of medicine. The new machine revealed the presence of arterial blockages, thus permitting early diagnosis of coronary heart disease. But in those days clogged arteries were a medical rarity, and White had to search for patients who could benefit from his new technology. During the next forty years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid fifties heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans. Today heart disease causes at least 40% of all US deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. Actually, the reverse is true. During the sixty-year period from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. During the past eighty years, dietary cholesterol intake has increased only 1%. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased about 400% while the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60%.” Mary G. Enig, PhD
This is just a taste of the information I’ve found and there are multiple studies and research from reputable doctors and scientists that suggest fat and cholesterol may not be the enemies we’ve made them out to be.
I’m not a scientist or doctor but here’s what I’ve learned:
1. A fat like butter is a short fatty-acid chain that is quickly absorbed into the body for energy and plays a vital role in the immune system.
2. Coconut oil, a medium fatty-acid chain, has high antimicrobial properties, is also quickly used for energy and contributes to the health of the immune system.
3. Olive oil is a long fatty-acid chain and supports many processes at the cellular level.
4. Polyunsaturated fats are needed in very small quantities but unfortunately, we consume them in mass quantities from processed sources such as corn, safflower, canola, and soy. High levels of polyunsaturated fats have been shown to contribute to many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, weight gain, among many others.
5.We also consume too much omega-6 (mainly from commercially-processed vegetable oils) and not enough omega-3 (from pastured eggs, meats, dairy, and fish).
6. Saturated fats are needed for the health of our bones, to protect the liver from toxins, to enhance the immune system, among many other things.
7. Saturated fatty acids give our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
8. “Evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals that only about 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.” (Wow!) source
After a year or two of my own reading and research, I decided the evidence was compelling enough to give fats a try. I got rid of all of the processed fats and oils in my pantry (vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc.) and replaced them with butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and a few others. The result? I feel better, my energy level is up. Our family as a whole rarely gets sick. Here’s a big clincher, my cellulite has slowly continued to disappear over the last few years! It’s not completely gone, but it has decreased significantly. Ask my friends, they saw it all happen and asked me what I was doing.
I had a friend call two years ago and tell me his cholesterol was elevated and there was also calcification in his arteries. The doctors recommended certain drugs, but along with that, he wanted to try other alternatives. I showed him what I’d learned, so he dramatically changed his diet and made sure to consume a healthy amount of unprocessed, saturated fats from natural organic sources each day. The result? In a year his cholesterol went down (60 points), his blood pressure is normal for the first time in 20+ years and his calcification is gone. Gone! He told his doctor what he did, and after his doctor did his own research, he is now a believer in the importance of healthy fats to support the body. [This is a doctor who’s spent more than a decade advising his patients to limit their cholesterol intake and prescribing drugs to control cholesterol and blood pressure.]
I have many other friends with similar stories.
If you’re reading this information for the first time, I know it can be confusing and a bit overwhelming. I understand, I was the same way. Remember, it’s all about little changes. Take some time, read and research for yourself, and see what you think. I think you’ll be amazed at what you find.
For further reading:
The Skinny on Fats
The Cholesterol Myths (unfortunately out of print, but look at your local library)
Evaluating the Association of Saturated Fat with Cardiovascular Disease
Eat Fat, Lose Fat (my favorite, and a very easy read)
The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions
The Oiling of America
What if Fat isn’t so bad? No one’s ever proved that saturated fat clogs arteries, causes heart disease. (MSNBC)
Good News on Saturated Fat (New York Times)
Today’s recipe is a family favorite for those lazy mornings when I have time to make a big breakfast. Cubed potatoes sauteed in butter blend perfectly with minced onion and plenty of sea salt. I usually serve it alongside some scrambled eggs and pastured bacon.
Because I was limited in time this week, the first and third photographs in today’s post are from istockphoto.