We are living in a world where fats in our diet have been increasingly feared and avoided for nearly five decades. Things are finally beginning to change. With epidemic numbers of people experiencing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, health experts and professionals are really starting to examine the significant correlation between diet and health condition.
Heart disease was almost non-existent in the United States until the 1920s, which was just decades after the inception of the Industrial Revolution – an occurrence which altered forever the face of agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transportation. With the advent of packaged and processed foods, diseases and illness previously not observed began to surface.
So what’s this business about red meats and other fats being unhealthy for us to consume? Make no mistake, doctors have historically been inclined to advise patients to steer clear of saturated fats and cholesterol. But it isn’t a coincidence that these guidelines have been in place for the last fifty or so years and disease numbers have been on the rise. In fact, there are various studies and research done by medical personnel which concluded that saturated fats and cholesterol were not the cause of heart disease, and were actually essential to health. If saturated fats are really the culprit of heart disease, there should be a corresponding increase in the consumption of animal fat in the American diet. However, a decrease of animal fat consumption has actually occurred more and more over the last fifty plus years.
Here’s what we learned: from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83 to 62 percent, and consumption of butter also decreased from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. Cholesterol in the diet increased by only about one percent in the last eighty or so years. In the same time span, the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of refined oils, butter substitutes, margarine, and shortening went up about 400 percent. At the same time, we have observed the intake of processed foods and sugar rising by about 60 percent.
The reason red meat and saturated fats are under such scrutiny is because the majority of what people consume in the way of these foods is the industrially-produced variety. That’s right – industrially produced. What does that mean? It means most of the food people are eating comes from conventional, commercial, and factory-farmed environments. These foods are full of chemicals and pesticides – and the meat, in particular – is raised in a way that meat was never intended to be raised. These meats are from animals fed improper diets (grains, soy, and corn – not grass and hay), administered hormones and steroids, and kept in close confinement where they are not allowed to move around and live healthy lives. They are also standing around in their own waste. Does this sound like a place from where you would want to obtain food? Would you want to eat meat that comes from an environment such as this?
It is important to realize that fats are not the enemy; but the medical and food industries have done a thorough job of scaring everyone from eating fats. Yet the general health condition of the average person continues to decline. Why? Fats are essential nutrients to health! Here are the reasons:
- Fats are the foundation for cell membranes – including the cells in our brains. In fact, fat is critical to brain development and maintenance, and provides the building blocks for cell membranes needed for important work to be performed by neurotransmitters which are responsible for regulation of our moods.
- Fats are needed for the manufacturing of hormones and prostaglandins that regulate bodily functions like immune system function, digestion, and reproductive activity.
- Fats keep the digestive tract working smoothly and balance blood sugar levels.
- The myelin sheath around our nerves is comprised of fats; if we don’t eat fats, the tissue making up these sheaths becomes damaged and can die.
- Fats are necessary to keep our body temperature regulated, protecting internal organs from damage, and allow us to have continuous levels of energy throughout each day
- Fats are not only essential to life, but they provide fantastic flavor, too!
Fats help in nutrient absorption
Another important role played by saturated fats in our diets is that of aiding in the absorption of vital nutrients. An example are fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E. These Vitamins are important anti-oxidants to the body which prevent free-radical damage to our cells. When you eat a low-fat diet, you reduce the amount of anti-oxidant activity necessary to keep oxidation from occurring. Eating low-fat foods such as reduced fat milk and cheese can actually cause gross deficiencies due to the fact that when digestion occurs, those nutrients needed by the body travel through and do not get absorbed. For example, calcium needs fat for absorption. So if you consume low-fat dairy or take synthetic calcium without the proper co-factors, your body will continue to lose nutrients unless you consume sufficient amounts of healthy fats at the same time.
Fats and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids
Other problems experienced by those maintaining low-fat diets are lacking proper amounts and ratios of essential fatty acids. The human body does not produce essential fatty acids, so we must get them from a healthy, balanced diet. Omega 3s and 6s are important to health. Ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3 are one to two times as many 6s as the 3s. Vegetable oils generally contain five to ten times the amount of Omega 6s than Omega 3s. In our processed and refined diets, Omega 3s are scarce, but there is an over-abundance of Omega 6s. The result is many individuals suffering Omega 3 deficiencies.
As proof of this, consider the native diets of people all over the world. Eskimos of Greenland Eskimos consuming a traditional diet that consists of 80 percent calories originating from animal fats show no sign of heart disease. People of French descent, who maintain a diet replete with animal fats exhibit less than half the rate of cardiovascular disease as Americans. People residing in tropical locations and whose primary dietary fat is coconut oil have some of the lowest rates of death from coronary heart disease.
Where do you get healthy saturated fats?
Pasture-raised or grass-fed meats like beef, lamb, and game, eggs from pasture-raised hens, pasture-raised poultry, dairy products from pasture-raised sources (raw is a plus!), safe-sourced fish, and raw nuts and seeds.
Why have we been told fats are unhealthy to consume?
Besides the obvious fact that most meat produced is the unhealthy variety and is a proponent of disease and illness, would it surprise you to know that one of the main proponents of the low-fat philosophy was money? The author of Know Your Fats, Dr. Mary Enig, PhD., made the following statement about fats and heart disease, “The claim that saturated fat leads to heart disease is simply false. This claim was initiated as a marketing tool to sell oils and margarine. Eventually the idea became dogma as it was repeated year after year.” Corporations selling margarine, shortening, butter substitutes, and refined vegetable oils make a lot of money on their products, and they have successfully convinced the majority that these products are superior for health. These products cost less to produce and people buy them because they are told they are also healthier to consume.
These substances also contain a too-high ratio of Omega 6s fatty acids (and not enough Omega 3s – most often associated with lower rates of heart and other diseases), commonly known as one of the main causes of inflammation and disease in the body. Yet heart disease, obesity, and diabetes continue to be some of the worst and most prevalent health issues we as a nation experience.
It should give most of us comfort to know that it is actually healthy to consume animal fats – those from healthy, grass-fed, organically, and sustainably raised animals. Not only they are healthy to consume, but delicious as well.
No matter where you live, it is likely that you can obtain these healthy meats for your family from a local farmer. When you purchase meats and dairy from a local farmer, you can have access to information you wouldn’t otherwise when you buy meat from the grocery store. You can meet the farmer, see the premises where animals are raised, and find out from the farmer just how the food is produced.
For more information on fats and cholesterol and their role in maintaining health, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation.