Friday, July 23, 2010

Food for thought Fridays - The fat myth

A few months ago if someone had asked me to describe a healthy diet, I probably would have said something like... lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals and rice, lean meat cooked in olive oil and reduced fat dairy products.

The key point that I had learned from years of yo-yo dieting is that saturated fat is bad and should be avoided like the plague.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read in both Nourishing Traditions and In Defense of Food that the low-saturated-fat diet we've been sold by food scientists, dietitians, food marketers and our own governments is actually causing more harm than the traditional farm diets of our great-grandparents.

They ate lots of raw milk straight from the cow, along with red meat, bacon and eggs - often slathered in lard or full-cream butter. Despite this, rates of coronary heart disease were surprisingly low and didn't start rising until we cut down on saturated fats and replaced them with hydrogenised oils and trans fat margarines.

There's so much I could say about the terribleness that is hydrogenised oil and trans fat margarine, but for now I will simply share what Nourishing Traditions says is good about saturated fat.

  • Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes, giving them necessary stiffness and integrity so they can function properly.
  • They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the 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, such as paracetamol.
  • They enhance the immune system.
  • They are needed for the proper utilisation of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
  • Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why they 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. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

So next time you're reaching for that low-fat spread, or trimming the fat from your meat - think again. Saturated fat is good for your health.

And if you're worried about getting fat, according to Nourishing Traditions it's not eating saturated fat that will make you gain weight; it's all the other junk in our diets like refined sugar and refined flour.

1 comment:

  1. I only recently read Nourishing Traditions - having met some cousins who own an organic dairy farm and are advocates. I don't like the tone the author writes in (find it too 'evangelistic'), but I think she puts forward a strong case. I'm really interested in diets that can guard against heart disease as it's rife in my partner's family... getting him to embrace butter and cream after years of him being told not to eat those things is hard, but fortunately they taste so good that he's willing to try. Getting rid of cooking oil is harder...although we are partial to roasting our potatoes in duck fat! And getting my kids and partner to stop sugar consumption near impossible!

    One thing I've noticed is how when I eat meals with fat in them - ie breakfast: two egg omelettes cooked in butter with hard cheese grated over, I no longer am hungry by 10am. Also, I'm a runner and someone who has historically suffered from hypoglycemia, and since I've cut back on processed flours and sugars and replaced them w fat I've noticed I don't get sugar lows when running, and I've actually lost weight (not that I need to much) and I run faster and I'm fitter. I was interested to notice that a running guru that I follow (Dr Tim Noakes) is now advocating a paleo diet after years of advocating high carb, low fat. My next step is to get my partner to stop cooking in oil, and I would love to find a shortbread recipe (he loves my home-cooked shortbread) that tastes okay without the high quantities of sugar!


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