We live in a world where dietary fats have been increasingly feared and avoided. This is particularly true of saturated fat from animal foods.
With epidemic numbers of our population experiencing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, health experts and professionals have started to begin to understand the connection between between diet and health, and especially the importance of dietary saturated fat and well-being.
With this information coming out, we are finally beginning to see the beginnings of reversal of indictment against fat and cholesterol. Health practitioners and other authorities are now speaking out and admitting just how critical fats and cholesterol are to our health.
Heart disease was almost non-existent in the United States until the 1920s, which was just decades after the inception of the Industrial Revolution. This shift 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 why has there been a long-standing declaration that red meats and other fats are unhealthy for us to consume? Make no mistake, doctors have historically advised patients to steer clear of saturated fats and cholesterol. It isn’t a coincidence that these guidelines have been a fixture for the last 50+ years. Incidence of chronic disease has continued to increase. Studies and bodies of research done by medical personnel conclude that saturated fats and cholesterol are not the cause of heart disease, and are essential to health. If saturated fats are truly the culprit of heart disease, there should be a corresponding increase in the consumption of animal fat in the American diet. However, the opposite is true. Intake of animal fats have actually decreased over the last 50+ years.
What we have 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. What does that mean? It means most of the food people are eating comes from conventional, commercial, and factory-farmed environments.
These foods contain chemicals and pesticides. The meat, in particular – is raised in a way that meat was never intended to be raised. These meats are from animals fed the wrong kinds of diets. Cattle are ruminants and are intended to eat grass and hay. But instead, most of them also consume a large quantity of grains, soy, and corn. They are also administered growth hormones and steroids, and kept in confinement where they are not allowed to move around and live healthy lives. On feedlots, animals also stand around in their own waste. Does this sound like a place from where you would want to obtain food?
Fats contain essential nutrients and are vital to health:
- 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 aid 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 harmful oxidation from occurring.
Eating low-fat foods such as reduced fat milk and cheese can actually deficiencies. When our bodies are attempting to digest low-fat foods, certain 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 normally present in fat, your body will continue to experience a loss of nutrients unless you consume sufficient amounts of healthy fats.
Fats and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids
Other problems with low-fat diets are the lack of proper amounts and ratios of essential fatty acids. The human body does not produce essential fatty acids, so we must get these substances a balanced diet containing these nutrients. 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 a widespread occurrence of Omega 3 deficiencies in our population.
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.
Dr. Weston A. Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, discovered these facts when he traveled the world in the 1930s. He expected to find out that those eating plant-based diets were the healthiest, but was surprised to uncover the opposite: all healthy populations he studied consumed some type of animal fat in their diets.
Where do healthy saturated fats come from, then?
Pasture-raised or grass-fed meats like beef, lamb, bison, pork, game meats, eggs from pasture-raised hens, pasture-raised poultry, raw dairy products from pasture-raised sources, safe-sourced fish and seafood. Read more in this interview with Dr. James Carlson, board-certified osteopath, family physician and clinical biochemist from The Weston A. Price Foundation, Red meat: bane or boon?
Why have we been told fats are unhealthy to consume?
Besides the 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 big profits selling their products, and they have successfully convinced the a sizeable portion of the consumer population that these products are superior for health. These products cost less to produce and people buy them because they have been told by advertising and health authorities they are also healthier to consume.
These substances are also off-balance in Omega 6s essential fatty acids, and not enough Omega 3s – most often associated with lower rates of heart and other diseases. This imbalance of essential fatty acids is commonly known as one of the main causes of inflammation and disease in the body. Yet heart obesity, heart disease and diabetes continue to be some of the most pervasive 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, grassfed, organically, and sustainably raised animals. Not only they are healthy to consume, but delicious as well. Read more from Chris Kresser about why grassfed is best, Part I and Part II.
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.
Recommended are the following fats from clean, pasture-raised sources:
Lard and fat
Read more about the importance of sourcing meat from grassfed / grass-finished sources