Monday, November 1, 2010

NT in a Nutshell Part 2: Fats (1)

In Thursday’s post I gave the ‘back-story’ for the research presented in Nourishing Traditions. Today we’ll start to discuss some of the principles, following the topics outlined in the introduction to the book. Today we will discuss the role of fats in our diets and reasons why low-fat diets can be very detrimental to good health. My purpose in these posts is to help you determine if making the dietary changes recommended in the book might be right for your family. The information presented here is condensed from pages 1-20 of Nourishing Traditions, and it is not intended to be medical advice. For further information on the principles here and on the studies referenced, please read the entire text.

“Politically Correct Nutrition”
The advice from the “powers that be,” from governmental agencies to medical institutions, resounds as “Exercise, eat vegetables, stop smoking, reduce salt, and cut back or eliminate animal fats and red meat.” (page 2) But what if this advice is partly wrong? This is the advice that has permeated our society since the middle of the 20th Century, yet in that time chronic illness has continued to increase dramatically. Consider:
“Although heart disease and cancer were rare at the turn of the [20th] century, today these two diseases strike with increasing frequency, in spite of billions of dollars in research to combat them, and in spite of tremendous advances in diagnostic and surgical techniques. In America, one person in three dies of cancer, one in three suffers from allergies, one in ten will have ulcers and one in five is mentally ill. Continuing this grim litany, one out of five pregnancies ends in miscarriage and one quarter of a million infants are born with a birth defect each year. Other degenerative diseases – arthritis, multiple sclerosis, digestive disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and chronic fatigue – afflict a significant majority of our citizens, sapping the energy and the very life blood of our nation. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia and hyperactivity afflict seven million young people. These diseases were also extremely rare only a generation or two ago.” (page 1)

“Fats”
What would motivate the medical establishment to give us bad advice? Most of this advice, currently taught in our medical schools as incontrovertible fact, is based on the Lipid Hypothesis, which was first introduced in the 1950s by Ancel Keys. The Lipid Hypothesis proposes that “there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease.” (page 4)

Although his conclusions have been challenged and flaws in his data have been uncovered, further research conducted and funded by the very food processing industries which have served to benefit greatly from such drastic changes in our diets, has continued to perpetuate his theories. As a matter of fact, many of the studies used as proof for the Lipid Hypothesis also show positive correlations between low-fat, low-cholesterol diets with increases in deaths due to other causes besides heart disease, including significant increases in deaths due to cancer, stroke, violence and suicide. This means that, while a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet showed a “marginal reduction” in the overall death rate due to heart disease as compared to control groups, the studies also showed that although subjects may not have died from heart disease, more of them died due to one of these other causes, and at higher rates of these causes, than observed in the control groups.
Also, studies of isolated populations who followed traditional diets in which the dietary fat comes solely from animal sources (as meat and/or dairy products) revealed that these populations were remarkably free from the heart disease and high cholesterol levels that plague those of us who consume a modern, highly-processed Western diet.

So, what are the dietary fats, and why do we need them? Simply put, they “are a class of organic substances that are not soluble in water.” (page 8) They are made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Most of the fats we eat are in a particular form called triglycerides. “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.” (page 8)

There are three types of fats (also called ‘fatty acids): saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated; these can be composed of either long chains, medium chains or short chains (all of the short-chain fatty acids, however, are saturated). Saturated fats are animal fats (lard, tallow, butter) and tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel) which are very stable, are normally solid at room temperature, do not normally go rancid and can be used for cooking at high temperatures. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil is the most common), are also fairly stable and are usually liquids at room temperature, although these will solidify if refrigerated. They also do not normally go rancid and can be used in cooking, although olive oil tends to smoke at high temperatures.

Polyunsaturated fats contain Essential Fatty Acids which we must get from our diet (omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids). These fats are always liquids, even when refrigerated, but due to the structure of the molecules that make these fatty acids, they are very unstable and go rancid very quickly. Rancidity is an issue because rancid fats are a source of free radicals, which are unstable, chemically reactive molecules. Free radicals wreak havoc in a body as they are indiscriminate in what they will attack as they seek a bonding location in order to reach a more stable chemical state. They are a cause of premature aging and can cause intracellular mutations (which can lead to cancer).

Most of the vegetable oils with which we are familiar (corn oil, canola oil, and “vegetable” (soy) oil) are comprised mostly of polyunsaturated fats. In order to extract these oils from the fruits, seeds and nuts in which they occur, they must be treated at high temperatures and pressures to create a pulp which is then treated with chemical solvents such as hexane to pull out the oils. Preservatives, some of which are suspected carcinogens, must be added to keep the oils from becoming rancid, and often the oils must undergo further treatments to remove the foul odors created by the extraction process. Also, “excessive consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain.” (page 10)

While omega-6 is an essential fatty acid that we must consume in our diet, too much of it is a bad thing, and an increased presence of omega-6 is often indicative of an under abundance of omega-3. Most vegetable oils available for purchase at grocery stores contain very, very little omega-3. “Recent research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins. This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots and to inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.” (pages 10-11)  Also, “deficiencies [of omega-3] have been associated with asthma, heart disease and learning deficiencies.” (page 11)

There is additional information that I need to cover regarding fats, trans- fats and cholesterol, but this post is getting a little longer than I had planned, and I am running out of time for getting this post ready to publish! Please join me tomorrow for a completion of the discussion on fats and cholesterol from Nourishing Traditions.

There is joy on this journey, on my way home to my Father's house,
Cindy <><

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