Fat Is Your Friend
I have had so many titles for this long-in-the-works article swimming about in my brain...
- Lean Meat: The Scourge of the American Diet
- Embrace Fat: Cholesterol Is Not the Enemy
- Real Fat: The Essential Human Nutrient
- When Bad "Science" Won't Die: The Lipid Lie
- Fabulous Fat: The Beautiful Truth about a Fabulous Nutrient, Starring Cholesterol, Your Hormones' Best Friend!
(That last one seemed just a tad long, LOL!)
I desire to say so many things about fat. I want to share highlights from every book I have on the topic, but I know I cannot, lest this article be 20 feet long. So let's see where this takes us. I dedicate this article to the numerous people who have been on the receiving end of my gushing, "I love fat...everything you have been told is a lie" raves. And it's true...everything we have been told about fat since the 1950s IS a lie. Many honorable nutritionists and scientists have worked to reverse our fear of fat indoctrination. I am grateful for their tireless efforts.
I know many people have neither the time nor the resources to read all the books I recommend, so I will borrow from a couple of my current favorites to expound upon this necessary topic (my comments, peppered throughout the quotes, will appear in purple).
Fat is your friend. Once again, with a little spin...Real Fat (from clean food sources) is your Best Friend...your body's most essential nutrient. Every system of your body needs good fat, and lots of it...from your hormones to your brain, your skin and joints to your heart. Fat never has been and never will be bad for you. An absence of this essential nutrient, however, will cripple and kill. The message that fat is dangerous and should be avoided is based neither on science, nor history.
At this time of year, especially, I become frustrated by the holiday recipes vilifying fat: the "how to make low-fat versions of your holiday favorites" messages make me cringe. Low-fat cookbooks and nutritional advice make me want to pull out my hair. It's all so senseless and never was based on good science. Like a dog with a bone, the government and modern health "experts" just won't let go of the public-duping, dishonest "fat is bad" message.
Let’s begin by first taking a look at how fat got such a bad rap. Then we’ll examine fat as the most essential, beneficial human nutrient.
Some fat myths:
- Eating (real) fat makes you fat.
- A low-fat diet protects your heart and helps you lose weight.
- Fat (and its partner, cholesterol) clogs your arteries and causes heart disease.
- Saturated fat is bad for you.
- "Vegetable" fats are real fats, and they are good for you.
Debunking the Lipid Hypothesis
“The diet-heart hypothesis is the greatest scientific deception of this century, perhaps of any century.” -- George Mann, American physician and scientist
Numerous authors, scientists, nutritionists and honest doctors have for years raised their voices in protest of the flawed “diet-heart hypothesis” (also called the lipid hypothesis) first proposed in 1953 by Ancel Keys.
In her book, Put Your Heart in Your Mouth, neurologist and creator of the GAPS healing protocol Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride writes:
“Everybody has heard about cholesterol and dietary fats “clogging up your arteries” and “causing heart disease.” Even children have been told that cholesterol and fats are “bad.” For decades we have been “educated” in that direction by the popular media, advertisements and labels on our food. Doctors are also convinced: the prescription of cholesterol-lowering medication has steadily grown by more than 20% every year in the UK. The pharmaceutical powers are now working very hard on an ultimate goal: to put everybody, including our children, on “preventative” cholesterol-lowering medication."
McBride then poses the obligatory question: How did we get here?
The answer is the lipid hypothesis put forth by Keys, who set out to prove that dietary fats cause heart disease. To support his hypothesis, Keys designed a diagram, showing the correlation of fat consumption and heart disease mortality in only six countries, selected out of the 22 countries for which data existed at that time. Keys’ diagram showed that heart disease deaths rose with increased fat consumption.
McBride: “However, when all the remaining countries are added back to the diagram this correlation disappears. In fact, the diagram now shows that there is no correlation between fat consumption and dying from heart disease. Using Ancel Keys’ method, one can prove anything one likes. … It is completely baffling as to why on earth the scientific community at the time accepted this kind of “scientific evidence!” For whatever reason, it did! That is how the diet-heart hypothesis started its long life--from a deception.”
Despite its deceptive “built on air” science, Ancel Keys’ hypothesis was seized eagerly by politicians and the medical industry, and the dollars followed.
McBride: “Institutions and laboratories were set up around the diet-heart hypothesis, thousands of people were employed and scientific grants were awarded to “prove” the hypothesis. The popular media followed by trumpeting the new “breakthrough.” Once politicians and the public had bought the idea, the researchers had to come up with science to fit the bill. … no other medical hypothesis has been researched so much! Hundreds of studies have been conducted around the world to prove that dietary fat and cholesterol are the causes of heart disease. The Chinese have an old saying: “Cut the feet to fit the shoes.” Proponents used their data selectively: they ignored the data that did not support the hypothesis and inflated and advertised the data that did. [Welcome to the medical industry’s version of the scientific method.] In the meantime, for every study that attempted to support the idea, honest studies were coming in from different countries proving it to be wrong. However the political and commercial machine was in motion, and it was not prepared to stop. [The birth of the vegetable fat industry, including heavy hitters soy, corn and canola, along with the boom to the pharmaceutical industry, was just too profitable to allow truth to get in the way.] As all this was going on, many renowned doctors and honest scientists, who had the training to analyze the accumulated scientific data for themselves, opposed and criticized the diet-heart hypothesis and the “science” conducted to support it.”
These truth crusaders included (you all know I'm no fan of the elitist view of the "expert MD," and the conventional medical establishment, but I share this list as proof of professional peer opposition to the lipid hypothesis):
- Dr. Raymond Reiser (retired biochemistry professor at Texas Univ.)
- Professor George Mann (retired professor of medicine and biochemistry at Vanderbilt Univ.)
- Dr. Paul Rosch (president of American Institute of Stress, clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College)
- Dr. Mary Enig (international expert in lipid biochemistry, president of Maryland Nutritionists Association, consulting editor to Journal of the American College of Nutrition)
- Dr. William Stehbens (professor at Department of Pathology, Wellington School of Medicine and director of Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington, New Zealand)
- Dr. Ray Rosenman (cardiologist, retired director of cardiovascular research in the Health Sciences Program at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA and associate chief of medicine at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco)
- Dr. Russell Smith (American experimental psychologist, publisher of two reviews on scientific data of lipid hypothesis)
- Professor Lars Werko (retired professor medicine at Sahlgren’s Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden and head of the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care)
- Dr. Edward Pinckney (former co-editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association and author of The Cholesterol Controversy)
- Dr. Uffe Ravnskov (most comprehensive professional review of lipid hypothesis published in The Cholesterol Myths)
In her excellent treatise and cookbook, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, native Aussie chef Jennifer McLagan shares her perspective on the lipid hypothesis history:
"(In the 1950s) a theory was advanced suggesting that increased consumption of animal fat raised our cholesterol levels and resulted in heart disease. The link between cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease was only associative, not causal, and it did not account for the fact that some populations that eat diets high in animals fats don’t have high rates of heart disease. During the following two decades science failed to prove conclusively that there was any direct connection between eating saturated fats and developing heart disease, but the theory persisted. [Because it was PROFITABLE.] Then, in 1977, the theory gained widespread credence when the U.S. Congress endorsed it. Americans were urged by their government to reduce their fat intake...Thousands of years of human history showing the importance of animal fat in our diet were overlooked, and instead it was labeled the greasy killer. While many experts still promoted a diet including eggs, meat, and animal fat, their voices were drowned out by industry and science. “Low-fat” and “nonfat” became the new mantras...we obediently replaced the cholesterol-containing animal fats in our diet with new, manmade ones."
“oops! Everything I said about saturated fat was really about margarine.” — (Cate Shanahan) paraphrasing Ancel Keys
In her chapter on the lipid hypothesis (Good Fats and Bad: How the Cholesterol Theory Created a Sickness Epidemic), author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, (unconventional) Dr. Cate Shanahan shares her summary of the birth of Ancel Keys’ lipid hypothesis:
“The father of the “diet-heart hypothesis” was not a cardiologist or even an MD. [Not that MDs or cardiologists are the only ones who can possess nutritional and pathophysiological wisdom...but she’s building up to a good point.] Keys had earned his PhD in the 1930s studying salt-water eels. His nutritional credentialing originated in the fact that, during WWII, the military assigned him to create the ready-to-eat meal that could be stored for years and shipped to millions of soldiers. Dr. Keys named his pocket-sized meal the K-ration, after himself. [And we’re supposed to take food advice from the father of mega-processed freeze-dried food?!] When the war was over, the Minnesota public health department hired Keys to study the problem of rising rates of heart attacks. [Maybe it had something to do with the rising use of environmental chemicals during and post-WWII? Maybe it was the proliferation of processed foods...including all those soldiers’ freeze-dried meals? In fact, the assumption of a growing epidemic of heart disease is itself subject to criticism. Was coronary heart disease rare before the 1920s? Or were doctors and public health officials simply observing heart disease more often due to improving diagnostic technology?]
“At his first scientific meeting, he presented the idea that, in countries where people ate more animal fat, people died of heart disease more often, suggesting a possible causal relationship. But his statistical work was so sloppy that he was lambasted by his peers. Rather than cleaning up his act, Keys vowed vengeance: “I’ll show those guys.” More than anything else, it seems, Keys wanted everyone to think he single-handedly discovered the cause of heart disease. And so did the country’s margarine producers, who now had the perfect spokesperson. Though Keys‘ work failed to convince professional scientists (at least for the first decade or two), the margarine industry knew he still had a shot at convincing the man on the street. If the public thought butter and other animal fats would “clog their arteries,” they might buy margarine instead.
"A few years after the embarrassing performance in front of an audience capable of sniffing out misleading statistics, Keys was on TV laying out those same misleading statistics to a trusting public. The American Heart Association, which depends on large donations from the vegetable oil industry, jumped on the bandwagon with Keys. They took his sloppy statistics and ran, eventually convincing most doctors that “steak is a heart attack on a plate” and that margarine made from hydrogenated vegetable oils (full of trans fat) was healthy. Within a decade, grocery store shelves were loaded with ready-to-eat foods, and Americans were buying.
“By 1961, under increasing scientific scrutiny, Keys began to waver in his support for his own (now publicly accepted) diet-heart hypothesis. Scientists had pointed out Dr. Keys’ misleading use of scientific terms. In public, he denounced animal fat as the culprit behind the rising rates of heart attacks. But in his laboratory and human experiments, he didn’t use animal fat. His subjects were fed margarine made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. And what was in the margarine? Trans fat--a full 48%! To conclude from studies that used hydrogenated vegetable oil that animal fat causes heart disease is utterly nonsensical. Unfortunately, the public never heard the straight story."
And we are surprised?! So it goes…the never-ending story of how "scientists," the "medical" establishment, and the "food" industry amasses profits while shaping our food and health destinies. And the consequences of the perpetuation of the ridiculous lipid hypothesis?
Shanahan: “Prior to Keys’ campaign, people ate far more saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods than we do today, but heart attacks were so rare they were almost unheard of. Over the past century, as butter consumption dropped to less than one quarter of what it was, vegetable oil consumption went up five-fold. …. Natural fat consumption: down. Processed fat consumption: up. Heart disease: up — way up. … At the dawn of the second millennium, heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women. Forget for a moment what the “experts” are saying and ask yourself what these trends suggest to your inner statistician. [yes...we are being asked to think for ourselves!]… What’s been dropping us like flies is not any upsurge in saturated fat consumption, but an upsurge in consumption of two major categories of pro-inflammatory foods: vegetable oils (a.k.a unnatural fats) and sugar. Cutting both from your diet will not only protect your heart, it will help protect you from all chronic diseases.”
I heartily echo Shanahan’s message: Nature doesn’t make bad fats. Laboratories do.
In his heavily researched, detailed tome dissecting the controversial politics of fat, carbs, obesity and chronic disease, Good Calories, Bad Calories, science journalist Gary Taubes shares the enlightening tale of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his heart attacks.
"Eisenhower was assuredly among the best-chronicled heart attack survivors in history. We know that he had no family history of heart disease, and no obvious risk factors after he quit smoking in 1949. He exercised regularly; his weight remained close to the 172 pounds considered optimal for his height. His blood pressure was only occasionally elevated. His cholesterol was below normal: his last measurement before the attack...was 165 mg/dl, a level that heart-disease specialists today consider safe."
After his first heart attack, Eisenhower changed his diet...to a low-fat, low-cholesterol regimen. His meals were cooked in soybean oil and margarine. His weight began to creep up, so Eisenhower switched his breakfast fare from oatmeal and skim milk to melba toast and fruit. Still frustrated with his weight, Eisenhower nixed breakfast and eschewed all fats, replacing them with corn oil. His cholesterol continued to rise; Eisenhower's doctor regularly lied to him about his increasing cholesterol numbers.
Taubes: "Eisenhower's cholesterol hit 259 just six days after University of Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys made the cover of Time magazine, championing precisely the kind of supposedly heart-healthy diet on which Eisenhower had been losing his battle with cholesterol for five years. It was two weeks later that the American Heart Association--prompted by Keys' force of will--published its first official endorsement of low-fat, low-cholesterol diets as a means to prevent heart disease. ... Eisenhower died of heart disease in 1969, age 78. By then, he'd had another half-dozen heart attacks.
"From the inception of the diet-heart hypothesis in the early 1950s, those who argued that dietary fat caused heart disease accumulated the evidential equivalent of a mythology to support their belief. These myths are still passed on faithfully to the present day."
However unjust, however detrimental the results to the generations that followed, fat was forever vilified by the lipid hypothesis: the flawed, falsified and debunked study that refuses to die. “Vegetable” oils and margarine (both fake foods linked to hormonal disruptions, obesity, heart disease and cancer) took the place of butter and saturated fat became a bogey man.
And we must ask and answer the crucial, yet simple question: In the recent decades following the establishment of the lipid hypothesis, during a time when Americans eat less real fat than ever before...and more carbohydrates, are we healthier? Are we experiencing significantly reduced rates of heart disease and other chronic maladies?
Taubes: "Indeed, if the last few decades were considered a test of the fat-cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, [which they of course should be, because that would be true science at work] the observation that the incidence of heart disease has not noticeably decreased could serve in any functioning scientific environment as compelling evidence that the hypothesis is wrong. Throughout the world, on the other hand, the incidence of obesity and diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate."
Taubes' book is an intelligent, deeply researched study into the abuses of science that have created and perpetuated dietary myths, including the lipid hypothesis. It is not an "easy" read, but it is a worthwhile one. To get an overview of Taubes' work, listen to his conversations with Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk, a podcast produced by the Library of Economics and Liberty.
“And take you father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.” Genesis 45:18
I love McLagan's Fat book. In fact, I love her trio, which includes Fat; Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore; and Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal. I fully intended last year to write a review of Fat, but (surprise, surprise) it never materialized. I'll just work it in here, by sharing the highlights of her fabulous primer on fat. Oh, and the recipes are wonderful, too!
McLagan's Fat chapters:
- Butter: worth it
- Pork fat: the king
- Poultry fat: versatile and good for you
- Beef and Lamb: overlooked but tasty
She covers each animal fat extensively, with instructions on how to make butter, render lard and duck fat, create confit and much more. Her recipes cover the spectrum from sweet to savory, from biscuits to cassoulet. No stone is left unturned. The pages are lavish with beautiful photos and historical, culinary and nutritional tidbits.
In her Introduction, A Matter of Fat, McLagan reminds us that:
- All animal fats are not saturated.
- Eating fat does not make us fat.
- A low-fat diet is not good for us.
Types of fat
All fats are lipids (they don’t dissolve in water), and all fats are a combination of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
- Essential Fatty Acids (omega fatty acids) = not made by body, must be ingested
- Saturated fatty acids = less vulnerable to heat and oxygen, don’t turn rancid easily
- Monounsaturated fatty acids = softer than saturated fats at room temperature, almost as stable and slow to turn rancid. Most common MFA is oleic acid, found in pork and beef.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids = liquid at room temperature; very fragile, turn rancid quickly.
- Trans fatty acids = except for naturally occurring conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), these are manmade solidified “fat,” created by adding hydrogen to polyunsaturated fat. CLA is a healthy nutrient that protects against cancer, heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, insulin resistance. All other trans fats are manmade health scourges.
Cholesterol is NOT a fat; rather, it is a sterol (type of alcohol) found in animal protein. Our cell membranes and much of our brains are made of cholesterol. Cholesterol is the “mother hormone” and our vital organs need it to work; our bodies use cholesterol to repair themselves. Low cholesterol is linked with various diseases, depression, and increased risk of infection. But we'll dig more into this wonderful sterol below.
McLagan: “Every cell in our body needs fat, our brain and hormones rely on fat to function, and fat supports our immune system, fights disease, and protects our liver. Fat promotes good skin and healthy hair, and it regulates our digestive system and leaves us feeling sated. Yet after more than 30 years of reducing our intake of animal fats, we are not healthier, but only heavier. Diets low in fat leave people hungry, depressed, and prone to weight gain and illness. We reduced the animal fat in our diet but increased our intake of sugars and other refined carbohydrates, then were surprised when we got fat. We shouldn’t have been.”
Traditional, accepted wisdom was that fat and protein were satisfying, nourishing, filling foods and that starches and sugar made people fat. Animals are fattened by grain feeding...the same applies to humans.
McLagan: “Fat is the body’s preferred fuel, providing us with more than twice the amount of energy as the same quantity of carbohydrates and protein. It helps the body to absorb nutrients, calcium, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat and protein are found together in nature because it’s the fat that helps us digest the protein, so it makes good sense to eat a well-marbled steak, or a roast chicken with crispy skin. Because fat is digested slowly, eating it leaves us feeling sated, and we’re less likely to snack between meals. Eat the right fats and you’ll probably lose weight! And, as we all know, fat tastes good.”
“For millennia people have known how to make their food. They have understood animals and what to do with them, have cooked with the seasons and had a farmer’s knowledge of the way the planet works. They have preserved traditions of preparing food, handed down through generations, and have come to know them as expressions of their families. People don’t have this kind of knowledge today, even though it seems as fundamental as the earth.” -- Bill Buford, author and journalist
Fat is critical to the flavor of our food, because the flavor of meat is in the fat. As McLagan reminds us, “Many aromas and flavors are soluble only in fat, so unless you use fat in your cooking, they are not released.” Without marbling, meat has little flavor and becomes dry and tough when cooked. And, honestly, who doesn't adore slathering warm bread with real butter? Mmmmmm.....
After the educational introduction, McLagan's book is broken down into four sections, regaling the qualities of and sharing recipes starring: butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fat.
Aside from its wonderful flavor and delightfully creamy texture, butter is an incredibly healthy food. A saturated fat, butter is composed of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy to process by our body...they are not stored as fat (unlike long-chain fatty acids), but used for energy. Butter contains lauric and butyric acids, which boost immunity; stearic and palmitic acids, which lower LDL cholesterol; fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (especially in pastured butter), copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, iodine, and lecithin. Butter’s complex flavor and its texture are influenced by the breed of cow, its diet, and the season. For pastured butter, spring and early summer will produce a deeper yellow butter (carotenes in the grass) that has a stronger flavor. Winter butter is paler and milder in taste because the cows are supplemented with silage.
Pork fat (including lard) is useful in the kitchen and incredibly nourishing. Pork fat, like all fats, is a mixture of saturated, polyunsatruated, and monounsaturated fatty acids. While the fat forms vary by breed and diet of the pig, the majority of pork fat is monounsaturated, specifically oleic acid in addition to palmitoleic fatty acid (which has antimicrobial properties). Pork fat’s saturated fatty acids are stearic acid, which converts to oleic acid in our body, and palmitic acid...both lower “bad” cholesterol. Pork fat does not oxidize or become rancid easily, and remains stable when heated. Additionally, pastured lard is an excellent source of vitamin D.
McLagan similarly sings the praises of poultry fat and beef and lamb fat, which contain similar nutrient profiles to butter and lard. Foie gras, french for “fat liver,” is made from the enlarged liver of duck or geese. Well-prepared foie gras is smooth and silky, and contains the beneficial nutrients of liver: it is rich in B vitamins, copper, iron and iodine. Grass-fed beef and lamb are particularly rich in both CLA and omega-3 fatty acids. Beef bone marrow is of particular nutritional interest, as it contains body-building collagen, iron, phosphorous, vitamin A, thiamin and niacin.
I highly recommend McLagan's book(s) and encourage you to add them, especially Fat, to your collection.
"If you're afraid of butter, use cream." -- Julia Child, American culinary icon
Good fats vs. Bad fats
As a result of the diet-heart hypothesis takeover, people reduced their intake of animal fats and vastly increased their consumption of manmade fats, particularly hydrogenated trans fats. These substances are not easily processed by the body and are stored as fat, rather than used as energy. These manmade fats increase “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease “good” HDL cholesterol, as well as interfere with insulin production. There is no such thing as a safe manmade trans fat...nor a safe "vegetable" fat.
Polyunsaturated fats, another popular “anti-animal fat” option, are highly unstable, oxidizing quickly. Oxidized fat damages our DNA. Polyunsaturated fats suppress our immune system, and severely imbalance our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, causing an excess of omega-6 in our bodies (which inhibits absorption of omega-3). High levels of omega-6 lead to cancer, heart disease, liver damage, brain chemistry disorders, weight gain, immune malfunction, digestive malfunction, and reproductive malfunction. Grain-fed animals are higher in omega-6, while pastured animals are a good source of omega-3.
Good fats are Real Fats, and they include all animal fat (especially saturated fats), nuts, and fruit oils:
- Egg yolks
- Grass-fed, raw milk (with its cream)
- Fatty fish (especially cold-water species like salmon and sardines)
- Red meat
- Pork (especially bacon)
- Poultry (especially duck and goose)
Bad fats are everything else, which leaves "vegetable" fats...all the commercial, laboratory-produced, manmade fats, liquid or hydrogenated (especially corn, canola, and soy). These “fats” do not exist naturally; they are neither nutritious nor stable. They are chemically processed and easily oxidize and become rancid, producing ravaging, inflammatory, carcinogenic free radicals.
“Fat” that requires heavy technical processing is not good fat. “Fat” that is designed and created in a laboratory is not good fat (nor is it Real Food).
A diet deficient in the regular consumption of good fats, particularly animal fats, leads to:
- Brain chemistry disorders (OCD, depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, memory loss, etc.)
- Multiple Sclerosis (a disintegration of the myelin sheath, which requires fat/cholesterol)
- Leaky gut syndrome (your intestinal lining requires fat for stability)
- Malnourishment (from poor vitamin absorption)
- Infertility (and other hormonal imbalance maladies)
- Increased cancer risk (omega-3 can slow tumor and cancer cell growth)
- Heart disease and high cholesterol (low-fat diets reduce HDL)
On the other hand, real fats (principally saturated fats):
- Protect your heart (reduces lipoprotein, which increases heart attack risk)
- Build your cell membranes
- Build your hormones
- Act as a carrier for vitamins A, D, E, K
- Build your bones (calcium requires saturated fat to be incorporated into bone)
- Protect your liver from toxins
- Improve lung function (lung lining is composed of saturated fat)
- Improve gut function (intestinal lining is composed of saturated fat)
- Strengthen white blood cells
Cholesterol Is Not the Enemy
"The idea that too much animal fat and high cholesterol are dangerous to your heart and vessels is nothing but a myth." -- Uffe Ravnskov
Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, in his ground-breaking comprehensive critique of the lipid hypothesis, The Cholesterol Myths, tears down the myriad myths produced by Keys’ outrageously popular bad science, including:
- High-fat foods cause heart disease.
- High cholesterol causes heart disease.
- High-fat foods raise blood cholesterol.
- Cholesterol blocks arteries.
- Animal studies prove the diet-heart idea.
- Lowering your cholesterol will lengthen your life.
- Polyunsaturated oils are good for you.
- The cholesterol campaign is based on good science.
- All scientists support the diet-heart idea.
Alzheimer’s? Infertility? Heart disease? Auto-immune disorders? Immunity malfunctions? Brain chemistry disorders? You can thank your fear of fat and cholesterol-lowering diet and drugs. In fact, dreading and disparaging food sources of cholesterol is rather imprudent, considering that the body produces about 85% of its own blood cholesterol.
Not only is cholesterol NOT the villain we have been led to believe, it is a vital nutrient, essential to the proper and vibrant functioning of our bodies. Every cell of every organ in our bodies has cholesterol in its structure. Cholesterol is a vital part of cell membrane composition and it helps our cells communicate.
Our brains simply cannot develop or function properly without regular consumption of brain-building fats, including cholesterol (not technically a fat, but a sterol), lecithin, choline, and especially saturated fats. Our brain and nervous system is cholesterol-rich; 25% of our bodies’ cholesterol stores go to the brain. The fatty substance, myelin, which is a primary material in our brain and nervous system, is 20% cholesterol. The myelin sheath coats every nerve cell and nerve fiber. The breakdown of the myelin sheath results in the devastating illness, multiple sclerosis. Synapse formation in the brain, affecting brain cell communication and memory centers, depends heavily on cholesterol (memory loss is a side effect of cholesterol-lowering drugs). A developing baby’s brain and eyes require large amounts of cholesterol.
Our hormones will not function without cholesterol. Known as the “mother hormone,” cholesterol is crucial to the endocrine system...particularly our adrenals and sex glands, which produce our steroid hormones. All steroid hormones are made from cholesterol. Steroid hormones regulate vital bodily functions, including metabolism, energy production, mineral assimilation, brain, muscle and bone formation, fertility, and brain chemistry. Adrenal fatigue is a common problem in our modern, multitasking, over-stressed society. [A typical “side effect” for men on cholesterol-lowering drugs is decreased testosterone (and other steroid hormone) production.]
The human liver regulates blood cholesterol and uses cholesterol to create bile, which is the substance that allows us to digest and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Without good bile production, we cannot properly absorb and assimilate vitamins A, D, E, and K. In fact, cholesterol-rich foods and sunlight are our best sources of vitamin D. Because of our desperate need for this fat-soluble vitamin, we can thank cholesterol for helping us to build and maintain healthy bones, as well as protecting us from cancer, inflammatory disorders, brain chemistry imbalances, heart disease, osteoarthritis, auto-immune diseases, poor immunity, obesity, and diabetes.
So why do cholesterol levels vary from person to person and season or time of day? Why do cholesterol levels soar after surgery or when we have an infection? The answer is simple: cholesterol is one of the body’s healing agents. When healing needs to occur, the liver produces cholesterol and sends it to the site of damage.
Let’s look a bit at the myth that cholesterol cause arterial and heart disease. McBride explains by examining blood vessel structure and physiology. The inside of the vessel walls are covered by a layer of endothelium cells, which are attacked by any damaging agent to which we are exposed.
McBride: “Whether it is a toxic chemical, an infectious organism, a free radical or anting else, once it is in the blood, what is it going to attack first? The endothelium, of course. The endothelium immediately sends a message to the liver. Whenever our liver receives a signal that a wound has been inflicted upon the endothelium somewhere in our vascular system, it gets into gear and sends cholesterol to the site of the damage in a shuttle, called LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Because this cholesterol travels from the liver to the wound in the form of LDL, our “science, in its wisdom, called LDL a “bad” cholesterol. When the wound heals and the cholesterol is removed, it travels back to the liver in the form of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Because this cholesterol travels away from the artery back to the liver, our misguided “science” called it “good” cholesterol. This is like calling an ambulance traveling from the base to the patient, a “bad ambulance,” and the one traveling from the patient back to the base, a “good ambulance.
“Why does the liver send cholesterol to the site of the injury? Because the body cannot clear the infection, remove toxic elements or heal the wound without cholesterol and fats. Any healing involves the birth, growth and functioning of thousands of cells: immune cells, endothelial cells and many others. As these cells, to a considerable degree, are made out of cholesterol and fats, they cannot be born and grow without a good supply of these substances. … Scar tissue in the body contains good amounts of cholesterol. … Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant in the body, dealing with the free radical damage. … When we have surgery, our tissues are cut and many small arteries, veins and capillaries get damaged. The liver receives a very strong signal from this damage, so it floods the body with LDL cholesterol to clean and heal every little wound in our blood vessels. … After dental treatment, in addition to the damage to the tissues, a lot of bacteria from the tooth and the gums finish up in the blood, attacking the inside walls of our blood vessels. The liver gets a strong signal from that damage and produces lots of healing cholesterol to deal with it, so the blood cholesterol goes up. The same thing happens when we have an infection — LDL cholesterol goes up to deal with the bacterial or viral attack. Apart from the endothelium, our immune cells need cholesterol to function and to heal themselves after the fight with the infection. Our stress hormones are made out of cholesterol … Stressful situations increase our blood cholesterol levels because cholesterol is being sent to the adrenal glands for stress hormone production. In short, when we have a high blood cholesterol level it means that the body is dealing with some damage.”
Understanding the action of the cardiovascular endothelial cells and their relationship to cholesterol, as well as the functions and traveling route of LDL and HDL, begs the question: Why are some people suffering increased endothelial damage and therefore increased cholesterol activity? I think the answer is simple. Those people are introducing malevolent substances into their blood streams (such as chemical pollutants in the form of drugs or processed/industrial foods), causing the damage that spurs the healing cholesterol response. Instead of blaming LDL levels, the sufferers should stop abusing their bodies with the toxic substances ravaging their blood vessels.
Clearly, stress also plays a part in raising cholesterol levels, and should not be ignored as a significant culprit in health maladies. Additionally, dehydration is a significant factor in heightened cholesterol levels. When the body becomes dehydrated, cells become dehydrated and begin to weaken. This signals the production of cholesterol to repair and hold the cell walls together. Lowering cholesterol can be as simple as increasing your daily water intake: aim for 1 oz. pure water for every pound you weigh.
In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes reveals what I believe is a fascinating paradox. Ancel Keys, the man who gave us the blight that is the lipid hypothesis, originally established that there was no link between cholesterol and heart disease. As Taubes explains, "In 1937, two Columbia University biochemists, David Rittenberg and Rudolph Schoenheimer, demonstrated that the cholesterol we eat has very little effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood. When Keys fed men for months at a time on diets either high or low in cholesterol, it made no difference to their cholesterol levels. As a result, Keys insisted that dietary cholesterol had little relevance to heart disease." Yet Keys would go forward in his attempt to substantiate his diet-heart hypothesis, fingering fat as the culprit in cardio ailments.
Taubes: "Ironically, some of the most reliable facts about the diet-heart hypothesis have been consistently ignored by public-health authorities because they complicated the message, and the least reliable findings were adopted because they didn't. Dietary cholesterol, for instance, has an insignificant effect on blood cholesterol. ... Nonetheless, the advice to eat less cholesterol--avoiding egg yolks, for instance--remains gospel."
A fuller understanding of the hows and whys of cholesterol production and functions does spur various cogitations. One begins to wonder, why all the fuss over “high” cholesterol? How high is too high? And why aren't doctors asking, how low is too low?
Studying the anti-lipid hypothesis evidence makes it clear that cholesterol is not the cardio killer that we’ve been led to believe. Ravnskov points out that the coronary artery studies hoping to prove that high cholesterol levels cause atherosclerosis actually showed an increase in sclerosis in patients with low cholesterol. Repeated studies confirmed that cholesterol levels were unimportant in determining increased atherosclerosis risk.
Ravnskov: “The fact that coronary atherosclerosis gets worse just as fast or faster when cholesterol goes down as when it goes up, the opposite of exposure-response, should have led scientists to question the whole diet-heart idea. But nobody did. … Isn’t it much more likely that something else causes atherosclerosis than cholesterol? Something that may vary between the arteries, such as blood pressure. … For instance, the tension of the coronary vessels, but not necessarily of other vessels, increases significantly when we are mentally stressed. … That people with low cholesterol become just as sclerotic as people with high cholesterol is, of course, a devastating blow to the diet-heart idea. But the names of Lande, Sperry, Paterson, and Mathur (researchers) are absent in the hundreds of papers and books that the proponents publish every year.”
"We've got a drug for that." -- (me) paraphrasing the pharmaceutical and medical industry
The dangers of cholesterol are a myth, but the dangers of cholesterol-lowering (statin) drugs are very real and include:
- Decreased hormone production
- Impaired male sexual function (see above)
- Depletion of CoQ10 (a necessary cardiovascular and muscular nutrient)
- Muscle pain (see above)
- Memory loss
- Depression (likely related to decreased hormone production)
- Liver dysfunction
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of pancreas)
- Immune depression
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Neuropathy (pain resulting from nerve damage in peripheral nervous system)
- Heart failure (can you say irony? This side effect related to depleted CoQ10)
Fat and cholesterol are more than good for you...they are crucial to your physical development and well-being. Fat consumption affects brain development, vibrancy and longevity, skin development and elasticity, heart health, joint health, hormone development and regulation, intestinal lining integrity, and more.
Good Fat Does Not Make You Fat
Obesity is a plague of modern living. The blame fingers seem constantly to be moving, pointing one way and then another. "Fad diets" have been part of our collective conscious for decades. The prevalent desire to lose weight drives a profitable diet and exercise industry. The medical and food industries have a stake in this game as well. "Low fat" and "low calorie" foods have an incredible market share of the offerings on grocery store shelves. So it should come as no surprise that weight-loss dietary advice that would undermine profits of companies touting "conventional wisdom" will be routinely lambasted and ridiculed. An entire food industry has grown around the proliferation of "vegetable" oils and cereal grains. Ergo, the food politics of dietary principles are highly controversial.
But how many Americans are aware that the low-carb, high-protein weight-loss regimen is centuries old? From the mid-1800s, French doctors identified the solution to obesity as a diet restricted in sugars and starches. By the time the Atkins revolution was introduced in America in the 1970s, the "low-carb to lose weight" concept had been tried and proven by practitioners and people who were willing to look to nature, history and evidence-based traditions for answers to the obesity puzzle.
Until the 1970s in America, it was conventional wisdom that starches and sugars led to weight gain. But coming on the heels of the AMA and AHA fully endorsing the lipid hypothesis and advocating a low-fat diet to combat heart disease, we saw the birth of the low-fat, high-carb diet to control weight. Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, the low-fat diet craze was born, gained momentum, and mushroomed. We are living with the reality today that the low-fat myth is an idea that dies hard.
Taubes: "Despite the depth and certainty of our faith that saturated fat is the nutritional bane of our lives and that obesity is caused by overeating and sedentary behavior, there has always been copious evidence to suggest that those assumptions are incorrect, and that evidence is continuing to mount.
"It is possible that obesity, diabetes, and heart disease all share a single, underlying cause. The surge in obesity and diabetes occurred as the population was being bombarded with the message that dietary fat is dangerous and that carbohydrates are good for the heart and for weight control. ... [William Harland, former associate director of the Office of Disease Prevention at the National Institutes of Health] told me that public-health experts like himself assumed that if they advised all Americans to eat less fat, with its densely packed calories, weights would go down. 'What we see instead,' he said, 'is actually weights have gone up, the portion sizes have gone up, the amount we eat has gone up.' ... If 150 years of anecdotal evidence and observation suggest that carbohydrates are uniquely fattening, it would be unjustifiable scientifically to reject that hypothesis without compelling evidence to the contrary. Such evidence does not exist."
In the vein of WAPF, Taubes shares that decades of evidence regarding chronic disease and obesity, collected by missionaries and doctors studying isolated populations living traditional lifestyles/diets, indicates that "diseases of civilization" were rare before the introduction of processed carbohydrates. Taubes also points out that our society has fully accepted the non-evidence-based idea that dietary fat, calories, fiber and physical activity are the critical variables in obesity and disease. Medical research, however, has revealed a "web of physiological mechanisms and phenomena involving the singular effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar and on insulin, and the effect of blood sugar and insulin, in turn, on cells, arteries, tissues, and other hormones."
So just to put the final nail in the "fear of fat" coffin, believe me when I tell you that consuming good fats will not make you fat; in fact, the opposite is true. Most people lose weight when increasing fat consumption (and consecutively decreasing sugar consumption). Good fat is an excellent energy source: it is dense and easily converted by the body into energy.
Remember pork fat (lard) and its oleic acid content? Oleic acid is one of the reasons that fat doesn't make you fat. Besides containing medium-chain fatty acids that are easily absorbed and converted into energy, oleic acid begins production of oleoylethanolamide (OEA), which gets absorbed into nerve endings. Once there, the OEA tells your body that it is full. This is one of the excellent side effects of fat consumption...satiety. Oleic acid is found in other animal fats, as well as in olive and nut oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids assist in burning fat because they tell your body to more effectively use the hormone leptin. Leptin helps to suppress your appetite, rev your metabolism (by increasing thyroid output), and tell your body to burn fat for energy. Medium-chain triglycerides (a type of medium-chain fatty acid) are quickly broken down by the body and converted into energy. Fewer MCTs are converted to fat than are long-chain fatty acids.
An MCT, coconut oil is a particularly potent weight loss agent. Rich in those easily digested, "instant energy" medium-chain fatty acids, coconut oil increases metabolism and encourages ketosis (the process that helps to burn glycogen stores). Other MCTs are milk fat and palm oil.
Manmade fats (especially trans fats), however, can make you fat. Your body cannot process these fake fats and they will accumulate as toxic deposits. These bad fats become stored fat and produce inflammation (sometimes you aren't registering "fat" on the scale, but swelling).
How you consume your fats matters, too. As Mark at Mark's Daily Apple remind us, "Fat is very satiating, especially when paired with low-carb eating. Dietary fat in the presence of large amounts of dietary carbohydrates can make it difficult to access fat for energy, while dietary fat in the presence of low levels of dietary carbohydrates makes it easier to access fat for energy. studies have shown that low-carb, high-fat diets not only reduce weight, they also retain or even increase lean mass. That means it’s fat that’s being lost (rather than the nebulous “weight”), which is what we’re ultimately after."
It is difficult to overeat fat. Because of its dense, filling effect, fat effectively signals your body’s satiation impulse. You are more likely to become ill before you can consume enough real fat calories to actually gain weight. Healthy fats, including saturated animal fats, are easily processed and used for energy.
I will leave you with these important mantras to memorize:
- Fat is the most essential human nutrient.
- Good fats are great for you.
- Cholesterol is not your enemy...it is a magnificent ally.
- Real Fat doesn’t make you fat...sugar and fake fat does.
Now go and enjoy some brain-building, hormone-producing, heart-protecting, gut-healing, delicious fat! And forget the fear, banish the guilt! To your health!
For more information
Check out this great graphic from Massive Health about how carbs are killing you.