I’d like to share some of my views about healthy and unhealthy fats. I do have some resources which I intend to add in later, or possibly in another article.
Fats, and especially saturated fats, have been deemed unhealthy for some time now, starting around 1950, with the advent and advertisement of margarines. The cheaper polyunsaturated margarines, soy, and canola oils–after extensive processing including bleaching, degumming, processes to remove smell, high heat and treatment with various other chemicals and a trans-fat producing homogenization for the margarine–yield a fat that basically lasts forever on the shelf.
Like the GMO’s you can do animal – what will they eat – studies proving both the un-naturalness of things like margarine and the relative intelligence of animals.
During the period of time from 1950-2000, we reduced our saturated fat intake, increased our intake of omega-6 rich polyunsaturated fats, and increased rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The link between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease becomes more tenuous when we realize that much of the basic research on the issue yields no link or a positive effect on cardiovascular health from increased fat and saturated fat intake–I’ll get that citation–though probably faster if someone actually asks me for it.
Despite the above, at some points saturated fat has been correlated with heart disease. I believe these correlations are more products of an unhealthy cohort–similar to the positive effects of being a person who tends to take vitamins, there are various negative correlations to being a person to eats saturated fat. If a person is ignoring dietary advice about saturated fat, increased intake of sugar, processed, and fast foods are quite likely and not likely to be adequately corrected for if at all corrected for in these studies. That is, saturated fat might be a marker for processed food and factory-farmed meat intake rather than a risk factor it self.
The theoretical construct is tenuous as well. We connect dietary saturated fat to a process of attempted damage correction in blood vessels via cholesterol deposition. Is it not more likely that healthy unoxidized fats with fat soluble vitamin-rich complexes in dynamic bioavailable configuration could effectively aide in repair of oxidative damage, especially in the heart which loves to use them as fuel?
We’re making an incredible leap in connecting a McDonalds burger to the butter or meat fat of a chemical-free, antibiotic free, grain free, stress free, pasture-raised (i.e. grass fed) cow. The two have completely different nutrient and fatty acid profiles and we’re effectively equating them in these massive correlative studies.
Despite this huge mistake, there is still a lot of data manipulation needed to make the correlation stick. The epidemiologic study of multiple countries around fat intake and heart disease involved many countries but only reported on few, which fit the proposed theory (see weston price foundation materials for a more detailed explanation). One particularly interesting fact from that study is that in terms of total fat intake, the highest numbers of such are found in Finland and Crete, finland having the highest cardiovascular disease and Crete having the lowest.
There is consensus that trans fat is unhealthy, and I agree with that completely. This is almost exclusively found in deep fried and hydrogenated foods, as well as various food additives. A small amount is found naturally in dairy products and I wonder if that has the same effect as the unnaturally formed types.
Polyunsaturates are touted as the healthy ones–being so far from the saturates–basically different due to amounts of hydrogens on the carbon chains. The omega-3’s, found in flax and fish are well known for positive health effects and it is my opinion that those positive effects are much more important than whatever benefit you might get from avoiding possible mercury contamination in fish, the om-3 is worth it and general nutrient studies find people are healthier eating fish than not. Choose wild-caught for the healthiest fish. Om-6 is thought to in some ways to be negative for its tendency to increase clotting. It has various positive effects as well…I think the best way to make sense of the polyunsaturates is simply to realize that they are fragile–if your om-6/om-3 are high-heat processed with various chemicals which are the standard in anything that isn’t cold-pressed, expeller pressed, extra virgin–you probably have a damaged fat which will only cause your body damage in turn. See Udo Erasmas’s Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, for more information on fat quality, processing and more.
To wrap up, this and anything else I write about nutrition generally comes from the view that eating real food, what we now call organic, pasture raised, unprocessed, etc.–is the only way to nutritional health. You can make it easy, cheap, expensive or difficult, all in all though, you need to do as Michael Pollan suggests and “eat food” as eating real food is the only truly well proven way to eat for health and proper weight. Traditional diets ranged from nearly vegetarian to living off of milk and blood, to living off of seal blubber and the occasional caribou without hardly a weed of vegetation, all with incredible results. All sorts of types and amounts of fat and other nutrients seem to work–what doesn’t work–refined sugars, processed meats and packaged foods. Most diets just seem to get people to eat more real food, and that’s the capacity in which I can support them.
Personally, my diet is probably at least 40% fat, much of that is saturated–but do what works for you.