This article was written for Australian Organic Ltd. by Dr Sarah Lantz, Temptress Apothecary
Fat is tricky territory: there’s no wonder people are confused about it these days. Out of all the food pyramid’s victims, the most savagely persecuted was fat, particularly saturated fat. The recommendation from the anti-fat camp over the past 60 years has remained fairly constant: limit your intake of saturated fat, which will raise deadly cholesterol, clog arteries, cause heart disease, and make us, well – fat. Do you remember those fats ads on the television where a person is holding a human heart artery and squeezing out a sludgy, greasy substance?
Yet this is all now turning around. It might come as a surprise to many that the case against saturated fat has never been proven to be conclusive. Researchers today continue to highlight the fact that the case against fat was cobbled together with pieces of observational data, short-term trials, cherry-picked data and guesswork, resulting in a theory that is dubious at best. In a provocative cover story titled ‘Eat Butter’ by Time Magazine, the editors proclaimed that scientists were mistaken to label saturated fats the enemy 60 years earlier when lead researcher Ancel Keys was photographed for its front cover. This article essentially retracted its once support of the research.
In fact, in the wave of recent diet-related diseases, there has been a return to traditional food sources and clean saturated fats – coconut oil, cream and flesh, flaxseeds and flax oil, nuts and seeds, pasture-raised eggs, olives and olive oil, avocados, organic meats and their fats, ghee, butter, and wild, small fish and their oils. Studies of traditional diets globally reveal that saturated fat intake across the board was, as a proportion of total energy intake, significantly higher than the amount we consume today. Yet notably, these populations experienced little or none of the epidemic diseases of modern western society.[i]
Saturated fats are what the innate intelligence of our body knows and understands. You see, they are structural. They are literally saturated with hydrogen atoms, making them predominately stable to heat, light and oxygen. They can get into our bones, teeth, muscles, heart and brain. In this, they build us – repair us. Fatty organs such as the liver, lungs and brain love saturated fats. These organs require significant amounts of saturated fats to be able to clean and lubricate themselves. During those critical early years, children need high levels of fat compared to adults. Paediatric clinicians note that children who are on low-fat, low-cholesterol diets often fail to grow to full potential.[ii]
Saturated fat makes up over half the fat in the human brain – we are literally ‘fat-heads’ – and the lion’s share of fatty acids are saturated. If we are not putting the right building blocks into our bodies in the form of natural fats, we are compromising many different areas of our ongoing nervous system function, health and development: our brains, including our cognition, neural transmission and neurotransmitter production; our body’s ability to repair and build new cells; our production of steroid sex hormones for optimal fertility; our energy levels; and our youthful looks, which could leave us looking old and haggard before our time.
Which brings me to the most obvious draw card, all nutrition benefits aside – full-fat products just taste more delicious. Full stop.
Note: care must be taken to ensure that fat consumed from animals comes from clean, grass-fed, organic sources. What sets us apart from previous generations is the fact that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are fat loving, and unfortunately saturated fats from animals globally can contain of these contaminants. Dieters, also take note – when you want to lose weight, what is the first thing you would usually cut from your diet? If you said fat, you’re not alone. A prominent study found that when you replace saturated fat with a higher carbohydrate intake, which is usually the case, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity, increase triglycerides, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol.[iii] The fact is, fats are uniquely satiating. It’s the macronutrient with the highest ability to affect the release of the hormone cholecystokinin in our gastrointestinal tract, keeping our hunger satisfied at a biochemical level. Fat literally means ‘survival’ to the functioning of every human. Diets low in fat paradoxically cause the body to more easily synthesize fat from other sources, most notably sugars and carbohydrates, and then store this unwanted fat. You see, ‘diets high in carbohydrates can trigger our master hormone, leptin, to become dysregulated. Blood sugar surges lead to leptin surges and, ultimately, to leptin resistance, in which leptin signalling is no longer effectively heard by the brain’. [iv] This sends a message of ‘starvation’ to the brain which then reacts promptly with increases in appetite or cravings. In other words, when food was sparse, our bodies would store fat until meals were more certain. Modern day low-fat diets therefore tell our body that there is a food shortage. However, your body doesn’t know that you’ve decided to lose weight. Instead, the body decides, ‘I live in a food-insecure world. The next time I get food I better store more fat for next time’.[v]
And a final note for the women out there: women have been particularly hurt by the demonisation of fat, but we need clean, traditional fats in our diets for fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and generally to stay lean, fit and healthy while growing and raising our children. Breast milk, particularly colostrum, is 50% saturated fat. Cholesterol is also the basic building block for our sex hormones, which are responsible for ovulation and egg cell maturation. That is why healthy fats in your diet can boost fertility and reproductive health.
[i] Gedgaudas, N. (2009) Primal Body, Primal Mind, Healing Arts Press, Vermont; Fallon Morell, S. (2000) Ancient Dietary Wisdom for Tomorrow’s Children.
[ii] Kostyak, J. Kris-Etherton, P. et al (2007) Relative fat oxidation is higher in children than adults, Nutrition Journal, 6:19.
[iii] Siri-Tarino, P. Sun, Q. Hu, F & Krauss, R. (2010) Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease, Am J Clin Nutr, 91(3): 502-509.
[iv] op cit Gedgaudas, 2009, pg. 69
[v] Lassek, W. & Gaulin, S. (2011) Why Women Need Fat: How ‘Healthy’ Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing It Forever, Hudson Street Press, New York
This article was written for Australian Organic Ltd. All Copyright goes Australian Organic Ltd. 18 Eton St, Nundah QLD 4012. Do not use any part of this article unless permission is granted.