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Friday, April 30, 2010

A Mini Book Report about FAT

Of all the differences with my "real food lifestyle," fat is by far the most misunderstood. After a comment from a reader here; my sister asking, "Butter is only good in moderation, right?;" and conversations with friends about "fattening" food; I decided a post detailing fats was in order. I am going to do this in a book report. All of this information comes from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon in the Introduction section on Fats. 


Fats provide energy, are used for building cell walls and hormones, and slow nutrient absorption (so we can go longer between meals). They allow our body to use fat soluble vitamins and absorb some minerals. 
Saturated fats make up more than half of cell membranes. Saturated fats keep our bones healthy by allowing calcium to be incorporated. They lower Lp(a), defined as "a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease." They protect the liver from toxins. They build the immune system. We need them to use omega 3 fatty acids. The fat around our heart is highly saturated. Saturated fats protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

We have been taught that fat and cholesterol are harmful to our bodies. This theory, by Ancel Keyes, is called the Lipid Hypothesis. (Note that it is a hypothesis, but taught widely as fact.) There were many flaws in his research, but his theory received more publicity than opposing views, partly due to backing by the vegetable oil and food processing  industries. Fallon says, "Most people would be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, very little evidence to support the contention that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces death from heart disease or in any way increases one's life span."

She then sites the following studies:

*In 1920, heart disease was rare. In the mid 1950's, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. Today it causes at least 40% of all deaths in this country. If what we have been taught is true, and saturated fats cause heart disease, then "one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet." But that's not what happened: saturated fat consumption decreased from 83% in 1910, to 62% in 1970. Butter went from 18 pounds per person each year to only 4. In this same time frame, vegetable oils increased 400% and sugar and processed food went up 60%.

* The Framingham Heart Study, which took place in Framingham, Massachucetts, collected data from 6000 people every 5 years starting in 1948. There were two groups: one who consumed small amounts of fat and cholesterol, and another who ate large amounts. After 40 years of this experiment, the director said, "In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol... We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."

*A British study of several thousand men divided the men into two groups. The men on the strict diet reduced their saturated fat and cholesterol, stopped smoking and increased consumption of unsaturated oils. The other half continued on as they had, with no reduction in saturated fat or cholesterol, and were even permitted to continue smoking. After a year, the men on the strict diet had 100% more deaths than those who did not change their behaviors.

*MRFIT (Multiple Risk Intervention Trial) was a study comparing the death rates and eating habits of more than 12,000 men. The men who reduced saturated fat, cholesterol and smoking had a marginal decrease in coronary heart disease, BUT their mortality rate was higher. There was an increase in deaths from cancer, brain hemorrhage, suicide and violent death. Other studies have had similar results.

* The LRC-CPPT (Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial) gave all subjects a low fat, low cholesterol diet and cholesterol lowering drug or placebo. The subjects given the drug had a 24% decrease in heart disease related death, but other causes of death increased (cancer, stroke, violence and suicide). This study is often cited to give proof in favor of low fat diets, though low fat diets were not tested at all in this study (only the cholesterol lowering drug was).

*Michael DeBakey conducted a survey of 1700 patients and found no correlation between cholesterol in the blood and hardening of the arteries. A survey of South Carolina adults had similar results.

*Mothers milk is high in cholesterol and fat. Over 50% of calories in breast milk come from fat. 

*Traditionally, people used animal fats.
Yemenites in Yemen: eat fats of animal origin. Yemenites living in Israel used vegetable fats (and large amounts of sugar). There was little heart disease or diabetes with the Yemenites in Yemen, but large amounts of both with the Yemenites in Israel.
India: People in Northern India eat 17 times more animal fat but have a 7 times lower rate of heart disease than people in Southern India.
Masai in Africa: eat mainly blood, milk and beef and have no heart disease and low cholesterol levels.
Eskimos: Eat lots of animal fats and have little or no heart disease on their native diet.
China: A study found that those in areas where whole milk was consumed in large amounts had half the rate of heart disease as those where only small amounts of animal products were consumed.
Mediterranean: Fat (including saturated fat from lamb, sausage and goat cheese) equals up to 70% of their calories. They are known for their low rates of heart disease.
Puerto Rico: The Puerto Ricans
Soviet Georgia: Those who ate the most fatty meat lived the longest.
Okinawa: The average life span for women is 84 years. They eat pork, seafood, and cook their food in lard.

In Conclusion...

If you had come up to me 10 years ago and told me that I would be blogging in favor of fats today, I think I would have said "Yeah, right" (and also, "what's blogging?").  Everything I'd ever read in magazines, fitness publications (I used to teach aerobics), nutrition/ diet books, and saw on the news said that fat is BAD. But the more I read about the actual studies that have been done, the more I realize, there was little reason to ever think that. Fat is not only necessary for our bodies and health, it is essential. And yes, saturated fat, I mean you.

I'd love to hear about any studies that helped convinced you that fat was not an evil villain, and how you got over your fat phobias. Please share!

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays.


  1. Thank you! it drives me nuts when people say they throw away egg yolks. Or only eat chicken (breasts). I got over my fat phobia by taking reading a lot of Jonny Bowden's material - he has a PhD in nutrition and is alway posting about the latest nutritional studies.

  2. so, ok, fats can be healthy. But don't they also make you gain weight? Last night we were actually talking about healthy fat and how that is what you should eat. And you put that together with a produce, etc to get a good calorie count, right? Like you have me quoted above about the butter...would it only be healthy in moderation of would a stick of butter be a healthy snack in your opinion?

  3. @Tiffany, NO! Fats absolutely don't make you fat!!!!
    I would say a stick of butter is a pretty large serving size and might make you feel sick, but other than that, yeah, butter= good, healthy snack.
    An interesting study was done (several have been done and the specifics are quoted in Good Calories, Bad Calories) where obese patients were allowed a calorie UNRESTRICTED diet, but they had to reduce/ eliminate carbs. (They were only eating fat and protein, basically). They could eat however much they wanted, and they all lost a large amount of weight- eating butter and meat and cheese and eggs. In my opinion, that is pretty extreme, and we do eat lots of vegetables and fruits around here, but we add fats (butter or peanut butter, etc) to round out the meal or snack.
    And in case you didn't catch it the first time: FATS DON'T MAKE YOU FAT!

  4. So, this may be a stupid question (I am new to a lot of this stuff) but am I reading that vegetable oils aren't very good for you? I make a lot of stuff at home ( crackers, bread, etc.) and usually use olive oil and sometimes just regular vegetable oil. Should I use butter instead? And do you have any thoughts on liquid lecithin? I read recently that it can be used as a substitute for oils in baked goods.

  5. @Michelle, The vegetable oil in the grocery store is usually soybean oil. I avoid that stuff! But EVOO is good, especially when you don't heat it. I have never heard of liquid lecithin. For my baked goods, I use butter or coconut oil. If the recipe calls for oil, I usually just melt the butter first, and it works great.

  6. Chanelle! awesome article! I would like to link to your article when people ask me about fats and cholesterol because frankly, all the splainin in the world doesnt seem to be getting through to a lot of people--they still say--ya, but whats the lowest cholesterol foods i can be eating...and i just hit my forehead and sigh~~~
    happy friday~!

  7. @oystergirl, thanks! I know exactly what you mean...

  8. This is a completely unscientific example, but since I've switched to whole milk (raw), butter, and EVOO about a month ago, I have lost 2 lbs. I do not exercise. :) BUT, I have also eliminated nearly all refined sugar, eat lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, eggs, meat -all that good stuff- and have eliminated nearly all commercially processed foods.

  9. Great post! It's so hard to get people to understand that saturated fats from clean sources are good for you.

    I just came across this article, and am so thrilled to see the truth starting to come out in mainstream media. It's about time!

  10. Tamlynn, way to go! scientific or not, that's good news.
    Jen, thanks for sharing. that was a great article. I'm glad to see it making news!