Do you remember the 1970’s? If you’re like me, you’ll remember the Low Fat campaign waged on America and the concern shown towards reducing cardiovascular disease by eating less fat and more carbohydrates. Everyone I knew became concerned about the greasy burgers we ate and all the butter our moms always drenched everything in. Margerine became all the rage and “Chemists Gone Wild” invented all sorts of hydrogenated, hydrolized, concoctions and fat substitutes. Fast forward 40 years and oh yeah, transfats are poison. Obesity rates have trippled until now, some 75% of Americans are considered over weight. Diabetes rates have increased from 1% to 8%. Obesity rates have even doubled globally. Heart disease is still the most likely reason you’ll die. Oh yes, mortaility rates from heart disease have declined ( thanks to medical advancements ) but nearly a million people die annually. “We’re delaying the disease, but we’re not preventing it,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, president of the American College of Cardiology and chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, in a 2006 CNN Health article.
What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie? – That’s the title of a New York Times article written by Gary Taubes in 2002 that uncovers the truth about carbs and fats. For many years it was taboo to even consider studying the health benefits of fat. But over the last 15 years, a number of studies and discoveries have come out contradicting the assumptions made so long ago about the relationship between fat and cardiovascular disease. A growing number of doctors, chemists, and nutritionists, are on board with the low carb diet and its health benefits. “Low carb” incidentally does not mean no or very little carbohydrates. It just means lower than the insanely bumped up carb loads recommended to us since the 70’s. The article quotes Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, speaking on the results of the longest running, most comprehensive diet study ever on nearly 300,000 people. He stated those data clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message “and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.”
Some fats are ESSENTIAL to our health. Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids (of the polyunsaturated kind) that our bodies can not synthesize and must come from food. On the other hand, there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. We also need fat for the absorbtion of some vitamins (A,D,E & K). And, fat is a primary satiating signal to our brain to tell us we are full.
We hear a lot about adding more omega 3 to our diets. The best place to find this is in certain fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, etc. 2 factors at work here are the total amount of omega-6 and the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in our diet. Our ancestral diet was generally thought to have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. In the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies and even some non-industrialized cultures, we’ve seen a typical ratio of 1:2 or less. For detailed explanation fats, fatty acids and their role in chronic diseases, I highly recommend Dr. Loren Cordain’s Primer on the subject.
After 30+ years, we’ve moved away from healthy natural fats and oils to processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats that change that ratio to 1:17. That’s 17 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3! The next complication is that all of our beef and fowl, which used to feed “free range” on their natural grasses, are now fed high corn and grain diets for “fattening”. The results are significantly increased levels of saturated fats and omega-6s. While saturated fat has some influence, this elevated omega-6 level and skewed 3 vs 6 ratio, along with inflammation caused by high carbohydrate diets, appears to be what is strongly linked to cardio vascular disease.
But what about cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential in our bodies. All mammels require it. It is an important precursor molecule for the synthesis of vitamin D, the adrenal gland hormones cortisol and aldosterone, as well as the sex hormones progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone. It’s involved in a vast number of cellular processes and I’ll discuss it in detail in a post to come.