A Thumbs Up Book Review
Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol
By Mary Enig, PhD
Review by Stephen Byrnes, ND, RNCP
This book, written by one of the world’s leading lipid biochemists, is a much needed title in today’s “fat-phobic” world. Discarding politically correct notions that saturated fats are unhealthy, Dr. Mary Enig presents a thorough, in-depth and understandable look at the world of lipids.
Know Your Fats is the only book on fats and oils for the consumer and the professional written by a recognized authority in the field. Virtually all other titles on fats and oils currently in print are either too technical to be accessible by the layman, or are too error-laden to be worth the paper they are printed on.
Mary Enig made her mark in the nutritional world in 1978 when she and her colleagues at the University of Maryland published a paper in Federation Proceedings that directly challenged government assertions that higher cancer rates were associated with animal fat consumption. Enig and her colleagues concluded that the data actually indicated that vegetable oils and trans fatty acids—not saturated fats—were the culprits for the rising incidence of both cancer and heart disease. In the ensuing years, Enig and her colleagues focused their work on determining the trans fatty acid content of various food items, as well as publishing research that clearly demonstrated TFAs to be potent carcinogens, prime factors in heart disease and immune system disrupters.
Enig’s book begins with a discussion on the nature of saturates, monounsaturates, polyunsaturates and trans fatty acids, including a revealing discussion of cholesterol and its vital importance to the body. Molecular structure diagrams are used to demonstrate the metabolic conversion products of each of the major fatty acids (oleic, linoleic, linolenic, and palmitoleic).
The physiology of fats and cholesterol is fully covered in Chapter 2. Almost half of this chapter is devoted to shattering popular myths about saturated fats. Not mincing any words, Enig methodically demonstrates the faulty data and reasoning behind the ideas that saturates either cause or contribute to heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, mental illness, obesity and cerebrovascular disease. For example, after trashing the “data” that supposedly prove that beef and beef fat caused colon cancer, Enig flatly concludes: “And now, more than three (3) decades after the initial fraudulent report, the anti-animal fat hypothesis continues to lead the nutrition agenda. It was a false issue then, and it remains a false issue today.”
Subsequent chapters deal with fats and oils historically used in Western diets; the fatty acid composition of various oils and fats such as coconut, butter, lard, and olive oil; and a succinct summary of “fat facts.” The book is rounded out by detailed appendices on definitions, fatty acids in a huge number of foods and molecular compositions of major fatty acids.
Most interesting is Enig’s insider take on the nutritional research world and the forces that work behind the scenes to manipulate the facts. Never one to shy away from controversy, Enig blasts such organizations as the American Dietetics Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association, and the food industry in general. She accuses research scientists who denigrate foods containing saturated fats as “flat-earthers.”
Know Your Fats will help make the earth round once more.
Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol (334 pages; $29.95) is available from Bethesda Press, (301) 680-8600.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2000.