Yes fat? No fat? High fat? Low fat? Wrong questions! A better question would be, how much of what kind of fat and why? Yes, we need added fat in our diets or we lose the synergistic effects from the natural fats in our foods. Such fats provide us with appropriate satiety signals; they ensure absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins, phytonutrients and important minerals; and they provide the raw material for skin health, hormone production and adequate energy storage.
The use of lowfat diets is increasingly recognized as counter productive. Without good quality fat in the diet to promote proper satiety signals, we tend to overeat those foods that are readily available. And since “readily available” foods are either high in simple carbohydrates or partially hydrogenated fats and oils or both, and since these foods promote insulin resistance, it is easy to head in the direction of obesity.
Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap. For 30 to 40 years, they have borne the brunt of an anti-fat campaign. This campaign was promoted by individuals in the fats and oils part of the food industry who had great influence over government agencies, consumer groups and the media.
Recommendations about fat in the diet made by government agencies such as the USDA, the FDA, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, organizations such as the American Heart Association and consumer activist groups such as Center for Science in the Public Interest invariably paint saturated fat as the one bad actor in the diet that needs to be fired from the scene.
The spokespersons from these organizations don’t understand the effects of the saturated fatty acids found in the diet and they don’t understand how much and where saturated fatty acids are normally found in the human body. Everything these organizations report about fat is based on what they perceive to be the effects of saturated fatty acids on serum cholesterol levels.
So when a particular fat raises the level of the body’s repair substance, which is what cholesterol is, the question that really should be asked is whether this is good because the body will now get the repair substance it needs, or whether it could be bad if getting more of the repair substance triggers the need for repair. The former makes sense, the latter does not. A well-known New York pathologist, Meyer Texon, MD, noted that accusing fat and cholesterol of causing the injury that led to the atheroma is akin to accusing the white blood cells of causing infection; they are both there to help repair.
We need natural saturated fat in our diets. The important phospholipids that form the membranes in all of our cells are made of mostly (half or more) saturated fatty acids. This is especially true for parts of our brains where more than 80 percent of the phospholipids carry half of their fatty acids as saturated fatty acids.
When it comes to our lungs, the very important phospholipid class called lung surfactant is a special phospholipid with 100 percent saturated fatty acids. It is called dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine and there are two saturated palmitic acid molecules attached to it. When people consume a lot of partially hydrogenated fats and oils, the trans fatty acids are put into the phospholipids where the body normally wants to have saturated fatty acids and the lungs may not work effectively. Some research has suggested that trans fatty acids are causing asthma in children.
Recent research shows that having enough saturated fat prevents stroke; and to protect our kidneys from disease, research shows we need certain kinds of saturated fatty acids, which are found only in the natural fats such as animal fats and coconut and palm kernel oils.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2000.