In the Western world over the past two centuries, chronic diseases, once rare, have become ubiquitous. The endless list of prevalent chronic diseases includes heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders and age-related macular degeneration. These conditions, largely unknown to nineteenth-century medical practitioners, have become so common that they now even affect our children.1
Concurrently, the Western world has seen a dramatic rise in processed food consumption and notably of industrial seed oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially omega-6 fatty acids. (The “parent” omega-6 fatty acid is eighteen-carbon linoleic acid or LA.)
Influential institutions like Harvard, Tufts, the Mayo Clinic, the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many others all have been telling us since at least the 1960s to consume more of these oils, claiming they are “heart-healthy.” And when it comes to official dietary advice, we Americans tend to do as we are told; unfortunately, when it comes to health, we’re not doing so well. We are the most obese nation among the higher-income countries belonging to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and we may be the unhealthiest nation in the world. We don’t rank anywhere near the top for any metric of health. The increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has set up a biological milieu that is pro-oxidative, pro-inflammatory, nutrient-deficient and toxic.
POISON, NOT FOOD
Seed oils go by numerous names: vegetable oils, edible oils, omega-6 oils and—the latest euphemism—“plant oils.” The aim is to make these oils sound healthy. The most dangerous ones are the high-PUFA oils from soybeans, corn, canola, cottonseed, rapeseed, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower and rice bran.
It should tell you something that seed oil refineries look a lot like petroleum refineries. These facilities take huge amounts of raw seed materials and crush them, heat them and run them through a hydraulic screw press. The oil from that mush is then treated in a petroleum-derived hexane solvent bath, followed by steaming, degumming, chemical alkalinization using sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda) and chemical bleaching, typically using calcium sulfate dihydrate. At this point, the oil may look better, but it is terribly malodorous, so it also gets deodorized, which is accomplished with a steam distillation technique at very high temperature and pressure. The multiple rounds of heating and mechanical and chemical treatments produce oils that are highly oxidized—that is, the long fatty acids are broken down into segments with oxygen attached to free hydrogen atoms.
Once the oil is put into bottles or drums, the manufacturers send it out to restaurants (where it is heated yet again for cooking and frying) or to factories that make processed foods. For people consuming any version of a standard American diet, one-fourth to one-third of their calories may be coming from these kinds of factories.
Hippocrates is credited with saying, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Paracelsus (the father of toxicology) stated, “All that man needs for health and healing has been provided by God in nature. The challenge of science is to find it.” And Dr. Weston Price wrote in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, “Life in all its fullness is Mother Nature obeyed.” But are we obeying Mother Nature when we consume industrial seed oils?
Industrial seed oils are the fat of choice that manufacturers add to processed foods; you will almost never find a processed food that includes animal fats like butter, lard or beef tallow. The same holds true not only for fast food restaurants but even for the finest restaurants—they all cook with high-PUFA oils which, in the U.S., are almost always either soybean or canola oil. I cannot emphasize enough; these seed oils are chronic metabolic and biological poisons.
THE RISE OF CHRONIC DISEASE
Over the last few decades, researchers have been sounding the alarm about the U.S. population getting heavier. Some now blame this trend on dietary changes that followed the 1980 U.S. Dietary Guidelines,2 which led people to shift their macronutrient ratio—increasing their intake of carbohydrates (“carbs”) and lowering their intake of fat. As people got heavier, the pendulum later swung in the opposite direction, leading some experts to conclude that carbs are the problem, introducing the low-carb craze.
I don’t think macronutrient ratios have much to do with any of this, however, and I think Dr. Price would agree. In his research, he didn’t even address the topic, because it was obvious that macronutrient ratios among healthy people varied widely. What changed—and is still changing—was the composition of fats, with a continual displacement of animal fats by industrial seed oils.
In a 2012 paper on the shifting burden of disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine,3 the authors noted that in 1900, the top three causes of death—influenza/pneumonia, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections— were all of “infectious” origin, as were other top-ten conditions like diphtheria. Although heart disease was the fourth leading cause of death at that time, the article’s authors clarified that it was “chiefly infectious or valvular” in nature (for example, the result of rheumatic fever, syphilis, or infective endocarditis) “rather than atherosclerotic.” By 2010, however, most of the top ten causes of death had shifted to chronic diseases, with heart disease (coronary artery disease) at the top of the list, followed by cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and kidney disease. Altogether, “infectious” disease accounted for 60 to 65 percent of deaths in 1900 but just 2.3 percent of deaths by 2010. This represents a drastic change.
In the nineteenth century, as far as I know, the scientific literature produced only eight papers on heart disease, because heart disease was rare. Even in 1910, when Sir William Osler (one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital) reviewed thirty-four years of his own hospital practice, he reported having witnessed about two hundred cases of angina (chest pain) in the first decade of the new century but never saw a heart attack. It was in 1912 that Dr. James Herrick produced the first known U.S. paper on heart attack,4 documented with autopsy evidence. Today, almost one in three deaths is due to coronary heart disease. The same patterns hold true for other chronic conditions (see sidebar below).
A GLOBAL EXPERIMENT
Processed foods—which are most of the foods filling grocery store aisles—include foods made with refined flours, added sugars, industrial seed oils and artificially produced trans fats (which themselves come from seed oils). In my view, the rise of these four foods amounts to a global human experiment, which has occurred in lockstep with the surge in chronic disease.
- Sugar intake has been rising for at least several hundred years. We know that between 1822 and 2012, consumption of sugar increased seventeen-fold.5
- In 1866, just after the Civil War, the U.S. introduced cottonseed oil, “known as America’s first vegetable oil.”6
- In the 1880s, roller mill technology replaced stone mill technology and gave us refined white flour, removing the wheat bran and germ and leaving a nutrient-deficient food.7
- In 1899, the Hudnet Company offered the first corn oil, called Mazoil, to the American public.8
- In 1911, Procter & Gamble introduced cottonseed-oil-based Crisco, launching trans fats.9,10
- Other seed oils followed thereafter, with production of soybean oil taking off after World War Two.11
By 2009, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showed that these four items made up 63 percent of the American diet—nearly two-thirds. That is a recipe for disaster! Combining my data with the USDA data suggests that the proportion of the four processed ingredients in the diet may even exceed 70 percent, with the share of the diet accounted for by industrial seed oils, sugar, refined wheat and trans-fat estimated at 32, 21, 17 and 1 percent, respectively, for a total of 71 percent (see Figure 1). That leaves very little room for whole foods.
As already mentioned, Americans did not consume seed oils before 1866, but by 2010, we were consuming eighty grams (over three tablespoons) per capita per day (see Figure 2). At the beginning of the twentieth century, 99 percent of added fats were still animal fats—lard, butter and beef tallow—but by 2005, 86 percent were industrial seed oils, which succeeded in almost completely replacing animal fats.
Initially, Americans did not take to cottonseed oil. Back in 1866, they knew cottonseed oil as an oil for machines and lamps—which is what seed oils ought to be used for! At the time, people would have been getting omega-6s as very small amounts of linoleic acid in butter, lard and beef tallow from traditionally raised animals pastured on grass and fed their native diet. (As I discuss later, when animals like pigs and chickens are fed GMO corn and soy, it is a much different story, with far higher percentages of LA.)
From 1866 on, seed oils began entering the food supply through adulteration, with cottonseed oil cut into fats like lard, butter and olive oil. In fact, starting in 1880 Europeans complained that 40 percent of what was supposed to be olive oil was adulterated with cottonseed oil. Italy stopped importing oils from the U.S. that year.6 Unfortunately, many people today still don’t realize they are consuming toxic seed oils because they are so well hidden in the food supply.
As a result of this shift, omega-6 LA consumption has gone through the roof, from roughly two grams in 1865 (about 1 percent of calories) to almost five grams in 1909 (about 2 percent of calories) to eighteen grams in 1999 (7 percent) to twenty-nine grams by 2008 (11.8 percent) (see Figure 3, next page). This represents a thirteen-fold increase over about a century and a half.
Note that all natural fats contain some LA, and it is essential; however, you do not need much. I think 0.5 percent of calories as linoleic acid is enough, with studies suggesting a maximum of 1 to 2 percent of calories.12 Now, let’s go back to Paracelsus, who said, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.”13 We often hear this paraphrased as, “The dose makes the poison”—and it always does! So, if our “dose” of omega-6 linoleic acid in 1865 represented about one-hundredth of our calories, whereas by 2008 it constituted more than one-eighth of our calories, in my opinion, our twenty-first century “dose” makes it a poison.
Omega-6 fatty acids accumulate in our body fat (adipose tissue). In a systematic review published in 2015, when researchers reviewed thirty-seven studies that reported LA concentration in adipose tissue, they found a statistically significant linear increase between 1959 and 2008—from 9.1 to 21.5 percent—amounting to a 136 percent increase.14 Note that there is a mathematical relationship between the percentage of LA in your diet and the percentage in your body fat. If it is 5 or 10 percent of your diet, it will be around 10 or 20 percent—or maybe even higher—in your body fat. For omega-6 LA, its half-life in your fat is anywhere from six hundred to six hundred eighty days, meaning that it remains there for a couple of years. I estimate that it actually could be six years or more before someone who had been consuming a high omega-6 diet would be able to bring the level in their body fat back down to where it should be.
If you consider seemingly disparate chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, stroke and obesity, one thing that ties them all together is mitochondrial dysfunction—and mitochondrial dysfunction begins with an omega-6 excess. Again, this sets up a pro-oxidative, pro-inflammatory and toxic milieu. Essentially, when you have omega-6 in excess, your electron transport chain—which enables many metabolic processes—falls apart. Omega-6 is attacked by superoxide and hydroxyl radicals (“free radicals”) and broken down into lipid hydroperoxides, which then rapidly degenerate into advanced lipid oxidation end products. These inflammatory pathways are well established. Collectively, then, high-PUFA oils are poisons that are cytotoxic, genotoxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, atherogenic, thrombogenic and obesogenic—and this is how we end up with all the metabolic diseases and physical degeneration that we are seeing.
THE FAT-SOLUBLE VITAMINS
From the early 1900s through the 1920s, a nutrition researcher named Elmer V. McCollum carried out numerous studies in animals—research that likely influenced Dr. Price. In one study, two sets of similar rats, after weaning at day twenty-six, were raised on identical diets with one exception: the source of fat. One group of rats got 5 percent cottonseed oil, while a second group got 1.5 percent butterfat. The cottonseed oil group survived five hundred fifty-five days, on average, but the rats only grew to 60 percent of normal size and were weak, sickly and fragile. The rats that got the butterfat lived about twice as long (one thousand twenty days) and grew to normal size (that is, almost twice the size of the first group) and were infinitely healthier.
What made the difference? The answer has to do with what we know today as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2. In a 1918 book, McCollum could refer only to “as yet unidentified substances or groups of substances” because scientists did not yet understand and had not yet isolated vitamins (although Casimir Funk had theorized the concept of vitamins in 1912). McCollum nevertheless observed that there was something especially abundant in butterfat, egg yolks and glandular organs such as liver and kidney that was not found in any fats or oils of vegetable origin. McCollum clearly established that vegetable oils as the sole source of fat could not support growth or maintain health and were ultimately fatal; animals put on a vegetable oil diet would ultimately sicken and die an early death.
Dr. Price, of course, understood all this, even before he began traveling to study traditional diets around the world. Remember that his definition of the “displacing foods of modern commerce” included refined flour, sugars, canned goods, sweets, confectionery and vegetable oils. In addition to dental decay, he found that these foods led to arthritis (even in youngsters), many types of cancer, susceptibility to conditions like tuberculosis and birth defects of all sorts, even when the parents were normal. He established the fact that these outcomes could be accounted for by deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. The ancestral diets he documented contained ten times the levels of fat-soluble vitamins, four times the levels of water-soluble vitamins and up to ten times the levels of various minerals than did the American diets of his day—and that was in the 1930s, well before the flood of processed foods.
On page five of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price wrote, “Search for controls among remnants of primitive racial stocks has been resorted to as a result of failure to find them in our modernized groups. . . .” He continued, “Only the primitive groups have been able to provide adequate normal controls.” In other words, he had already determined by the late 1920s and early 1930s that there were no controls in the United States. Americans were already consuming so much processed food that he couldn’t establish what he referred to as “standards of excellence.” He had to leave the U.S. to accomplish that.
SLEIGHT OF HAND
In a 2009 paper by a British statistician titled “Modern statistics: the myth and the magic,” the author describes his “personal exploration of the puzzling contradiction between the fundamental excitement of statistics and its poor public image.”15 Although we need statistics, I think many of us have grown weary of analyses that use statistical sleight of hand to reach dubious conclusions. I’m thinking, for example, of the well-known 2008 study of U.S. nurses by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, titled “Adherence to a DASH-style diet and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke in women,”16 which—without any control group—used its results to promote a diet that severely restricts saturated fat and sodium while recommending multiple daily servings of fats like soft margarine, vegetable oil, mayonnaise and salad dressing.17 And the published literature includes tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of studies with similar statistical flaws.
Some of the problems with statistics go back to Ronald A. Fisher, known as the father of modern statistics, who argued vehemently in multiple papers in the 1950s that smoking did not cause lung cancer. (He may have been a bit biased because he liked to smoke himself.) However, consider that in roughly that same time period (the early 1960s), 42 percent of American adults smoked, with the average American smoking eleven cigarettes a day. If you look at how many Americans smoked and then how many were exposed to secondhand smoke, you’ve got well over half the population who were either smokers or were exposed to significant secondhand smoke. This raises the question, what if everyone in your study group is exposed to the noxious agent? How do you determine what the problem is, if they are all exposed?
This is the way I see the studies of today. Processed food consumption is ubiquitous globally, with processed foods representing more than 75 percent of the foods sold. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of the foods consumed in the U.S.—and 48 percent and 57 percent in Canada and the UK, respectively—are ultra-processed foods featuring sugar, refined flour, seed oils and trans fats. When trying to figure out the cause of a disease, why would we draw from populations where everyone is consuming the hypothesized noxious agents and where no one is getting the presumed protective agents (vitamins and minerals) either? This goes back to why Dr. Price left the U.S. to do his research. In my view, research on individuals drawn entirely from Western and westernized populations merely compares the sick to the sicker.
THE NO-SEED-OIL TRADITIONAL DIET
Fortunately, even after Dr. Price’s time, there were and are still a few populations around the world eating traditional diets, groups that don’t consume processed foods loaded with sugars, refined flour, seed oils and trans fats—and don’t have heart disease. They include the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, the Tokelauans of Polynesia, the Papua New Guineans of Tukisenta and Kitava, the Tsimane of Bolivia and the Aché of Paraguay.
Consider the Maasai, whose diet consists almost exclusively of raw milk, meat and blood, with very small amounts of fruits and vegetables. George Mann and colleagues, who studied the Maasai back in the 1960s and 1970s,18 showed that of the Maasai’s three thousand daily calories, 66 percent came from animal fats (40 to 60 percent of which are saturated19); their omega-6 level was 1.7 percent. They had no heart disease, yet the American Heart Association continues to tell us to limit saturated fat intake to 5 to 6 percent of our calories and no higher.
What about the Tokelauans of the South Pacific? When Prior and colleagues studied the Tokelauans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the researchers found no heart disease and virtually no obesity or diabetes.20 Old photos show them to be a healthy-looking bunch (Figure 4). In their diet of coconut, fish, starchy tubers and fruit—quite different from the diet of the Maasai—about 54 to 62 percent of calories came from coconut, including coconut oil containing 91 to 95 percent saturated fat. Overall, 53 percent of their diet was fat, and 48 percent of their total calories was saturated fat. Whereas the Maasai have the diet highest in animal-origin saturated fat of any population known, I believe the Tokelauans have the highest level of saturated fat from a plant source. Their omega-6 level was around 1 percent, with a total PUFA level (omega-6 and omega-3 combined) of 2 percent; this is where we should all be.
The Papua New Guineans of Tukisenta have yet another dietary profile. When Australian researchers Sinnett and Whyte published epidemiological research in 1973, they reported that sweet potatoes accounted for more than 90 percent of the diet, with occasional feasting on pork and chicken.21 Although the macronutrient ratio was heavily skewed toward carbs (94.6 percent) with only 3 percent fat and 2.4 percent protein, their omega-6 level—0.6 percent—is telling. Among seven hundred seventy-nine persons over the age of fifteen, the population was lean, physically fit and in a good nutritional state, with no obesity, hypertension, diabetes, gout, ischemic heart disease or macular degeneration.
JAPAN’S CAUTIONARY TALE
Now, let’s look at Japan, whose residents once enjoyed similarly good health. Of course, Japan is home to the Okinawans, the longest-lived people on the planet—or at least they once were. In 1976, obesity in Japanese adults was about 1.1 percent. (Note: Japan once used a body-mass index [BMI] threshold of thirty, but in more recent decades they have lowered it to twenty-five, which affects the numbers a little bit.) Back in the 1950s, as published by Yerushalmy and Hilleboe, their rate of heart disease was among the lowest in the world.22
Unfortunately, more recent decades have revealed a decline in the health of Japan’s population. In men, overweight and obesity have been climbing in every age category since 1980. (For complex reasons, the pattern is somewhat different for women.) As of 2019, a third (32 percent) of Japanese men age twenty and up were overweight, as were 22 percent of women in that age group. Average diastolic blood pressure went from 73.5 in 1958 to 82 by 1999, with a corresponding increase in use of hypertensive medications, despite significant declines in smoking. Cancers of the lung, liver, colon and breast have also been markedly rising in Japan since the 1950s.23-26
As for the famed Okinawans, researchers found the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in men to be 30.2 percent as of 2003–2004 (and 10.3 percent in women), and fully half of Okinawan men aged forty and up were obese.27 Studies also have revealed alarming levels of type 2 diabetes in Japanese children—a condition that shouldn’t ever be a disease of children.28 In 2009, researchers described Japan as “one of the nations most affected by the worldwide diabetes epidemic.”29 The number of diabetics in Japan has increased seven-fold as a percentage of their population since 1970.
What happened to the Japanese? You know the answer—they westernized their diet. In 1970, Japan opened its first fast food restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), followed by the first McDonald’s in 1971. At the time, McDonald’s Japanese partner Den Fujita said, “The reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for two thousand years.” By 2007, there were almost four thousand McDonald’s restaurants in Japan, and by 2012, over eleven hundred KFCs. Japan also has its own hamburger chain, MOS Burger, along with other leading chains like Subway and Krispy Kreme.30 (My guess is that these chains serve fries soaked in soybean oil; they certainly are not using tallow.) And in Okinawa—with a population of just one hundred twenty-eight thousand—there were eighteen McDonald’s and ten KFCs as of 2020. Between 2010 and 2020, fast food sales in Japan rose by 38 percent.
Interestingly, the average total daily energy intake in Japan has been falling, going from roughly twenty-eight hundred calories in 1958 to twenty-two hundred calories in 1999. The percentage of total daily energy from carbohydrates also decreased markedly over this time period, from 84 percent in 1958 to 62 percent in 1999. Sugar intake has also been falling over the same time period in which diabetes rates have gone through the roof. So, diabetes and obesity are increasing while caloric consumption and sugar intake are decreasing.
Some may think this is impossible, but it’s not. There are numerous studies in animals showing that animals getting seed oils gain twice as much weight and become morbidly obese compared to animals with the same caloric intake not getting seed oils. Moreover, it happens within a matter of a few weeks or months.
The Japanese have the lowest fat consumption of any developed nation in the world, at 20 percent, and their saturated fat intake is only 7 percent. But between 1960 and 2004, their seed oil consumption rose 333 percent, and omega-6 intake was up 520 percent. In short, Japan was fantastically healthy in 1960 when their seed oil intake was nine grams a day (about two teaspoons, which is tolerable), but by 2004, with seed oil consumption at thirty-nine grams per day, they had gotten sicker and heavier. By 1999, 76 percent of their fat calories were coming from seed oils. Again, that is a recipe for disaster.
I also have data showing an eighty-two-fold increase in macular degeneration in Japan, from 0.2 percent in the 1970s to 16.37 percent in 2013, which I can attribute only to seed oil and processed food consumption. Again, while calories and carbs went down, there was more than a four-fold increase in seed oil consumption—with marked increases in pre-obesity and obesity, four major cancers, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and macular degeneration and a reduction in longevity.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
I would argue that macronutrient ratios have little to do with the explosion of chronic disease. If you consider the traditional groups with excellent health that I reviewed, carb ratios ranged from a low of 17 percent in the Maasai to 85 percent in the 1968 Okinawans to almost 95 percent in the Papua New Guineans of Tukisenta. Globally, carb consumption, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), remained almost completely flat between 1964 and 2007, at around 63 to 64 percent, yet in 1964, the whole world was significantly healthier. You can also argue that sugar is not the culprit; in the U.S. as in Japan, consumption of sugar has not changed all that much since 1961, with U.S. sugar consumption falling since 2004. As for fat ratios, the research I cited showed that fat ranged from a high of 66 percent in the Maasai to a low of 3 percent in the Tukisenta residents. If you want to make the case that health is about macronutrient ratios—whether low-carb or lowfat—you have to address this.
I have little doubt that the elephant in the room—not much discussed until the last few years—are the high-PUFA omega-6 seed oils. In traditional populations, omega-6 levels are 0.6 to 1.7 percent, whereas in westernized diets it is 7 to 12 percent. Remember, too, that vegetable oil consumption does not even need to go up very much because the omega-6s accumulate in body fat where they continue to exert their destructive effects.
My unpublished data for the 1961–2018 period show that in the U.S., vegetable oil consumption increased more than three-fold (and is still rising), with obesity rising in lockstep, going from 13 percent of the adult population in 1961 to 42.4 percent by 2018 (see Figure 5). Just since 1999, severe obesity has gone from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent in 2018—an approximately two-fold increase. Worldwide, obesity was at one in twenty people in 1975, and today, it’s almost one in seven, representing a three-fold increase. Again, seed oil consumption in 1865 was zero, whereas by 1961, the world was at almost sixteen grams per day per person, and over sixty-five grams per day by 2014. This represents an almost infinite increase in edible oil consumption—with a correspondingly infinite increase in chronic disease.
LOWERING OMEGA-6 LEVELS
In my case, I began waking up to the dangers of seed oils and omega-6s in 2011. I had suffered with arthritis from the time I was about thirty-three until I was fifty. When I made minor changes to my diet in 2011, I was shocked by how much better I felt after just ten days! I began reading and eventually discovered Dr. Price’s book and the Weston A. Price Foundation.
As an ophthalmologist, when I began to understand that all this processed food and seed oil-heavy westernized diets were driving chronic disease, I also had a lightbulb moment that macular degeneration might be driven by the same thing. People think that I came at this from the angle of exploring what’s causing macular degeneration, but it was exactly the opposite—I had to understand the big picture first and then look at macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is complex, and at a certain stage, does appear to be irreversible. However, I now have many anecdotal reports from people who stopped their macular degeneration progression in its tracks after switching to an ancestral diet.
So, how do we get our omega-6 levels down to around 1 percent? I suggest preparing almost all your meals at home and using extreme caution when eating away from home. Obviously, a major step is to eliminate seed oils from the diet. That is accomplished by not adding them yourself, not cooking in them, not consuming processed foods and being very careful about restaurant foods, because most restaurants (particularly in the U.S.) are cooking in soybean and canola oils. I also recommend consuming nuts and seeds in extreme moderation, as they and nut oils are very high in omega-6s. Anecdotally, I have seen some bad outcomes in people trying to obtain a lot of their fat from nuts.
There seems to be a collective obsession with using oils, and I often get questions about what oils to use for cooking. I don’t understand why people don’t just go back to butter or ghee or other traditional fats like lard or beef tallow from healthy animals, which are fantastic and safe fats for cooking. If you tolerate butter, I recommend cooking everything in butter. If you are recovering from high omega-6 in your body, foods that are naturally high in vitamin E are beneficial, notably meat and offal.
Coconut oil can be a safe and healthy cooking fat if you are not using butter or an animal fat like lard or tallow. So far, I don’t think coconut oil is being adulterated. Olive oil and avocado oil are highly adulterated. There is no avenue to verify that an “extra-virgin cold-pressed” olive oil is authentic, nor is there a way to ascertain what the LA level is, and LA levels can vary batch to batch. I don’t eat olive oil. I also do not recommend palm oil, which is about 10 percent LA and is subjected to heat extraction. Palm kernal oil, extracted through cold pressing and with around 2 percent LA, is acceptable, however.
Many seed oils are more than 50 percent omega-6 linoleic acid, versus under 3 percent LA for animal fats—assuming the animals are eating a traditional species-appropriate diet. Interestingly, cows are a bit of a special case; as “polygastric” animals, their digestive system can hydrogenate polyunsaturated fats into monounsaturated and saturated fats, which allows them to maintain very low levels of omega-6 linoleic acid in their body fat. Thus, while LA in pastured, 100 percent grass-fed cattle may be as low as 2 to 3.4 percent, it is only a little bit higher (2.4 to 3.9 percent) in grain-fed cows raised on corn and soy in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Of course, there are many other reasons to choose beef from 100 percent grass-fed cattle that are cared for properly.
The difference in chicken meat is much starker. Whereas the LA level in pastured chickens is around 2.5 percent, in CAFO-raised chickens fed corn and soy it is 18 percent and perhaps even higher. This difference carries over to eggs. Angel Acres Farm in Michigan provided me with information about their low PUFA pasture-raised eggs,31 showing that in cage-free chickens fed a diet of peas, barley, alfalfa, beef tallow, fresh grass, worms and insects, the linoleic acid is one hundred seventy-six milligrams per egg. In pasture-raised chickens fed non-GMO corn and soy, the number rises to four hundred sixty-five milligrams of LA. In cage-free chickens fed GMO corn and soy, it is five hundred eighty-five milligrams, and in typical store-bought CAFO eggs, it is seven hundred thirty-four milligrams. If you look at these as ratios, the LA in one CAFO egg is over four-fold higher than in one ancestral egg. Stated another way, and given that I recommend daily LA consumption of four grams or less, four ancestral eggs per day would give you just 17.5 percent of that amount, versus 73 percent in four CAFO eggs.
With pigs, similarly, LA levels in pork from pastured animals will be around 2 percent versus 20 percent in CAFO-raised pigs fed corn and soy. We can also compare the linoleic acid in burgers from beef (around 2.6 percent) versus in plant-based burgers (15.7 percent). That alone is a reason to reject fake burgers.
I like to show people one of the earliest bits of film footage ever recorded in the U.S., filmed on the streets of New York City in 1911.32 Those people did not know anything about nutrition or vitamins or saturated fat or omega-6s, and they were not taking supplements, but you will not see a single person who is overweight or obese. This also preceded the advent of widespread home refrigeration. The diet was meat-heavy, and people consumed foods that could be stored, including a lot of potatoes and a lot of bread—in fact, they consumed about twice as much bread as we eat today. However, their diet included only about one gram of omega-6 oils, and half of that likely would have been from olive oil. One hundred-plus years later, 86 percent of added fats are industrial seed oils, and nearly 43 percent of us are overweight or obese.
People in 1911 just ate what was in the food supply, and that is what people are doing today—eating the vegetable oils urged on them by food corporations and the “diet dictocrats.” The people filling up cancer and cardiac wards—many of them young—are the victims of a dangerous food supply. Seed oils are leaving a trail of destruction and killing us, and it is time to convict them as chronic metabolic biological poisons.
RISING PREVALENCE OF CHRONIC DISEASE
CANCER: In 1900, sixty-four per one hundred thousand people died of cancer in the U.S.,3 but by 2001, the cancer death rate was one hundred ninety-six per one hundred thousand.33 An estimated one in three Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime.
DIABETES: Diabetes of any type was rare in the nineteenth century but began climbing steadily during the twentieth century, increasing thirty-fold between 1935 and 2020 (from 0.37 percent to 11.3 percent).34 Moreover, those numbers do not account for prediabetics. In the U.S., we have seen a ten-fold rise in diabetes since 1961—from 1.05 percent to 10.5 percent.
OBESITY: In nineteenth-century male prisoners, according to University of Texas researcher Scott Alan Carson, the prevalence of obesity was 1.2 percent.35 By 1960, the U.S. obesity rate had reached 13 percent—an eleven-fold increase—and that was when we still thought we were lean and healthy. By 2018, the prevalence of obesity had reached 42.4 percent,36 representing a thirty-five-fold increase.
METABOLIC SYNDROME: Metabolic syndrome is a combination of high blood pressure, “high” cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels and visceral obesity. Swedish and Spanish physicians Eskil Kylin and Gregorio Marañon began describing this phenomenon in the early 1920s, with further descriptions emerging in the late 1940s.37 Between the 1980s and 2012, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome increased by 35 percent (from roughly 25 to 34 percent).38 By 2016, researchers were estimating that only 12.2 percent of Americans—one in eight—were “metabolically healthy” (that is, able to meet five criteria of metabolic health).39
AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION: Worldwide, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in people over age sixty-five. This condition was an extraordinary rarity between the mid-1850s and 1930, with no more than about fifty cases documented in the published literature.40 By 2020, there were almost two hundred million cases globally, with that number projected to rise to almost three hundred million by 2040—a virtually infinite increase.41
OSTEOARTHRITIS: Osteoarthritis doubled in the twentieth century.42
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: The first known case of Alzheimer’s disease was published by Alois Alzheimer in 1907.43 Twenty years later, there were still only thirteen reported cases. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are fifty-five million people with dementia worldwide and nearly ten million new cases every year (or one new case every three seconds)—with Alzheimer’s representing 60 to 70 percent of those.44
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2023🖨️ Print post