All Thumbs Book Reviews
By Michael Schmidt, MD
Review by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD
What happens when you try to combine good science with political correctness in the same book? You end up with something that is schizophrenic and that’s the best way to describe Smart Fats.
Author Michael Schmidt correctly describes the importance of the essential fatty acids to brain health, particularly the elongated varieties of the omega-6 and omega-3 families. But the book is so full of contradictions that readers end up exactly where they started—confused.
The nervous system has been shortchanged on the critical fats it requires, says the author, “because many of us switched to animal fats, warm-weather vegetable oils and processed foods.” What has actually happened is that we have abandoned animal fats in favor of vegetable oils and processed foods. This is unfortunate because most animal fats contain small amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in just the right balance for good health—about 2 to 1.
Schmidt cites cases where people with depression claimed to be helped by a lowfat diet but then, throwing a sop to those who know that dietary fat helps control depression by keeping blood sugar levels in the normal range, he warns against a lowfat diet.
Most of his information on fats seems to come from two sources, Udo Erasmus and Barry Sears, and he repeats many of their errors. It’s probably from Udo that he gets the idea that hemp and canola oils are OK. It’s true that these oils provide omega-3 fatty acids but there are other things wrong with them. Hemp oil contains the active ingredients of marijuana and these cannabinoids can show up in the urine of people who consume hemp oil. Supposedly heart-healthy canola oil causes unfavorable changes in blood lipids, vitamin E deficiencies and heart lesions in test animals.
From Sears, Schmidt gets the notion that saturated fats interfere with delta-6 desaturases, enzymes the body uses to make elongated fatty acids from essential fatty acids. Actually, the reverse is true. Saturated fats contribute to the proper function of these vital enzymes. He also repeats Sears’ condemnation of foods rich in arachidonic acid, such as eggs, butter and liver. He asserts that too much dietary arachidonic acid will contribute to the overproduction of inflammatory prostaglandins. Actually, arachidonic acid is a precursor not only to inflammatory prostaglandins but also to prostaglandins that help control inflammation.
Schmidt notes that arachidonic acid is extremely important for brain health so is forced to conclude that fats containing arachidonic acid—like butter—are a kind of Jekyll and Hyde food. It’s OK to have a tiny bit but no slathering, please. He wrongly asserts that butter is devoid of omega-3 fatty acids, when butter is actually richer in omega-3 fatty acids than in arachidonic acid.
He recommends a high-protein, lowfat diet including skinless chicken, lowfat dairy products and limited use of beef—which is a recipe for vitamin A deficiencies that can lead to all sorts of problems with the nervous system.
The book’s biggest fault is that it recommends consumption of lots of polyunsaturates without the balancing protection of dietary saturates. This can lead to trouble even if the oils you are consuming are rich in omega-3’s. In fact, without the saturated fats, the body has difficulty getting the brain-nurturing omega-3’s into the tissues where they belong.
It would have been smart to consult the textbooks before writing Smart Fats.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2000.