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Fats: Myths and Truths

True or False: Saturated fat clogs arteries.

saturated fats, mono fats, food labelsFALSE: The fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated (74%) of which 41% are polyunsaturated. (Lancet 1994 344:1195).

The whole idea of fats in the American diet is a confusing issue for most people. We hear about the dangers of saturated fats in a news teaser or a headline in a magazine and we are warned to stay away from sour cream, butter, and high fat meats lest we put on unwanted pounds, or suffer clogged arteries; but we are not getting the whole story. This may simply be those who are writing the news do not understand the differences in types of fats, and the vital roles fat plays in the diet. Fats are essential for brain health, energy production, synthesizing hormones and transporting certain nutrients in and out of cells. Babies and children must have high quality fats in their diet to develop properly. High quality fat is the key word along with the quantity of fat consumed. Anything in excess is unhealthy, even water. Saturated fat in and of itself is not a bad thing, in fact, the contrary is closer to the truth.

We need to be aware of and concerned about the quality of fats, quantity of fats and specific type of fats that we put into our body. The fats we must avoid if we want to stay healthy are the chemically altered variety found in convenience foods, fast foods and processed cheese, margarine and most vegetable oils and anything that is hydrogenated.

Animal product consumption (saturated fat) should be the organically fed variety (animals are supposed to graze not live their life penned and fed unnatural diets to fatten them and antibiotics to keep them disease free in a disease ridden environment) and have access to outdoors and pastures. Fish and poultry should be ethically raised and allowed to follow natural patterns of eating.

Another confusing issue for some of us is the way cholesterol is portrayed as a culprit. Cholesterol is found in animal products, but saturated fat is not cholesterol. Our bodies make more cholesterol than we are likely to get in foods and even then some vegetarians have high cholesterol without eating any animal products. Many current studies show no correlation between high cholesterol blood levels and coronary heart disease.

The differences between the cave man lifestyle and contemporary lifestyle are dramatic. We consume high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, we smoke and drink alcohol, ingest preservative and pesticide laden foods and don’t perform the same degree of physical labor. All these factors impact our physical health but the culprit is not saturated fat. The culprits in our society are refined carbohydrates, trans-fats and lack of exercise. Heart disease and clogged arteries were virtually unheard of before the 1900’s when lifestyle and diet changes occurred in the population. The cave man certainly ate saturated fats and did not suffer from heart disease as a result. In 2002, a report from the National Academy of Sciences concluded there was no evidence that a diet low in saturated fat prolongs life.

Related article >> The Real Truth on Fats in our Diet