This post covers part of the Introduction of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Most information is referenced in the book. Opinions are mine unless indicated otherwise.
Hopefully I am not being redundant by talking about fats again, but I realized there was some great stuff from the book that I hadn’t covered in my other fats post.
At the turn of the century [not this last one but the one before], most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallows, coconut oil and small amounts of olive oil. Today most of the fats in the diet are polyunsaturated, primarily from vegetable oils derived from soy, as well as from corn, safflower and canola. [These particular vegetable oils should actually be avoided.]*
Polyunsaturated fats are the ones we’ve been taught are good for us. I remember learning this at school: A little unsaturated is okay, monounsaturated is better, and polyunsaturated is the best. Actually, that should be flipped around. According to Fallon, modern diets may contain as much as 30 percent of calories from polyunsaturated fat, though the best scientific evidence suggests no more than four percent. This little four percent should be in the approximate ratio of 1.5 percent omega-3 and 2.5 percent in omega-6, the range found in native populations who get their polyunsaturates from legumes, grains, nuts, greens, fish, olive oil and animal fats–not vegetable oils (the actual recommended range is 1:1 to 4:1 of omega-6 to omega-3, but Fallon tends to push for getting closer to the 1:1, which is fair, considering most Americans get between 10:1 and 25:1).
- Over-consumption of polyunsaturates has been shown to increase the likelihood of cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to liver, reproductive organs and lungs, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain. Part of the problem is that they easily become rancid, particularly in cooking and processing. Rancid oils have free radicals in them, which attack the body.
- Vegetable oils usually contain high levels of omega-6 and only small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, thus throwing off the 1:1 ratio that we need. Too much omega-6 disrupts prostaglandins which can result in increased tendency for forming blot clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer, and weight gain. Deficiencies in omega-3 are associated with asthma, heart disease, and learning difficulties. Unfortunately, modern farming practices have caused a reduced amount of omega-3’s in vegetables, eggs, fish, and meat.
Organic eggs from hens allowed to feed on insects and green plants can contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the beneficial ratio of approximately one-to-one, but commercial supermartket eggs from hens fed mostly grain can contain as much as nineteen times more omega-6 than omega-3!
(Note to yourself: If you can’t find pastured eggs–my natural grocery store only just started selling them–you may want to buy eggs that come from hens that are fed flaxseed, since this would increase the omega-3 content.)
I felt the information in my last post was convincing enough that saturated fats are good for us, but there is more!
- Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50 percent of the cell membranes in our bodies, making them stiff enough to function properly. If we don’t consume enough saturated fat, our cell membranes become weak.
- Saturated fats are important for incorporating calcium into the bones–in order for this to be done effectively, at least 50 percent of dietary fats should be saturated.
- They lower Lp(a), a substance that indicated a proneness to heart disease.
- They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
- They enhance the immune system.
- They are needed for proper utilization of essential fatty acids. This means omega-3’s are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
- Saturated stearic acid and palmitic acid are preferred foods for the heart muscle. In times of stress, the heart draws on the reserve of highly saturated fat that surrounds it.
- Short- and medium-chain fatty acids have antimicrobial properties that protects us from harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
- Saturated fats constitute only 26 percent of the fat that clogs arteries. The rest is unsaturated.
- When polyunsaturated fat replaces saturated fat in the diet, it also replaces the saturated fat in the cell membranes, causing the membranes to become flabby. Cholesterol will go to the rescue, becoming incorporated into the membrane tissue to give it structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels might go down temporarily when saturated fats in the diet are replaced with polyunsaturated.
- Cholesterol acts as a precursor to vital corticosteriods, which are hormones that help us handle stress and also protect against heart disease and cancer (are you noticing all the references to heart disease and cancer being related to not enough saturated fat and cholesterol?).
- It is also a precursor to sex hormones testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. (Does this mean that deficiency in cholesterol makes our bodies less male and female?)
- It is a precursor to vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune system function.
- Bile salts are made from cholesterol, and they play a vital role in digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.
- Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, which may explain why our levels of cholesterol tend to go up with age.
- It is needed for proper functioning of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is what makes us feel good; low cholesterol levels have been linked to aggressive behavior, depression, and suicide.
- Human milk is very rich in cholesterol and also contains and enzyme to help baby utilize it. Cholesterol is very important during the growing years to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system. (Don’t, don’t, DON’T give your children skim milk or a lowfat diet!!! Unless you want them to be malnourished, which I know you don’t.)
- Cholesterol plays an important role in maintaining a healthy intestinal wall. Low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky-gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.
Cholesterol is good for our bodies. In fact, it’s essential. However, it is important to recognize that it can be damaged by exposure to heat and oxygen. Oxidized cholesterol promotes damage to the arterial walls and buildup of plaque in arteries. Do not eat cholesterol-containing foods that have been over-heated. Powdered eggs and milk are especially dangerous, and meats and fats that have been heated to high-temperatures also contain damaged cholesterol. Don’t over cook your meat! (It ruins the flavor, anyway.)
The cause of heart disease is not animal fats and cholesterol but rather a number of factors inherent in modern diets, including excess consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats; excess consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar and white flour; mineral deficiencies, particularly low levels of protective magnesium and iodine; deficiencies of vitamins, particularly of vitamin A, C and D, needed for the integrity of the blood vessel walls, and of antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E, which protect us from free radicals; and, finally, the disappearance of antimicrobial fats from the food supply, namely, animal fats and tropical oils.
Keep in mind that cholesterol is a repairing nutrient. When there are high cholesterol levels in the body, it may be indicative of disease, but it is NOT the cause of the disease! Rather, it is trying to fix it. As Fallon describes it: “Blaming coronary heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder and theft in a high crime area.”
It’s been very recent that I started hearing that high amounts saturated fat is not dangerous. I didn’t automatically believe this, but I wondered if it was true. Reading Nourishing Traditions has convinced me that saturated fat and cholesterol are important nutrients. The fact is, heart disease was rare in our culture when people ate more saturated fat. Scientific evidence shows that saturated fat and cholesterol are beneficial to the body. The isolated groups of people that Price studied were very healthy and consumed plenty of saturated fat. People in Western civilization are getting sicker and sicker, and I believe food is a huge factor.
However, I don’t feel inclined to eat a huge amount of meat, especially during warmer weather when so much fresh food is growing, and I crave less meat. I don’t think Fallon is suggesting eating large amounts of meat, either. That may be fine to do if you live in a location where plant food doesn’t grow well, but it makes no sense to me to avoid eating nourishing plants. Yes, I think modern vegetable oil is something we need to be wary of, but not butter. The thing that helps me keep things in a moderate perspective is imagining myself being in an isolated situation, where I don’t have other people growing my food for me. Would I really be killing a chicken every few days to feed my little family, plus a pig every month? And you know, nibble away at that cow throughout the year? I kind of doubt it. I mean, if we killed all the chickens, who is going to lay eggs for us? Conversely, would I dare skim the cream off of my cow’s milk and throw it away? Of course not. That’s insanity.
There’s got to be a balance. I live in Oregon, not Alaska. But I’m not saying I disagree with the above information, either. Fallon says the the robustly healthy people Price studied ate an average of 40% of their calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 40% from carbohydrates. That’s average. That means there is a spectrum of a healthy ratio of these macro-nutrients. The groups Price studied were isolated–meaning they ate what their land provided them. I think it would be wise to utilize what our own lands give us as much as possible, allowing for trade of some valuable foods we can’t get at home, such as coconut oil for those who don’t live in tropical climates (which happens to be a great, non-animal source of saturated fat!).
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In other words, use your common sense and your intuition to guide you on your food choices, and then pay attention! to how your body is responding. Educate yourself on what “side effects” may occur when you drastically change your diet (because you may misinterpret withdrawal cravings as a sign that your body needs a certain food–trust me, your body does not need refined sugar or caffeine!). The dietary changes a person makes should provide more energy, a greater sense of wellbeing, and improved overall health. If you feel worse, go back to your inner guidance and figure out where you went wrong. You may find your dietary needs change over time, depending on the season, your activity level, reproductive processes, age, etc.
I absolutely have faith that Nourishing Traditions is going to help me improve my family’s diet. I know not everything in it is going to be for me, but every little improvement helps. I have increased my family’s saturated fat intake, but to a level I think is sensible–it doesn’t matter how good it is for us, if we abuse it. If you want to ask me about the vibrant Eskimos that eat a diet where 80% of the calories come from fat, I will point out that they live in a very cold climate, so they probably need more fat to sustain them, and that fat comes primarily from whale blubber, which is probably different from the fat we eat here. And certainly people who have food intolerances may need to lean more heavily on the animal foods–perhaps until their gut is healed, or perhaps indefinitely. There is also our ancestry to consider: Some people are just genetically geared toward more dairy, or more grain, or more veggies, or more meat, or varying ratios of the macro-nutrients fat, protein, and carbohydrates. However, I would caution anyone who feels inclined to eat loads of saturated fat and cholesterol: Don’t forget to eat other foods that nourish you, and I highly recommend you don’t over-cook your meat, and that you eat some of it raw, and you make sure it’s quality, lest you end up like the people mentioned in this post.