- What Great Grandma Can Teach Us About Food, Part 2: Fats and Oils
If you haven’t read my first article about the state of health of our our nation since the inception of the USDA Food Guidelines and the Fear of Fat era set in, please do so here.
As I discussed in the first article, I believe that many of our modern ailments are due to a loss of traditional ways of eating. As a Holistic Doctor, I work with patients and clients of all ages, and I am acutely aware that we seem to be getting sicker and sicker with each generation. I believe that if we could return to the ways of eating of our grandmothers and great grandmothers, we could prevent 90 percent of our modern diseases.
One of THE BIGGEST changes in our food supply over the past 60 years has been in the fats and oils we use. What we are currently being told to consume is literally killing us.
Public Enemy #2: Vegetable and Seed Oils, AKA “Industrial Seed Oils”
Vegetable oil. Sounds so benign right? Anything “vegetable” MUST be good for you, right? And the American Heart Association, the USDA Food Guidelines, the AMA and the American Dietetics Association all say, “Cut back on saturated fats and instead choose vegetable oils.” Of course they can be trusted. Why would we question all these authorities?
Well, because they skipped a few details.
Cherry-Picking the Science
The Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill issued a report detailing some of these missing details in their 2010 statement, published in Nutrition Magazine and on PubMed, which states the following:
“….Important aspects of these recommendations [the USDA, AMA etc] remain unproven, yet a dietary shift in this direction has already taken place even as overweight/obesity and diabetes have increased. Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC (the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2010) Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science. An objective assessment of evidence in the DGAC Report does not suggest a conclusive proscription against low-carbohydrate diets. The DGAC Report does not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that increases in whole grain and fiber and decreases in dietary saturated fat, salt, and animal protein will lead to positive health outcomes. Lack of supporting evidence limits the value of the proposed recommendations as guidance for consumers or as the basis for public health policy. It is time to reexamine how US dietary guidelines are created and ask whether the current process is still appropriate for our needs.” (1)
Ancel Keys and the Seven Country Study
So where do we find this “incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting or summarizing literature…. and limitations and controversies in the science”? To find where the trail of lies began, we need to go back to Ancel Keys and his “7 Country Study” in 1958 and the corresponding 22 country study that brought to the forefront the theory called the “Diet Heart Hypothesis.” The Diet Heart Hypothesis states that saturated fat leads to an increase in cholesterol in the blood, and this leads to heart disease in humans. This now debunked theory was the basis for Ancel Keys’ research. (2) (3)
I will not bore you with the details, except to say that, despite being badly done, cherry-picked, criticized by all his contemporaries and debunked over and over again, Keys’ study was the basis for the entirety of the USDA Food Guidelines beginning in 1961. The McGovern Commission took the word and the work of Ancel Keys and made it public policy without the support from many in the nutrition field. In short, it was a policy decision, made by a bunch of government policy makers, that has impacted the diet of America since the 1960s.
You can read a great article on the debunking here. This quote from the author, Denise Minger, eloquently demonstrates how the study that determined the entire USDA Food Guide Position for the next 70 years was cherry-picked, misinterpreted and full of confounding factors:
“Although total fat, animal fat, and animal protein were associated with heart disease in this data, those variables were associated with less death from pretty much everything else. Overall, the countries with higher fat and animal food intake had longer life expectancies than the rest. This doesn’t prove that animal foods make you immortal or that plant foods will slit your throat in the middle of the night: it’s mostly a result of countries with more money and a higher standard of living tending to eat more animal products (along with having lower rates of infectious disease, better health care, diets higher in industrially processed foods, and so forth). There’s so much confounding involved with this subject that I don’t even wanna touch it with a ten-foot statistical pole.”
Despite the lack of good science, saturated fat was made the villain, the low-fat USDA Guidelines were in the works and industrial seed and vegetable oils were about to see their day in the sun.
The Fate of Saturated Fat and the Rise of Industrial Seed Oils: Their Solution to the Diet Heart Myth and a Windfall for Big Agra
In the early 1900s, Proctor and Gamble sealed their legacy by learning how to hydrogenate oils in order to make soap and candles. By 1908, the company owned eight cottonseed mills and had cornered the market on soap and light in the United States. But when electricity was born, P&G realized that candles were soon to be a thing of the past, and they turned their efforts into finding new uses for their cottonseed oil. In 1910 P&G’s Crisco hit the market. Made from hydrogenated cottonseed oil, this manufactured, never-before-seen fat was a tough sell for housewives of the day. It took the largest marketing campaign ever seen to convince the public that Crisco was THE New Fat on the block: “made from plants, healthy, kosher, parava and high smoke point.”
Crisco’s popularity later benefited immensely when butter was rationed during World War II.
But the real boon for Crisco and other hydrogenated seed oils came with Ancel Keys’ “Seven Country Study,” together with the McGovern Commission’s eagerness — initially to quell American hunger, but later to promote a vegetarian diet and appease Big Agra:
“In 1961, with Ancel Keys on the Board, the American Heart Association (AHA) officially threw its weight behind the idea that saturated fat was causing heart disease — implying that Proctor & Gamble’s profit-driven corralling of Americans away from lard and butter had accidentally been good for their health. Around the same year, the nation’s margarine consumption exceeded butter intake for the first time in history.
It seemed Crisco had done the impossible and lived up to its own unbridled hype. But there was a dark side to all this purity. With cottonseed oil’s omega-6 to omega-3 ratio registering a magnitude 258 to 1, Crisco became the first ingredient to unleash unprecedented levels of linoleic acid — a polyunsaturated fat — into the American diet. Unknown to even the sharpest nutritionists of the day, Crisco had invited two killers into the American diet: trans fat resulting from partially hydrogenating oils, and an astronomical intake of omega-6 fats — both now known to increase the risk of heart disease and cause inflammatory immune responses. It would be many decades before anyone realized what had gone so horribly wrong. In fact, the USDA would promote trans fats all the way up until 2005.” (4)
Crisco and other hydrogenated plant and seed oils are clearly Public Enemy #2 (read about #1 here). The U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in heart disease and other inflammatory diseases since the crowning of the Almighty Vegetable Oil in 1961.
This chart shows the dramatic rise in heart disease as the consumption of animal fats is replaced by hydrogenated, industrial seed oils.
More proof of INCREASED SATURATED FAT CONSUMPTION AND DECREASE IN HEART DISEASE.
The chart below shows a clear rise in cardiovascular disease since the introduction of industrial seed oils, beginning with Crisco in 1910 and increasing exponentially in the 1950s and ’60s. More shockingly, the rates of cancer have also steadily risen. I will go into cancer and industrial seed oils below.
Polyunsaturated Oils and Omega-6’s — Why We’ve Gone Too Far
OK, so, if you believe the scientists were following a grain of truth, studies DO show that polyunsaturated fats seem to decrease LDL cholesterol. But if you are up on the research, LDL cholesterol is NOT THE ONLY PLAYER and merely a pawn in the game of cardiovascular diseases, which is really a disease of inflammation. (5) These industrial seed oils are also very high in Omega-6’s which, yes, we need some of, but not the ratios currently present in the Standard American Diet. Our ancestors ate a diet that had a ratio of close to 1:1 Omega-3:Omega-6 fats. Omega-3’s being the ANTI-INFLAMMATORY fats and OMEGA-6’s the highly inflammatory fats. These are the ratios that our bodies have adapted to over millennia. Our standard American diet has ratios in the 1:10 to 1:25 range. These are HIGHLY inflammatory ratios. And this has everything to do with the “Heart-Healthy Vegetable Oils” that have been promoted for the past 30-50 years.
The Damage Omega-6 and Polyunsaturated Fats Do in Our Bodies
Industrial seed oils like canola, soybean, corn and cottonseed are HIGHLY processed with heat, chemicals and pressure. They are essentially oxidized and damaged before they even make it to the store shelf. They are fragile and inflammatory, and our bodies simply do not recognize them. These oils are impossible to produce without a factory and modern processes, and were not available until 100 years go. WE ARE NOT EVOLVED TO BE ABLE TO USE, TOLERATE NOR BENEFIT FROM THEM. And yet our government has been espousing their glories since 1960. WHAT the HECK right??
I’ll give you some hints: $$$, Big Agriculture, Government Lobbyists.
I’ll give you another hint: Your body doesn’t know what to do with these oils, and cancer, heart disease, and a host of inflammatory diseases are on the rise since we started using them.
Polyunsaturated fats in industrial seed oils are extremely fragile, due to their many unsaturated bonds. They are unstable chemically, which makes them oxidize very easily. Cancer thrives in an environment ravaged by oxidization.
Equally as scary, when we consume a diet high in polyunsaturated fats, our bodies have no choice but to incorporate these fragile fatty acids into our cell membranes. Because they are easily damaged and oxidized, the cells are extremely susceptible to damage and cancer. Skin cells wrinkle and oxidize, leading to cancer. Every cell membrane in our body, deprived of the right fats to build strong, supple cell membranes, begin to function improperly. The definition of cancer is “cells functioning improperly, on their own and not listening to the signaling of cells around them.” Cell membrane function, inflammation and immune response all contribute to cancer. Polyunsaturated fats contribute negatively to all of these circumstances.
In addition, the Omega-6 levels in these vegetable oils are an inflammatory nightmare.
Combined, the polyunsaturated-ness and the inflammatory Omega-6-ness are a deadly combination.
My Favorite Topic: Sun and its Benefits — All But Destroyed by Polyunsaturated Fats
I believe that the sun is essential to health, does not cause cancer when used wisely, is preventive against cancer and is the elixir of life, working synergistically with our skin, eyes and bodies to maintain vitality. One theory on skin cancer is that when our cell membranes are comprised of fragile, brittle polyunsaturated fats, the sun can bake and damage the skin cells causing cancer. (1,2) NOT SO WITH A DIET AMPLE IN PROPER RATIOS OF FATS, INCLUDING OMEGA-3 FATS AND SATURATED FATS.
So What Can You Do?
1). Ignore the dietary advice to use vegetable oils instead of natural animal fats, butter, saturated fats, fats from fruits like olives, coconuts and palm.
DO USE: olive oil, butter, ghee, tallow, lard, duck fat, nut oils, coconut oil, palm oil, fish oils. VARY your fats in order to meet the complex dietary combinations we need as humans (just like the colors of the rainbow with veggies!)
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE: corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil.
2) Follow directions for “smoke point” for various oils. In general, animal fats can be heated the highest; coconut oil is up there, as is peanut oil. Olive oils is a low heat, and flax is a NO heat oil. Heat damage leads to carcinogenesis and oxidative damage
3) Fat does not make you fat on its own. A diet high in fat AND crappy carbs will make you fat. While choosing healthy fats, including healthy animal fats, adults should lower the carbohydrate intake and stick with whole food carbohydrate like roots, tubers, squash and veggies. Highly processed grains and other carbs (boxed mashed potatoes would be an example of a highly processed crappy carb) are NOT healthy, are completely unnecessary and cause high blood sugar, diabetes and inflammatory diseases; see my pervious article on sugar.
4) DO NOT FEAR THE FAT — BUT CHOOSE WISELY! Animals fats should come from pasture-raised, humanely raised, free-range, “100% grass fed,” ideally local farmer-raised animals. Fruit and nut oils like olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia nut, peanut, etc should be organic and cold pressed. Butter should come from the same guidelines as “animal fats” above: pasture and grass-raised. Conventionally raised, grain-finished animals are unhealthy, and their fat and dairy are too.
5) Eat FULL-FAT organic dairy, raw when possible. Do not eat non-fat ANYTHING. The defatting process increases the sugar content of dairy. Remember, we want higher healthy fat, lower sugar. Read these articles if you aren’t convinced. (6) (7). And this book: Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubs.
6) Adding fat to carbohydrates lowers their blood glucose spiking potential. This slows down the sugar blast.
7) Adding fat to veggies increases their nutrient availability by up to 20 percent.
8) Veggies are the best vehicle for high quality butter your child will ever eat!
9) Fats are full of a variety of nutrients from A, D, K2 to E, anti-virals, minerals and phytonutrients.
10) Fat does not raise insulin at all. It is good for type 2 diabetics; good for fat loss; good for energy and pulling energy out of cells. Insulin, on the other hand, is the storage hormone. Want to store your fat and sugar? You need insulin. Want to burn stored fat and sugar? Reduce your insulin.
11) Cook like Great Grandma did, for goodness sakes: Use butter, tallow, lard and keep the meat on the bone! (for collagen = wrinkles, gut health, joint support). DO NOT eat what Proctor and Gamble made millions on by finding uses for their excess cottonseed harvest. Do NOT eat what should be reserved for soap and candles: excess cottonseed and corn oil are waste products. NOT FOOD!
The hardest thing about his challenge is that industrial, CHEAP seed oils are in EVERY processed food on the store shelf and used in EVERY restaurant. McDonalds used to use lard; we would be much better off if they still did! So look for products that are attempting to substitute with avocado, coconut and olive oil. Eat out less often. But beware: Just because a product puts olive oil as the first oil in the ingredients, it often also contains soybean, corn and other oils. It is a ruse. Don’t fall for it. This takes vigilance. At home, keep your fats friendly so that you have some cheating room when you have no control.
I challenge you to switch all your household fats and oils today! You will be surprised how easy salad dressing can be with some high quality olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper! And real butter is…..well, amazing!