Fat has a bad reputation in our modern culture. And that is putting it mildly. Its consumption is blamed for everything from heart disease and strokes to earthquakes. Alright, I made the last part up, but fat certainly gets a very bad rap.
Is the bad rap deserved? Absolutely not.
Here is a quick (and I emphasize quick) summary of the basics of fat. All fats and oils consist of a mixture of three categories of fat. First, there are saturated fats, which predominate in animals and in some tropical plants like coconuts and which are solid at room temperature. Second, there are monounsaturated fats, which are common in both plants and animals and which are liquid at room temperature but turn solid in the refrigerator. Olive oil consists primarily of monounsaturated fat. Finally, there are polyunsaturated fats, which predominate in all vegetables and which are liquid even in the refrigerator.
All fats provide health benefits. They provide a concentrated source of energy. They slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. They supply valuable vitamins. They allow for the absorption through the intestinal wall of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Without fats, such vitamins would not be absorbed and would be wasted. Finally, they provide cholesterol, an extremely valuable chemical that is necessary for the proper functioning of the brain and for the repair of damaged tissue.
Conventional health wisdom states that saturated fat clogs arteries. As a result, it claims, saturated fat is always unhealthy, and one should instead stick to mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
You can thank the soy and corn industries for such wisdom, which they promote in an effort to increase the consumption of the vegetable oils that flow from their overly abundant, government-subsidized products. These industries are powerful enough to influence scientific studies on the subject of fat. And as one would expect when the underlying science is governed by profits, such wisdom is wrong.
The food traditions provided by past cultures throughout history are a much more reliable guide to the comparative health benefits of saturated v. polyunsaturated fats. Such traditions tell us, and independent science confirms, that saturated fats are extremely healthy.
There is one primary reason for the health difference between saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats, and to a lesser extent mono-unsaturated fats, are chemically stable. Their chemical structure does not easily change, even with cooking and the passage of time. Such stability allows them to resist the process of “oxidation” which turns fats rancid.
Polyunsaturated fat, by contrast, is unstable. Its chemical structure easily changes with cooking and the passage of time. Such instability causes it to be easily “oxidized”, which turns it rancid. Such oxidation is common during the industrial process of extracting oils from vegetables, which process involves extremely high amounts of heat and pressure. Upon being consumed, the droplets of such rancid oils act like little grenades inside the body, often causing physical damage to the interior walls of blood vessels. This damage causes the body to attempt to repair the damage with cholesterol, however, when the cholesterol is rancid as in polyunsaturated oil, such repair process within a badly damaged vessel can cause the blockage of the artery. When such blockage occurs near the heart or in the brain, the blockage can cause a heart-attack or stroke.
In other words, it is polyunsaturated oils like vegetable oil, not saturated fat, that causes heart disease. Let me say that again. VEGETABLE OIL, NOT SATURATED FAT, CAUSES HEART DISEASE.
Only saturated fat provides all the health benefits of fat without increasing the danger of heart disease. One should strive to eat ample amounts of whole foods that contain all of its naturally occurring fats. So eat with relish, in ample amounts, and with a clear conscience the fats that are on steak and bacon, the skin on chicken and fish, and the yolks in eggs.
Saturated fats formed an essential part of the whole foods on which traditional peoples thrived, and on which you can too.
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