FATS ARE GOOD FOR YOU (except when they’re not)

FATS ARE GOOD FOR YOU (except when they’re not)


If you’re still under the impression that
fat is the great evil that lurks within the diets of highly developed nations, you have
got to liberate yourself. To the extent that there is one great evil, it’s probably simple
carbohydrates, not fats, and any notion to the contrary that you still have hanging out
in your head is, in part, the result of a deliberate disinformation campaign that was
propagated by the American sugar industry in the 1960s and 70s. According to a 2016 analysis of historical
documents published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sugar trade
groups paid scientists to produce research that shifted the blame for heart disease from
sugar to fats. In the ensuing decades, U.S. health authorities and other experts promoted
a low-fat, high-carb diet, thus ushering in what Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School
calls “arguably the largest public health experiment in history.” He also calls it a “massive public health
failure,” because, “Throughout the ensuing 40 years, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes
increased several-fold, even as the proportion of fat in the US diet decreased by 25%.” The low-fat, high-carb philosophy that was
bought and paid for by sugar barons made us sicker and fatter. Now, among the people who have already liberated
themselves from this industry propaganda, I think a new mythology is taking hold. “There’s nothing bad about fats — saturated,
unsaturated, they’re all good for you and you should eat as much as you want.” Yes, fats can be good for you, certain fats
in particular. But as Barry White said, “Too much of anything is not good for you, baby,”
and the science exonerating saturated fat is not nearly as settled as some people believe.
And there is at least one form of fat that you probably shouldn’t eat ever. Want details? Field trip to the University
of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where Dr. Raz Shaikh does research on dietary fats,
particularly as they relate to obesity and diabetes. “Certainly I think we all agree on, in the
field, that consuming more Omega-3 fat, which comes from marine sources — fish oils, is
beneficial, or has potential beneficial effects.” Benefits for brain development, for example.
Dr. Shaikh says that much is essentially settled science. Potential benefits would include
lowering inflammation among obese people. Inflammation can cause all kinds of problems,
including diabetes. Dr. Shaikh, in fact, just published a study on this subject, but like
a lot of this research, it’s “pre-clinical,” which means he wasn’t studying humans yet.
He was looking at cells. In contrast, there is “clinical research,”
on humans, indicating that Omega-3s may be good for your heart. “Certainly for things like atherosclerosis
and coronary artery disease. And I want to point out: preventative effects. A lot of
people think that if I eat something, it’s going to treat it. And basically, what we’re
finding, particularly with Omega-3 fatty acids is [if] you take it as a treatment modality,
it may or may not work out for cardiovascular disease. It’s a very debated topic. But there
are some clear-cut benefits, and the best-described one is triglycerides.” That’s free fat floating around in your blood.
Bad for your heart, and Omega-3s lower it. But not all Omega-3s are alike. The “long
chain” ones that we’re talking about right now comes from oily fish, like salmon. The
“short chain” ones that come from, say, walnuts, are probably beneficial too, but not for circulating
fat. Your body can make the long-chain ones form the short-chains ones, but not very efficiently. “So if you don’t eat fish, consume it as a
supplement, and you can purchase them as supplements. Or if you have elevated triglycerides, your
physician may prescribe them for you.” Then there’s the case of Omega-6 fatty acids
that come from things like vegetable oil. These can be good for you too, but they also
provide an example of why it’s dangerous to boil this stuff down to “good fats” vs “bad
fats.” “Certain populations metabolize fat differently,
so African Americans compared to Americans of European ancestry. African Americans, for
a variety of reasons, are more prone to a lot of diseases. Not all, but I’m talking
about metabolic, obesity kind of diseases.” And one reason for that may be that African
Americans appear to metabolize Omega-6s differently — they might not be able to derive the same
benefits from this as, say, I can. “So maybe those are the people that need to
be eating more Omega-3s. And that verdict isn’t out yet. It’s just a hypothesis right
now. But it’s plausible, and there are data that are suggesting that that’s true.” So far we’ve been talking about polyunsaturated
fats. Let’s talk about monounsaturated fats, the big example in my cooking at least being
olive oil. “Clearly increasing your consumption of olive
oil has potential benefits.” Yeah it does, chief among those benefits being
deliciousness. But there’s also evidence that it may reduce blood pressure and LDL, or “bad,”
cholesterol. So, yay olive oil. Yay olive oil! Now we come to the big controversy du jour:
saturated fats. These are the fats that are solid at room temperature and generally come
from animals sources, like meat and dairy. “Saturated fat raises LDL, your ‘bad cholesterol,’
and so that contributes toward atherosclerosis. There’s controversy around that, because there
are studies out there that have shown potential requirements for saturated fats, and there
may be benefits for some of these saturated fats. And again, it boils down to what type
of saturated fat.” There’s some research indicating that saturated
fats from coconuts may be better for you than fats from dairy, like butter and cream, which
in turn may be better for you than fats from meat. But in Dr. Shaikh’s opinion, the jury
is still out on all of that that, and it depends who you are. “If you’re somebody that’s got heart disease,
that has elevated triglycerides, that has high what’s known as HbA1c, glycosylated hemoglobin
— you’re a diabetic, maybe it’s not good for you. Or if you’re a 12-year-old kid who’s
growing, your needs are different.” Take me, for example. I’ve got a certified
case of dad-bod. I’d love to be a little bit leaner, but my
cholesterol and blood pressure are like perfect, so I tend to try to avoid saturated fats,
purely as a means of watching my total calories, and also making room for better fats, like
olive oil. For all the good and bad things you can say about fats, they are the most
calorie-dense macronutrient, by far, and you have to take that into consideration. That said, there is plenty of evidence that
even though carbs have fewer calories, simple carbs like sugar and white flour might make
you fatter than fats, because they mess with your blood sugar and the hormones that regulate
your nutrient absorption and you’re appetite. I don’t know if I take in too much fat, but
I definitely take in too much sugar. And alcohol. Alcohol has calories, too. Last thing to say in defense of fats is to
point out that they are essential nutrients. Your body uses them for all kinds of functions
necessary to keeping you alive, and they’re necessary for your body to absorb other essential
nutrients, namely vitamins A, D, E and K, the “fat soluble” vitamins. So does that mean
you have to eat a bunch of fat with every meal in order to absorb all of the vitamins
you’re eating in that particular sitting? As I understand it, that’s still in question,
but there is plenty of evidence that it helps. Research out of Iowa, for example, has been
looking at the effects of oily salad dressing on nutrient absorption, and they’ve found
a very strong correlation. The more dressing, the more vitamins people were able to absorb
out of their salads. There is one form of fat that you probably
shouldn’t ever eat, and that’s artificial trans fats. These are oils that have been
modified to be solid at room temperature and have a really long shelf-life, and until recently
these were everywhere in processed foods. “At a very molecular level, they have effects
on membranes, an effect on, you know, structural effects. But trans fats in general contribute
toward heart disease, and that’s become very well-accepted. And so, you can see, with food
policy, that trans fats have been cut down.” One place where you or I might still encounter
artificial trans fats in the kitchen is in shortening. Where that leaves shortening,
and the intimately intertwined discipline of Southern-style biscuit-making, is a topic
that we’ll take on next week.

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