There’s been a lot of hoopla in the news lately about fats, and for good reason. It seems we’ve had it all wrong about fats for the past few decades. We’ve been told saturated fats are bad for us, not to eat egg yolks, that canola oil and corn oil are healthy, that low-fat food is the way to go for health and weight management. But at the same time we’ve heeded all of this advice, the nation has grown larger (in girth, not just population!), cardiometabolic diseases are rampant, and auto-immune diseases are on the rise. Why? What’s happened?
The rise of convenience….
The last few decades saw an ever-increasing reliance on convenience foods; everything from drive-thru’s to frozen foods to heavily processed, packaged foods. There are a couple problems with these convenience foods. Fast foods tend to be high in heavily processed meats and starches with loads of added chemicals to make them taste better as well as being processed and cooked with industrial vegetable oils made from genetically modified strands of corn and soy or extracted from seeds like safflower and sunflower.
These industrial vegetable oils are also found in most packaged foods, along with a bunch of refined sugars and starches, and it’s likely that this combination of industrial vegetable oils, refined and heavily processed grains and sugars, and synthetic ingredients (I include the genetically modified foods that incorporate things like round-up and other pest control chemicals into the plant itself in this category) is contributing heavily (no pun intended) to the rise of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune conditions, and gut dysbiosis (all health starts in the gut! When our gut is out of whack, without the good bacteria we need to break down and metabolize foods, everything is out of whack).
One of the problems with industrial oils is that they put our fatty acid profiles out of whack (there are different types of fatty acids and we need them all, including omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, SFAs, CLAs and some others). Because seed oils are so predominant in much of the Standard American Diet, though (let’s face it, we eat a lot of convenience foods), we eat much more omega-6 fatty acids than any of the others. And when they’re packaged with those other unsavory elements (in the health sense, not necessarily the palate sense!), we get bombarded with all kinds of stuff that puts our digestive and cardiometabolic systems out of whack.
What’s the haps on sat fats?
But what about saturated fat? Isn’t it unhealthy? Seems that saturated fats don’t really raise cholesterol levels and that low saturated fat diets may not actually prevent heart disease. With the rise of low-fat and low-saturated fat diets, a lot of foods that were marketed as “healthy” replaced real fats (like butter, lard, and minimally processed oils like olive) with the aforementioned industrial vegetable oils and a whole lot of sugar and “flavorings” to make up for the lack of taste. And instead of reducing the incidence of heart disease, the risk actually went up. The worst part is, we ate all that low-fat crap (that tasted like just that) thinking we were eating healthy.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I believe there is some huge big food conspiracy out there intending to make us all sick and fat. I sincerely hope this misguidance and misinformation was unintentional and born out of not knowing what these genetically modified and heavily processed foods would do to our long term health and vitality. But while I don’t believe there is a conspiracy, I also don’t want to be a lab experiment. It’s going to take years (decades, likely) of research to find out just how much the Standard American Diet is impacting our health. I don’t want to learn 10 or 20 years from now that what I put in my body today is diminishing my quality of life. I want to be healthy, active, and engaged with the world up until my last breath.
Taking back our food…and our health
So what can we do to take back our food and our health? I think it starts with eating whole and minimally processed foods most of the time. Real food, that we could grow or raise ourselves (if we were so inclined). Including butter, ghee, coconut oil, cacao (mmmm – dark chocolate!), and other saturated fats. Also eat nuts (so we’re still getting omega-6’s, just not in the doses present in most convenience foods), olives, avocados, and fish to balance out fat intake. And eat a lot of plants – vegetables, tubers, and fruits. Try to eat locally, supporting local farmers and businesses (and therefore the local economy and health of your community) and organically if available. Eat and drink fermented plants, like sauerkraut, pickled veggies, yogurt with live and active cultures (and no added crap like sugars and “flavorings”), kefir and kombucha (and/or take a probiotic). And drink more plants in general, like coffee and tea (and even wine and beer – both made from plants AND fermented!).
For optimal health, I also believe we need to eat animals and that we choose to eat animals that eat good, too; grass-fed meats, pastured pork and poultry, and wild-caught seafood. These animals have healthier fat profiles and more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than there grain-fed or conventionally farmed counterparts. Is it more expensive? Yes, and I know that it’s not practical or available to everyone but I do believe it’s important (maybe even more important than buying organic produce). I think we should consider it an investment in our health and I truly believe the costs will be more than offset by fewer health problems and medical bills as we age.
To sum it all up…
I don’t believe any one food is going to make us healthy or kill us. But something needs to be done to tweak the Standard American Diet so that as a nation, we can become healthier (in mind and body AND fiscally) because what we’re eating now is obviously not supporting good health. We’re living longer, that’s true, but we’re not living BETTER and longer. Too many are reaching older ages with failing health and low quality of life. Let’s get older AND healthier by being mindful of what we put into our bodies.
I also want to make clear that I’m not saying that every morsel you put into your mouth needs to be the a whole, unprocessed, local bite; food is only one aspect of our mental and physical health and stressing over food can be just as unhealthy as eating crappy food. So enjoy all of the foods you LOVE, without guilt and without worry. Enjoy those foods with the people you love; eating can be a wonderful social occasion that also allows you to connect with friends and family. I just want us all to be more aware of anything that we’re eating, thinking about how it’s nourishing our bodies and minds and making our lives richer, better, and full of vitality, enjoyment, and good health.
Let food be thy medicine…
Food is medicine. It has the power to heal us, to nurture us, and to help us grow. I, for one, would rather put a whole food, that was raised by a local farmer and minimally processed into my body rather than something that was run through a bunch of machines and plopped out into a vat or, worse yet, created in a lab from who knows what.
If you want to read more about any of these topics, I’ve included a couple more “sciency” links for you. If you want even more, I’d be happy to share some of my resources on such matters! Just contact me via Facebook, Instagram, Email, or Twitter through the links at the bottom of the page!
Some links for fellow nerds: