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Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fats and Oils
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Aug 03, 2004
After graduating from chiropractic school, I made my way to a small Inuit village at the northern tip of Alaska to begin my first practice as a chiropractor. One of the most impressive memories I have of my time in northern Alaska was watching the natives haul a 20-foot whale onto the beach and divide the “muktuk” (whale blubber) into three by three sheets, one per family. I learned that the natives chopped these sheets of whale blubber into small pieces, about the size of small grapes, to be eaten raw and sometimes dipped in seal oil. In addition to whale blubber and seal oil, the natives continued to eat traditional staples such as whale meat, caribou meat, fish, and goose meat.
My observations in rural Alaska are congruent with the studies of Weston A. Price, a Harvard-trained dentist who traveled around the world in the 1930s, visiting many indigenous populations and observing their diets and health. Dr. Price found that the foods of isolated primitive peoples contained at least ten times the fat-soluble vitamins A and D found in modern diets. He also found that all healthy populations had at least one source of animal fat and protein in their diets, such as fatty fish, wild game, organ meats, eggs, and butter. These healthy populations did not suffer from heart disease, digestive problems, cancer, or obesity at the rates that we do.
For the past twenty years, we have been encouraged to believe that saturated fats and cholesterol, both found in animal fats, are the main causes of chronic degenerative diseases. Ask the average North American what they know about saturated fat, and the majority will answer that it causes heart disease. Ask the average high school student what they know about cholesterol, and they will tell you that it is bad for you. For years, I would have answered the same. Are these views on saturated fat and cholesterol with merit?
Here are some facts about saturated fats:
- They make up at least 50 percent of our cell membranes, providing essential rigidity and strength
- They enhance the immune system
- They help incorporate calcium into our bones
- Some of them have antimicrobial properties that protect us against harmful microorganisms in our
And here are some facts about cholesterol:
- It contributes to cell membrane rigidity and strength, just as saturated fats do
- It is used to make hormones that help us deal with stress, as well to make sex hormones
- It is converted to vitamin D, essential for proper growth, healthy bones, a healthy nervous system, muscle tone, and proper immune system function
- It is used to make bile, needed for digestion of fat in our foods
- It acts as an antioxidant, actually protecting us against cellular damage that leads to heart disease and cancer
- It helps maintain a healthy intestinal lining, offering protection against autoimmune illnesses
Clearly, saturated fat and cholesterol are needed for many vital processes. We need both in our diets to be as healthy as possible. The danger comes when we eat fats and cholesterol that have been damaged by heat, oxygen, and unnatural farming practices. Damaged fats and cholesterol can lead to injury to the walls of our blood vessels, promoting a build-up of plaque that heals the injured areas. It is this build-up of plaque that impairs blood circulation and paves the way to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
The following foods are likely sources of damaged fats and/or damaged cholesterol:
- Pasteurized dairy products – this includes cheese and ice cream that have been made from pasteurized milk
- Powdered milk
- Powdered eggs
- Meats that have been cooked at high temperatures, especially those that have been fried or deep-fried
- Most vegetable oils
- All hydrogenated oils
The following foods are concentrated sources of healthy fats and/or healthy cholesterol:
- Nuts and seeds
- Cold-water fish
- Organic eggs
- Organic chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Virgin Coconut Oil
- Red Palm Oil – used throughout Africa
- Cold Pressed Olive Oil
The difference in organic and non-organic animal foods is significant. As an example, let’s look at the difference between organic and non-organic eggs. We function best when we eat an equal balance of two fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. Having too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 leads to numerous health problems, including generalized inflammation, high blood pressure, depressed immune function, weight gain, an irritated intestinal tract, and a tendency to form blood clots. An organic egg, one that comes from a hen allowed to eat green plants and insects, contains an optimal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids of 1:1. A commercial supermarket egg from a hen that is fed mainly grain in a factory-farm environment has a ratio closer to 15 or 20:1.
Virgin coconut oil and red palm oil are the best oils to cook with because they contain a large percentage of saturated fats that remain stable and undamaged with heat. All other vegetable oils are damaged easily with heat exposure. This is why cold-pressed olive oil is best eaten raw.
Getting back to my time in rural Alaska, I remember being impressed with stories that some of my elderly patients told me about how strong and healthy their parents and grandparents were. For Inuits living before the mid 1900s, it was a regular occurrence to use small, homemade kayaks to go hunting in cold arctic waters. Every spring and fall was time to go out on the ice or water for several days to weeks at a time to hunt for whales. Although hunting and eating traditional foods are still a part of the Inuit culture, some of my older patients remarked how sad it was to see today’s generation of Inuits suffering from numerous health problems like cancer, heart disease, horrible dental health, and crippling arthritis. By all accounts, these ailments were very rare in the recent past.
Of course, it was no surprise to discover that soft drinks and fast food have become staples in the Inuit diet. Planes flew in to our village everyday, carrying many cases of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Doritos, and most processed convenience products found in regular supermarkets. As a special treat, many people who were returning from trips to Anchorage and Seattle brought back boxes from Pizza Hut and McDonalds for their families and friends.
I can only hope that populations like this one will not mistakenly group their pizzas and Big Macs with their traditional animal foods as fatty foods that cause chronic disease. Many people I have worked with over the years have made this mistake and ended up developing health problems that were partly due to a deficiency of healthy fats in their diets. I made this same mistake for five years.
To learn more about the difference between healthy fats and cholesterol and damaged ones, I recommend that you read Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon, and The Cholesterol Myths : Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease, by Uffe Ravnskov.
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