Many are plagued by this "disease," which grew strong in the late-20th century and has led to a full-blown fat-free hysteria. We've seen it everywhere from the general media to school lunchrooms and nutrition classes. It is perpetuated by the Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and most influentially by the USDA. How can something so inGRAINed in our health knowledge be so wrong?
Contrary to Popular Belief
Despite promoting a reduced-fat and fat-free lifestyle over the last 20 years, Americans have been getting fatter. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are all at all-time highs. One large study summarized here started back in 1993 and tracked nearly 50,000 women for eight years. Close to 20,000 followed a low-fat diet, while the rest continued their usual diet. Here are the results:
The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed no benefits for a low-fat diet. Women assigned to this eating strategy did not appear to gain protection against breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease. And after eight years, their weights were generally the same as those of women following their usual diets. [see article for citations]and
The findings from the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial came as a surprise to many Americans who have been hearing for years that reducing fat is important for long-term health. Yet long-term follow-up studies such as the Nurses Health Study have consistently found little relation between the percentage of calories from fat and risks of breast cancer, colon cancer, or coronary heart disease. Such studies are one reason why major reviews of diet and health during the last five years, including those conducted by the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee, have moved away from advocating low fat intake to an emphasis on the type of fat.Another large study found that the Atkins diet trumped the food pyramid standard diet, Zone Diet (40 carbs:30 protein:30 fat), and Ornish (high carb) at producing weight loss and decreasing risk of heart disease. What makes Atkins so different? It is the only very low-carb diet that was tested. Sure, eating bun-less cheese burgers and bacon might not be very healthy, but compared to low-fat diets and moderate- to high-carbohydrate diets, Atkins won. Looks to me like carbohydrates may be the real issue, not fat. If anything, the higher fat diets did better!
Here is a (LONG) presentation from the Stanford lecture series on the findings of that study given by the lead researcher, a vegetarian. It is fun and filled with visuals, so it's worth the time and effort to watch. A good summary of it is here.
So why aren't our healthcare sources catching up with the current research? Their tenacity to desperately hold on to out-dated policy calling for the reduction of fat IS NOT making us thin or protecting us from disease. It is perpetuating a myth. Just look at the general public consensus: we all know that fat makes us fat, right? From my school lunch post, we know this is still being taught in schools and infiltrates school menus.
Bottom line: The low-fat and fat-free diet recommendation is NOT supported by current science.
Why Fat-Free is Health-Free
Fat is not some boogeyman of the macronutrients. Fat is essential, hence the essential fatty acids. Essential is a nifty term given to substances your body CANNOT make and HAS TO ingest through your diet. The essential fatty acids are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid. Two other omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are best consumed from dietary sources because although your body can synthesize them from ALA, the conversion is inefficient. The omega-6 fatty acids are prevalent in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Omega-3s are rich in fish oil, fatty fish, chickens (and their eggs) fed flax and pastured, and grass-fed livestock. The increase in our use of vegetable oils and decreased consumption of fish and grass-fed livestock has lead to an overbalance of omega-6 to omega-3s in the typical American diet. While omega-6 fatty acids are still essential, too much leads to problems, while more omega-3s is protective of many diseases. Basically, the bottom line is ditch the veggie oils, supplement with fish oil, and eat pastured chickens and their eggs, wild fish, and grass-fed beef. You'll still get plenty of omega-6s.
Okay, so now we know the dangers of giving up fat entirely. You can't live without essential fatty acids. But, fat-freers will still get plenty of omega-6 in their diets due to the prevalence of veggie oils in everything processed, despite the "fat free" labels ("fat free" can really just mean very little fat, not entirely without fat--same goes for "trans fat free"). However, where will fat-freers get their omega-3?
Fat is required in your body for many jobs. One is storage of energy. A woman too low in body fat can't menstruate. There just isn't enough fuel to support her body and certainly not any excess to support a child. Without enough body fat, you start to eat away at yourself, self-cannibalizing your tissues to fuel essential functions. There is no excess. That tells us something about resources--your body NEEDS fat to support its function. It can't function without it. Excess calories whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate are stored as fat. If anything, carbohydrate is the Big Bad. Your body can produce glucose internally without consuming it, so in reality, you don't need to consume carbohydrates for their energy. According to Dr. Eades in Protein Power,
the actual amount of carbohydrates required by humans for health is zero.OMG--read that again, it's life changing! It totally overturns the dominant paradigm which places carbohydrates at the base of our beloved food pyramid (or as the dominant sliver nowadays). You don't need carbohydrates. There are no essential carbohydrates like there are essential fatty acids or essential amino acids. You might want to consume carbohydrates for their vitamins and minerals, but without fat, that is a losing battle. Here's why:
Another job of fat is dissolving fat-soluable vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins are water-proof, meaning water can't break them down and you can only capture them and use them if you have fat to bind to them and take them where we need them to go. If you want to find out more about what each fat-soluable vitamin does for our body and how vital they are, read up on them here. So guess what happens to all the precious vitamin D and A fortified in our dairy when we drink skim milk? Flush! It is our fatphobia that has lead to this fortification because the typical American eats so little fatty natural sources of these vitamins (fatty fish, nuts, eggs, grass-fed meat, and oils). And with our busy lives we definitely do not get enough vitamin D synthesis from the sun, even those living in Florida, the Sunshine State!
How about the health-conscious salad eater with fat-free dressing and dip for his/her veggies? Where do all those precious vitamins go? Flush, flush! Vitamins E, K, and A (precursors) are prevalent in leafy greens and carotenoids (for vitamin A). Without fat consumed along with veggies (also sources of these vitamins, itself), there is no absorption of these vitamins. Thus, the fat-free craze necessitated supplementation of essential fatty acids into our already highly processed foods because we were no longer eating natural sources of fat-soluble vitamins and couldn't absorb them from veggies alone. But this doesn't solve the problem if we still aren't eating any fat with the fortified foods!
(Don't worry, there's a recipe coming--keep reading!)
Replacing The Fat
What replaces the fat in naturally fatty products like oils and butters? Give you a hint. It is a big C. In baking, a standard to reduce fat is to increase the sugar or use shortening or margarine instead of butter (more sugar to spike your blood sugar or hydrogenated oils and trans fat--which is the lesser evil?).
Check out the carbohydrate in uber-popular Kraft Ranch Dressing and Kraft Fat Free Ranch Dressing. The fat free version has 11g of carbohydrate, compared to 3g for the regular ranch. Granted it only has one more gram per serving of sugar, but what the hell are the other unnamed carbohydrates in there? Remember, aside from the fiber, no matter the source: carbohydrate breaks down into sugar in your body. And without fat to slow down digestion and keep you feeling full longer, your blood is quickly flooded with glucose, insulin mobilizes to get it out and store excess as fat, gets too much out since so much insulin was required, and leaves you with a blood sugar crash, which brings irritability and hunger, again.
Let's go to the video-tape per se, and dissect these two frankenfoods to see the real cost of fat free:
Kraft Ranch Dressing
Ingredients: WATER, SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, GARLIC JUICE, BUTTERMILK, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, WHEY, PHOSPHORIC ACID, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, EGG WHITES, VINEGAR, XANTHAN GUM, CITRIC ACID, POLYSORBATE 60, SPICE, NATURAL FLAVOR, ENZYMES, WITH SODIUM LACTATE, NATAMYCIN, AND CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA AS PRESERVATIVES. CONTAINS: MILK, EGG.
Ingredients: WATER, CORN SYRUP, VINEGAR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WHEY (FROM MILK), SALT, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF GARLIC JUICE, ONION JUICE, SOYBEAN OIL, XANTHAN GUM, POTASSIUM SORBATE AND CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA AS PRESERVATIVES, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, PHOSPHORIC ACID, PROPYLENE GLYCOL ALGINATE, NATURAL FLAVOR, DRIED PARSLEY, DRIED GREEN ONIONS, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE, SPICE, CARAMEL COLOR, SULFITING AGENTS, YELLOW 5.I highlighted those ingredients that differ. At first glance, you can tell that the fat free version is making up for its reduction of fat with a plethora of pinatas--sorry, I mean ingredients, but since they carry within them a host of sugary treats, the slip is fitting. Both are unacceptable because I can't pronounce half of their ingredients or identify most of them as actual foods, besides the fact that there are just too damn many of them. But all that is besides the point. This is a case study of the average American, a ranch-dressing aficionado, told by the health community to choose fat free ranch over regular ranch dressing.
The regular ranch gets its fat (at least it has some?) from soybean oil (a vegetable oil rich in omega-6 fatty acids we are trying to avoid) and sugar is up there as its #3 ingredient. Fat-free has sugar in the form of corn syrup AND high fructose corn syrup as its #2 and #4 ingredients. You already know my argument against high fructose corn syrup and the processing to create these frankensugars nauseates me. Do you really need sugar in your salad dressing?
Despite the snooze-factor, let's take a closer look at some of the ingredients that differ. This is IMPORTANT because I bet you've partaken in processed foods with naivety just like me. Let's look at the dark underbelly of those most common:
Monosodium Glutamate is MSG, which has a spotty history and may be responsible for symptoms like headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, and chest pain after eating MSG-laden foods. Disodium Gyanylate and Inosinate are a pair that take the place of MSG in the fat-free dressing. They provide saltiness and are derived from fish or yeast. Recommendations against asthmatics, those with gout, or babies using products with this couplet make me a little nervous.
Citric Acid is a flavoring and preservative extracted from mould that eat sugar, mostly derived from corn sources. Like yeast-fed sugar, I would think that citric acid is a little outside the paleo diet. To note: Xanthum Gum is also usually corn-derived (it's also produced by bacteria fed corn-derived sugar). Most chemically processed additives are derived from grains, so be wary of them if not for their highly processed nature (ex. Modified Food Starch), but also for their hidden gluten and anti-nutrients.
It would be nice to know the source of the "Sugar" and what the hell a generalization like "Enzymes" really means, "Spice" too while we're at it. What are they specifically and where do they come from??? I am also concerned about the milk source of the buttermilk and the egg whites. Without any guarantee that the animals were pastured and organic, I have no doubt they are animal products from brutal, inhumane factory farms. Doesn't matter how little we rely upon products from that industry--any use is complacency and keeps them in business.
Let's keep free-falling down this rabbit hole, it only gets more horrifying:
In both dressings there is something mysteriously called "Natural Flavor," but if it was actually natural flavor, why is it an additive? Hello contradiction! Basically, natural flavor is anything from plant or animal used to flavor food. Good luck tracking down that one to find out what you are actually eating. The fat-free dressing also has sinister-sounding "Artificial Color" with Caramel Color and Yellow #5 to boot. All this to get white dressing? Caramel color comes from sugar, usually derived from corn, which amongst other concerns begs the GMO question: what exactly are we eating? Sulfiting agents can be really bad for asthmatics and those sensitive to sulfur, and the fact that the FDA thought them dangerous enough to ban their use on foods eaten raw makes me nervous about their use in food products. Guess who Yellow #5 is also dangerous for? That's right! Asthmatics!
Can you see a trend here? Those with the most compromised and sensitive digestive tracts are falling ill when consuming these artificially produced chemicals added to our foods. This might be a chicken and the egg question begging more research, but I see a connection here between a damaged digestive tract and asthma. What damages the digestive tract? Gluten (for one)! Hmm, does that mean asthmatics might be more inclined to have gluten-intolerance and seriously adverse reactions to gluten a la celiac disease? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes. Giving up gluten reduces asthma. That is a big home-run right there.
Bottom line: Look before you eat.
(And yes, we are almost there!)
The Downward Spiral
So let me connect the dots (la, la, la for those of you who remember PeeWee's Playhouse): the food industry replaces fat with carbohydrate (which breaks down into sugar) and derives most of its chemically processed additives from grains. The sugar puts our blood sugar regulation on over-drive leading to a host of problems, especially since we don't have any fat to mediate digestion and produce satiety. We lose valuable vitamins because we don't have the fat to absorb them. That is a runaway train of metabolic sickness on its own.
But it gets better:
Meanwhile, gluten, lectin, and anti-nutrients from grains in the typical American diet destroy a person's digestive tract. The inflammation, permeability problems, and inefficient, broken digestion that results is further exacerbated by those chemically produced food additives that are, no surprise: allergens! Asthmatics and celiacs are at greatest risk because they are hypersensitive, but when you look at the scientific evidence about what grains do to your body, aren't we all celiacs by varying degrees?
Conclusion: The trade-off of fat for sugar, more carbohydrate, and more additives just isn't worth it.
The True Skinny
So it looks like fat isn't really all that bad for us after all. Whew! And I didn't even touch on the cholesterol myth or go into the nitty gritty of metabolism! We'll save those for another day. If you haven't read my saturated fat rant, please do. I know that is crazy controversial, but 'the truth is out there' if we are brave enough to digest it.
I think our society has made great sacrifices in our health by throwing out the fat in our diets and replacing it with more processed frankenfoods at worse, sugar and more carbohydrates at best. And that isn't saying much if carbohydrate is really to blame for our obesity epidemic and the modern Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. But then, this challenges a paradigm backed by national commodities like wheat, corn, rice, and beans. Their production is subsidized and their use is required in public schools. This is where money and power diverge with nutrition.
Bottom line: Fat is healthy. Seriously. Obviously, you should choose natural sources with as little processing as possible, but that goes for everything. Duh. Healthy sources are olive oil, coconut oil, nut oils in moderation, animal fat, fish oil, avocados, and if you partake in dairy: butter, whole milk, and cream from raw, grass-fed sources. For more information, see Mark's Daily Apple's Definitive Guide to Oils and a Primal Primer: Animal Fats. Ditch the fat-free frankenfoods. Don't be afraid to give yourself a little "indulgence" and enjoy healthy fat! Make sure you have some at EVERY SINGLE MEAL!
Nut 'N Butter Crunch
The crisp, buttery crunch of this mix make for divine snacking!
Cooking/Prep time: 1/2 hour or less
3C raw pecans (or roasted--just skip the roasting step)
1C raw coconut flakes/slices (see above)
2T raw, grass-fed butter (yes, it's worth the price, and no, don't even bother without it)
1/2t to 1t kosher salt to taste
(feel free to play around with the ingredients as desired)
Roast your pecans and coconut on sheet pans in a 350 degree oven (no need to preheat--you can just use the preheat as a timer for checking done-ness) or one batch at a time in a large skillet over medium heat. Watch them carefully, because one minute they are browning, the next burnt to a crisp. Seriously--my record is about even with burning versus success. Remember, their bottoms will brown and burn, so toss them to keep checking. You'll smell their fragrant roasty toasty-ness when they're done and the color will be a dark, golden brown. This should take less than 15 minutes.
While your nuts and coconut are roasting in the oven or cooling, start a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and brown the butter--which means stirring intermittently while it foams, loses its bubbles, and begins to brown. Doesn't it smell like cheese? Isn't that incredible? REAL butter actually has a taste and smell! Now you understand why I said raw, grassfed butter!
Back to the cooking: Watch the butter carefully for a change in color from yellow, to amber, to deep golden brown. It won't take too long--say within 10 minutes. Pull the plug once you've hit GB&D (golden brown and delicious--but, of course, singeing your tongue isn't necessary--smell and color will suffice). Immediately remove from heat and throw in your roasted coconut and pecans. Toss well and salt. Remove to a covered container (try not to use plastic as the fat likes to bind with plastic and it makes cleaning really tough). Whack 'er in the refrigerator to cool and for storage (I know it is torture to wait, but it tastes better once cooled, believe me--also, burning your fingers and mouth to snack on molten nuts isn't really fun).
Once cooled, enjoy crunching on this AMAZING mix! It's very satisfying and decadently delicious!