We have been hearing about the evil of fats and their dangerous effects. However, I am going to ask you to have an open mind in this respect because I may be saying things that may not sound within the “politically correct nutrition” of this age of information (or should I say misinformation?). It is my contend that many health professionals, doctors, and in general the mass media have lead a campaign of unintentional (or intentional?) misleading about the negative aspects of dietary fats and neglecting (intentionally or not) the beneficial aspects of such nutrient.
Think about it. Fats are one of the main components of cells, membranes, and tissues in our body. You need them to replenish them as naturally the body breakdown its own fat. For thousands of years men and women thrived on diets rich in natural unprocessed fats. They eat seeds with high contents of oils and meats of wild animals also rich in fatty tissue. Human population in the pre-industrial times lived with high fat diets NOT with today’s recommended low-fat diet.
Even today there are societies unpolluted with modern day trends that survive (an very well) with diets rich in natural unprocessed fats and oils. I’ll give some examples in a moment. But these societies have fewer heart attacks, have lean bodies, and suffer less of degenerative diseases. Take for example, traditional Pacific islanders who derive 65 to 75% of their calories intake from coconut fat. They are not obese; they do not have heart diseases and less degenerative ailments. Or, look at the Esquimos who eat fat from whale blubber, seal fat, organ meats, and fatty cold-water fish. They remain one of the healthiest groups on earth. There are many other examples in Africa, America and Europe about of groups of people with excellent health conditions and that eat high fat diet.
The key here seem to be the fact that these groups eats diets that are high in “natural unprocessed fats and oils.” Food processing is to be blamed for the negative effects of fats. The high fat diets of the so-called “advanced societies” are rich in “unnatural highly processed” fats and oils. These are treated with harsh chemicals (do you know that your table oil is extracted with hexane, an organic carcinogenic component derived from petroleum?). Margarine is made by adding hydrogen to the structural molecule of fats (in a process known as hydrogenation). In these and many other processing operations (heating, frying, etc) new fats molecules are created (trans-fats) or chemical reactants are left (broken fats molecules, free radicals formed, hydroperoxydes, aldehydes, ketones, etc)
The take away message here is that you should not be afraid of fats. You should embrace them (with the appropriate control) as any other nutrient. I am going to start writing about the benefits of fats, which fats you should avoid and which you should keep taking. Keep checking about this quest to clear up the misconception about fats and their dangerous effects.
Fennema, O. 2007. Fennema’s Food Chemistry,. CRC Press; 4th Ed.
WHO/FAO (1995) Fats and Oils in Human Nutrition. Nutr Rev. 1995 Jul;53(7):202-5.