Fatty acids, better known as fats or oils have gotten, with few exceptions, a terrible but undeserved reputation in the last six decades.
This did not happen as a pure accident of destiny. There were tremendous forces at work behind this attack on fat as a valuable nutrient, and many factors made their ride a very easy one. So easy that even up to this day, their wrong theories about fatty acids dominate most of the establishment within nutrition science, government policies and the promotion of the fear of ill health in the public mind.
A revolution is a drastic action or change, usually achieved through insubordination with the aim to reform and improve an impossible situation. Well, fatty acids deserve their revolution now, so the public becomes aware of what has gone wrong and start thinking in new terms, all with a new light of understanding. And this understanding is both necessary and urgent now, mostly due to the alarming world obesity, diabetes and heart disease epidemic in progress.
Why are fatty acids so misunderstood
Fatty acids began to lose their place of honor in human nutrition when Ancel Keys, an American scientist, published in 1953 an epidemiological study comparing the saturated fat consumption and the prevalence of heart disease in 7 countries. He proposed the theory and “proved” that saturated fats cause heart disease and later, that saturated fats raise cholesterol levels.
Americans ate the most fat and had the highest death rate from heart disease; the Japanese ate the least fat and had the fewest heart disease deaths. But while data from those six countries seemed to support the diet-heart hypothesis, statistics were actually available for 22 countries. When all 22 were analyzed, the apparent link disappeared. The death rate from heart disease in Finland was 24 times that of Mexico, although fat-consumption rates in the two nations were almost the same.
His theory had many holes and maybe the biggest of them was ignoring the carbohydrate connection and how high levels of carbohydrates raise insulin: The fat saving hormone.
Ancel Keys's theory, often referred to as the lipids theory or diet-heart theory, has become so widely accepted that most people today take it for granted. It led to widespread fear of saturated fats, to the point where the many health benefits of these fats got totally ignored and forgotten in the process. To most people today, doctors, nutritionists and lay people alike, saturated fats are horrible enemies and totally unnecessary elements in the diet.
The ideal balance of macronutrients in human nutrition (including a generous amount of fatty acids)
Fat is essential to the structure of every cell in the body; and cholesterol, a fat derivative, is so important to health and well-being that our own body makes its own just to ensure we have it at all times, compensating perfectly for either a low- or a high intake.
From today, we should all forget all the bad that's been said about cholesterol, saturated fats and fatty acids in general even if it means contradicting your doctor, government agencies and old-fashioned lazy nutritionists. Remember that they might serve, knowingly or unknowingly the same forces (some strong economic interests and corporations) that made all this wrong situation possible and viable.
One of the problems with fat is in its high calorie count. It has an energy density that more than doubles that of the other two energy macronutrients (carbohydrates and proteins).
When fat has been seen as enemy number one, plus the known fact that too much protein (over 40% daily intake) is both expensive, energy consuming and creates too much acidic buildup in the body, the obvious solution has been to rely heavily on carbohydrates to meet our energy needs.
Carbohydrates, though necessary for holistic health, raise insulin to dangerous levels when eaten (in any form) in high amounts, and are now directly connected to the world diabetes epidemic and many other health problems like obesity and heart disease.
The solution lays in the proper understanding of the role macronutrients play and learning to recognize the difference between essential nutrients (those the body can't manufacture on its own) and their balance, food interactions and the wholeness nature intended for every nutrient in the human diet.
It is The Spanimax Institute's opinion that all nutrients, even the small amounts of trans fats made by nature (not by humans) and found in animal fat in the form of CLA (conjugated linoleic acids), are good for health as long as they are used correctly and in the right amounts.
Learning how to mix nutrients properly, meaning right amounts, is very individual and very challenging because we all have different needs and preferences. Knowledge is very important here as in all else, but this means high quality (why, what, when and how) knowledge, coming from different sources. We should never take for granted one source only and never stop comparing, always choosing wisely what's best for our own unique needs, following nature's laws. And the trick is to ask questions holding the golden rule alive: Is It Natural? followed by the high quality questions in order.
Other articles in this series:
- Mixing macronutrients
- Intro to Nutrition - Macronutrients
- 12 Reasons Why Saturated Fat is Good for You; Natural Bias.
- Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage; The Harvard School of Public Health.
- Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus; The New York Times.
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