There are many myths about food and nutrition today. Those about fats are some of the most confusing.
Myth: Saturated fat clogs the arteries. Truth: 74 percent of the fats found in artery clogs are unsaturated with 41 percent polyunsaturated.
Myth: Optimal serum cholesterol levels should be less than 180 mg/dl for good health. Truth: The “all-cause” death rate is higher in those with cholesterol levels lower than 180 mg/dl.
Myth: Animal fats cause cancer and heart disease. Truth: Animal fats contain many nutrients that protect against cancer and heart disease; elevated rates of cancer and heart disease are associated with consumption of large amounts of vegetable oils.
Myth: Heart disease in America is caused by consumption of cholesterol and saturated fat from animal products. Truth: Heart disease in America increased rapidly from 1920 to 1960. During this time, consumption of animal fats declined, but consumption of hydrogenated and industrially processed vegetable oils increased dramatically.
Studies done during the 1940’s, lumped saturated fats together with trans-fats and hydrogenated oils which has led to the aversion of natural saturated fats which are actually beneficial to health.
The partially hydrogenated fats that are made from vegetable oils actually block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing many health problems. Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with serious disease conditions including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and immune system dysfunction. Amazingly enough, hydrogenated oils continue to be promoted as beneficial for health. The popularity of margarine and shortening over butter represents a triumph of advertising over common sense.
Research does not support the claim that butter causes chronic high cholesterol values. Margarine, on the other hand, provokes chronic high levels of cholesterol and has been linked to both heart disease and cancer. The new soft margarines or tub spreads, are lower in hydrogenated fats, but are still produced from rancid vegetable oils and contain many additives. High serum cholesterol levels often indicate that the body needs cholesterol to protect itself from high levels of altered fats that contain free radicals.
Saturated fats are a vital part of cell membranes, giving them stiffness and integrity necessary for proper function. They also play an important part in the health of our bones, allowing the fat soluble vitamins to effectively incorporate calcium and other minerals into the skeletal structure. Saturated fats help lower lipoprotein A, a factor that indicates tendency towards heart disease. They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins while enhancing the immune system.
The moral to this story is to eat natural. Chemical processes tend to alter our food beyond recognition by the cells in our bodies.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.