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Bringing traditional foods back written by Jillaine Williams
Healthy Fats & Oils & the consequences of a ‘low fat diet
PART one of a four part series
Hands up if you’ve tried them all – diets that is. With the explosion of electronic and social media it seems that an equally contagious rash of diet regimes has been introduced. ‘Lose weight fast’ diets, ‘very low carb’ diets, ‘primal’, ‘paleo’, ‘vegan’, ‘raw food’ diets, ‘detox’, ‘2/5’ diet, not mention plain old fashioned ‘I’m seriously starving – low calorie’ diets. It hasn’t always been this way you know…
If Great Grandma could only see us all now – what would she have to say about our multi-billion dollar diet industry that, for many of us, can consume our every waking moment and drive us to depression or at the least total despondency?
This four part series sets out to bring back traditional and nourishing foods which are not so much a diet plan as simply a way of life. Imagine for a moment friends and family coming together (by way of the farmers’ markets) over home-prepared, delicious and varied foods which ensure health and happiness for many years to come. Include food from the four food groups as traditional people did and you will be embarking on a potentially life changing journey. There is one caveat as you will see and that is food ‘quality’.
FAT! Take a moment to analyse how you feel about this word.
For most people there remains a negative connotation associated with dietary fats, and it’s no surprise, considering the many billions of dollars poured into the demonisation of fats for approximately 50 years.(1) Based upon our government’s recommendations, we as a nation gave ‘low fat’ a good go and unfortunately it has backfired convincingly with more obesity, diabetes and associated degenerative diseases. (14)
‘Oils ain’t oils’…
Here is a quick summary on the different kinds of fats available from foods. No doubt you’ve heard of saturated fats (SFAs). To view an interesting perspective on various diets, read Gary Taubes article in The New York Times Magazine. (5) SFAs occur in animal fats, coconut oil and palm oil and are essential to good health.(3)
Then there are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) – which have had a load of good press and are found in animal fats, olive oil, seeds and nuts and have been credited to the Mediterraneans’ robust health and longevity. (2)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are common in fish, seafood, seeds and nuts, processed seed oils, processed foods, poultry and meat fats For more detailed information on foods that contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats check reference on nutritiondata.self.com.(4) Health officialdom says that PUFAs are truly essential healthful fats which should replace saturated fats… however there is more to the picture. Since the western world has replaced saturated / animal fats with PUFAs (found in processed foods, cafe fare and take away meals), obesity and modern disease rates have increased comparatively. (6)
For more information detailing types of fats (SFA, MUFA & PUFA) and percentages that commonly occur in products, there is a good book written by S Fallon & M Enig, titled Nourishing Traditions. (7)
Duck or Goose Fat
Doesn’t oxidise when heated. Thanks to the content of saturated fat it is quite stable and does not form damaging free radicals or become rancid. These fats have long been prized for cooking throughout the Mediterranean & Europe.
If the birds are allowed to range freely and eat insects and plant foods their omega 6:3 ratio improves. It was traditionally used for frying in Jewish cooking.
Beef & Mutton Tallow
Just ask Great Grandma about the old dripping jar. Suet from the inside of the animal is highest in saturated fat and therefore particularly safe for frying and roasting. Health benefits extend beyond this to specific fatty acids including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), palmitoleic and stearic acids.
Lard or Pork Fat
Lard has been used for many years for frying and baking and was very popular at the turn of century, back when waistlines were tiny! Again the ratio of polyunsaturated oils in lard depend upon the diet of the animal – so this is a good reason to avoid intensive factory farmed pork and to opt instead for free-range organic pork & fat where possible. This ensures good level of vitamin D, so you see quality is everything in this instance!
This darling of the Paleo movement has many articles and books now devoted to its many attributes.(13) For one, it is highly saturated and so safe for cooking and baking; it is rich in lauric acid also found in mother’s milk – it is antimicrobial and anti-fungal, perfect for protecting foods and tummies from nasty bugs and yeast.(12) Coconut, together with animal fats, were given a bad rap because of their high saturated fatty acid ratio and unfortunately replaced by hydrogenated, trans-fat rich substitutes by food manufacturers – to our detriment.
Safflower, Corn, Sunflower, Soybean, Cottonseed Oils
These oils are in widespread use in Australia – throughout the entire food chain. They are high in inflammatory omega 6 and oxidise readily with processing, light, heat and of course, frying. Check out Dr Lundell, a world renown heart surgeon, speaking on causes of Heart Disease and cholesterol. (10) Ask your local take away or cafe what they are using for frying – you may not be so keen to grab fish and chips now and opt for the home-made healthier version.
Strictly limit your consumption of this oil (including peanuts for that matter) as the ratio of omega 6 fatty acids compared to omega 3 is much higher. When the Omega 6 ratio is significantly higher this can cause inflammatory conditions and disease in the body.(6)
Do make sure to purchase extra virgin cold pressed oil in this case as the ‘lite’ version has lost its protective antioxidants. Olive oil is not ideal for frying or roasting due to its slightly unsaturated nature. It is however the safest vegetable oil to eat on your salads and in dressing and dips. Keep in mind that the longer-chain fatty acids are likely to contribute to weight gain compared to short or medium chains which occur in butter and coconut oil.
By now you may be seeing a pattern – the more unsaturated the oil the more dangerous it is when exposed to heat. Flaxseed is a good case in point, with its high polyunsaturated levels it should never be exposed to heat, light or long shelf-life after processing. If you do purchase the oil it should be cold pressed and kept refrigerated in a dark container. Consume this oil in very small amounts only.
It turns out that natural, saturated fats (non-hydrogenated) are protective when it comes to cooking or indeed food processing.(8) There is just one more fatty acid that is very important, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Now this is where the qualitative approach comes into its own – as this precious health promoting fatty acid is lost when animals are fed grains rather than their natural diet of grass. Has the baby been thrown out with the bath water regarding animal fats, when in fact grass-fed meat fat is protective due to higher levels of both omega 3 and CLA fatty acids? (9)
Putting the modern research perspective aside for a moment and looking to our forefathers for some clues – did they suffer disease as a result of consuming animal fats, butter and coconut oil? Quite the opposite was apparent to researcher Weston A. Price in his extensive evaluation of so called ‘primitive’ groups around the globe. His research found that all ‘primitive’ groups commonly valued fats in the diet including grass-fed animal fats. (13)
Be prepared to rediscover not only the joy of tasty foods but also a level of wellbeing not possible without good quality fats.
As a Clinical Nutritionist there are three basic principles which apply in relation to fats for good health:
Include good amounts of high quality (grass-fed, organic, chemical free) fats and oils from animals, poultry, eggs, full-fat dairy, butter and tropical oils.
Limit nut and seed oils and ensure that they are freshly cold pressed and stored ideally in dark glass bottles. Enjoy cold pressed extra virgin olive oil on salads and in dressings and include cod liver and fish oils in amounts as recommended by your health care practitioner.
Avoid foods that contain processed seed, corn, soy or cottonseed oils and hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine. In particular avoid foods fried and baked in these oils.