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Healthy Living Real Food

The Importance Of Dietary Fats

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We are living in a world where fats in our diet have been increasingly feared and avoided for nearly five decades. Things are finally beginning to change.

With epidemic numbers of people experiencing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, health experts and professionals are really starting to understand the significant correlation between diet and health condition.

Heart disease was almost non-existent in the United States until the 1920s, which was just decades after the inception of the Industrial Revolution – an occurrence which altered forever the face of agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transportation. With the advent of packaged and processed foods, diseases and illness previously not observed began to surface.

So what’s this business about red meats and other fats being unhealthy for us to consume? Make no mistake, doctors have historically been inclined to advise patients to steer clear of saturated fats and cholesterol. But it isn’t a coincidence that these guidelines have been in place for the last fifty or so years and disease numbers have been on the rise. In fact, there are various studies and research done by medical personnel which concluded that saturated fats and cholesterol were not the cause of heart disease, and were actually essential to health. If saturated fats are really the culprit of heart disease, there should be a corresponding increase in the consumption of animal fat in the American diet. However, a decrease of animal fat consumption has actually occurred more and more over the last fifty plus years.

Here’s what we learned: from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83 to 62 percent, and consumption of butter also decreased from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. Cholesterol in the diet increased by only about one percent in the last eighty or so years. In the same time span, the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of refined oils, butter substitutes, margarine, and shortening went up about 400 percent. At the same time, we have observed the intake of processed foods and sugar rising  by about 60 percent.

The reason red meat and saturated fats are under such scrutiny is because the majority of what people consume in the way of these foods is the industrially-produced variety. That’s right – industrially produced. What does that mean? It means most of the food people are eating comes from conventional, commercial, and factory-farmed environments.

These foods are full of chemicals and pesticides – and the meat, in particular – is raised in a way that meat was never intended to be raised. These meats are from animals fed improper diets (grains, soy, and corn – not grass and hay), administered hormones and steroids, and kept in close confinement where they are not allowed to move around and live healthy lives. They are also standing around in their own waste. Does this sound like a place from where you would want to obtain food? Would you want to eat meat that comes from an environment such as this?

It is important to realize that fats are not the enemy; but the medical and food industries have done a thorough job of scaring everyone from eating fats. Yet the general health condition of the average person continues to decline. Why? Fats are essential nutrients to health! Here are the reasons:

  • Fats are the foundation for cell membranes – including the cells in our brains. In fact, fat is critical to brain development and maintenance, and provides the building blocks for cell membranes needed for important work to be performed by neurotransmitters which are responsible for regulation of our moods.
  • Fats are needed for the manufacturing of hormones and prostaglandins that regulate bodily functions like immune system function, digestion, and reproductive activity.
  • Fats keep the digestive tract working smoothly and balance blood sugar levels.
  • The myelin sheath around our nerves is comprised of fats; if we don’t eat fats, the tissue making up these sheaths becomes damaged and can die.
  • Fats are necessary to keep our body temperature regulated, protecting internal organs from damage, and allow us to have continuous levels of energy throughout each day
  • Fats are not only essential to life, but they provide fantastic flavor, too!

Fats help in nutrient absorption

Another important role played by saturated fats in our diets is that of aiding in the absorption of vital nutrients. An example are fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E. These Vitamins are important anti-oxidants to the body which prevent free-radical damage to our cells. When you eat a low-fat diet, you reduce the amount of anti-oxidant activity necessary to keep oxidation from occurring.

Eating low-fat foods such as reduced fat milk and cheese can actually cause gross deficiencies due to the fact that when digestion occurs, those nutrients needed by the body travel through and do not get absorbed.  For example, calcium needs fat for absorption. So if you consume low-fat dairy or take synthetic calcium without the proper co-factors, your body will continue to lose nutrients unless you consume sufficient amounts of healthy fats at the same time.

Fats and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids

Other problems experienced by those maintaining low-fat diets are lacking proper amounts and ratios of essential fatty acids. The human body does not produce essential fatty acids, so we must get them from a healthy, balanced diet. Omega 3s and 6s are important to health. Ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3 are one to two times as many 6s as the 3s. Vegetable oils generally contain five to ten times the amount of Omega 6s than Omega 3s. In our processed and refined diets, Omega 3s are scarce, but there is an over-abundance of Omega 6s. The result is many individuals suffering Omega 3 deficiencies.

As proof of this, consider the native diets of people all over the world. Eskimos of Greenland Eskimos consuming a  traditional diet that consists of 80 percent calories originating from animal fats show no sign of heart disease. People of French descent, who maintain a diet replete with animal fats exhibit less than half the rate of cardiovascular disease as Americans. People residing in tropical locations and whose primary dietary fat is coconut oil  have some of the lowest rates of death from coronary heart disease.

Where do you get healthy saturated fats?

Pasture-raised or grass-fed meats like beef, lamb, and game, eggs from pasture-raised hens, pasture-raised poultry, dairy products from pasture-raised sources (raw is a plus!), safe-sourced fish and seafood, and raw nuts and seeds.

Why have we been told fats are unhealthy to consume?

Besides the obvious fact that most meat produced is the unhealthy variety and is a proponent of disease and illness, would it surprise you to know that one of the main proponents of the low-fat philosophy was money? The author of Know Your Fats, Dr. Mary Enig, PhD., made the following statement about fats and heart disease, “The claim that saturated fat leads to heart disease is simply false. This claim was initiated as a marketing tool to sell oils and margarine. Eventually the idea became dogma as it was repeated year after year.”

Corporations selling margarine, shortening, butter substitutes, and refined vegetable oils make a lot of money on their products, and they have successfully convinced the majority that these products are superior for health. These products cost less to produce and people buy them because they are told they are also healthier to consume.

These substances also contain a too-high ratio of Omega 6s fatty acids (and not enough Omega 3s – most often associated with lower rates of heart and other diseases), commonly known as one of the main causes of inflammation and disease in the body. Yet heart disease, obesity, and diabetes continue to be some of the worst and most prevalent health issues we as a nation experience.

It should give most of us comfort to know that it is actually healthy to consume animal fats – those from healthy, grass-fed, organically, and sustainably raised animals. Not only they are healthy to consume, but delicious as well.

No matter where you live, it is likely that you can obtain these healthy meats for your family from a local farmer. When you purchase meats and dairy from a local farmer, you can have access to information you wouldn’t otherwise when you buy meat from the grocery store. You can meet the farmer, see the premises where animals are raised, and find out from the farmer just how the food is produced.

For more information on fats and cholesterol and their role in maintaining health:

Cholesterol and why statin drugs are harmful

What’s the real scoop on red meat and higher mortality rates?

Deceptions in the food industry: lean meats

Weston A. Price Foundation

Activism Healthy Living Real Food

Why Meat Gets The Heat

Since the dawn of humanity, people have eaten meat for food and it has consistently remained a primary source of protein. In recent years, we have witnessed a monumental shift from diets primarily rooted in meat-eating habits to those of vegetarian and vegan. Health rhetoric, news, and medical reports continually advocate the superiority of vegetarian and vegan diets to those containing meat. But are the answers really that black and white? Trying to decipher where the real truth lies can be a challenge.

Research shows that strict vegetarian and vegan diets can be considered unhealthy in many aspects, especially when careful attention is not paid to obtaining proper amounts of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals on a daily basis. This statement does not in any way advocate diets lacking in a sufficient supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole sprouted grains — it means merely that diets including healthy meats in moderation are probably going to offer the greatest nutritional support to most people.

Because all people differ slightly in various biological aspects and needs, select care should be taken in tailoring your diet to your body’s specific needs. The Metabolic Typing Diet is a great book which illustrates not a “fad diet” but more of an observatory guide and of how to decide which foods are best for your own needs by applying the right kinds of food in the proper amount.

So, the problem with meat is not that all meat is unhealthy. The problem is how the majority of meat is produced, and the amounts of meat that are demanded by the public, and therefore consumed. Many factors in the raising of meat have changed since the the beginning of time. The reality of conditions in factory farms (those which produce meat in the most horrific conditions available) should be a resounding wake-up call to anyone who claims to be a thinking human being. The amount of waste, disease, abuse of animals, damage to our health and the environment created by the presence of factory farms alone should be enough to make the majority of citizens stand up and cause a revolt.

“Environmental damage caused by industrial farming costs the U.S. more than $34.7 billion a year.”

Environmental Protection Agency

Because the culture of our society is so tied to consuming, changing opinions and habits is not an easy thing to do. But momentum has already begun. Look around in local communities in newspapers, bookstores, health food stores, and online. You’ll be astonished to learn that you can find groups of people in advocacy of cleaning up current farming practices and making changes in many different places.

It’s not too difficult to find documentation detailing the damage to our planet from the existence of commercial or factory farms. As affluence has grown in communities, so does the demand for more and more products – including meat. To produce this horribly mutated food product, we have destroyed millions of acres of rain-forests and other valuable lands, increased the growth of soy, corn, and grain in order to have enough feed for animals, increased our consumption of oil to transport both the feed for animals and meat, contributed to the world’s greenhouse gas issue in a significant way, and caused the development of super-bacteria and other drug resistant strains of illness due to filthy conditions in facilities that administer continued doses of antibiotics and other medications.

The issue of what is being fed to farm animals is of critical importance. Cattle are not designed to consume grains, soy, and corn. These animals are meant to eat grass – and this is far too often the exception than the rule. When cattle eat grass, the meat is lower in fat and therefore, also lower in calories. Meat from grass-fed animals also contains the correct amounts of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. These important fats keep the cardiovascular system functioning properly.

Studies also show that “eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 10 times more Omega 3s” than birds raised in a feed barn. American diets are saturated with too many Omega 6s and Omega 9s, causing the delicate balance in the body to become upset. This disturbance in the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids can also contribute to cancer.

Factors associated with factory-farmed meats have created an adverse outcome on the health of the average individual and the environment. As a nation, we are in a health crisis. Not a trivial amount of it can be connected to the manner in which the process of meat-production has converted its once natural methods and beneficial impact on the earth into something scarcely resembling real farming.

One way to solve some of these issues would be to cut back on meat consumption. In the United States, meat consumption is at about 200 pounds (including fish and poultry) per person annually. Alteration of meat consumption levels would have to rest upon massive educational efforts and a change in the fundamental philosophies held about eating meat. It’s really not about the elimination of meat entirely. The key is in moderation and intelligent efforts to raise high-quality, healthy meat from animals that are treated humanely. We should demand quality over quantity; that is, meat raised in humane, healthy conditions. The outcome would be lower rates of meat production and subsequently less waste of natural resources such as oil, water, and feed, and ultimately a marked reduction in the presence of greenhouse gases in our environment.

In most local areas, consumers can do some research to find out which farmers produce and sell grass-fed, organic meats. Check in health magazines, health food stores, and online. Health food stores often stock healthy meat selections in many areas. By supporting these farmers and merchants, you are making a statement about what’s important in agriculture and health. You are also making it possible for these business people to continue their activities so that you will have healthy meat for the future. Remember, the less you purchase commercially produced meat from factory farms, the more evident it will become that people demand healthy meat on their tables.

Pastured and grazing animals versus those confined in mass amounts where disease and ailments prevail makes more sense from both a health perspective and economic standpoint. It is easy to see why organically and naturally raised animals for meat should be the preferred alternative to the status quo of commercial and factory farms. To learn more about the dangers of factory farming, to become involved and help bring about change, visit The World Animal Foundation. You can also learn about how to be instrumental in bringing about important legislative changes by visiting to The Petition Site and signing an important petition to stop factory farming.

You can read thousands of reports detailing the terrible damage eating meat (red meat is the most targeted) has done to our health – from our colons and digestive systems to cardiovascular and other body systems. What many studies fail to mention is that these problems stem from mass consumption of meat raised in unhealthy conditions. Studies like this advocate eating poultry and fish instead of red meat- but do not bother to discuss whether meat from these animals is healthy to consume in the first place. Chicken and turkeys raised on average feedlots do not yield meat choices that are much improved over their red meat counterparts from similar conditions. If we were to change levels of meat consumption and the way in which our meat was raised, we would see an enormous shift in the health and well-being of all — from ourselves individually to the entire planet.

For more information on factory farms, visit Farmsanctuary. – a site for rescue, education, and action.

Visit Mercola.com for more information on the myths and explanations of those in a vegetarian diet.

To learn more about possible risks and deficiencies of vegetarian diets, visit Epigee.

Suggested reading on this topic: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin.

This article is featured in the March 2008 issue of Healthy Beginnings.