For the last month I have been reading a book called, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong In A Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz. Before starting the book, I prided myself on knowing a good deal of information about fats and their benefits versus the so called negatives. Yes, they are calorie dense and the calories can add up quickly if you don't manage your portions, especially if you overdo it on the oils and butters. Nevertheless, fats are essential for life and the building blocks for every cell in the human diet. The key to maintaining a healthy life is by choosing the right fats and being aware of how many calories you consume. You could eat the healthiest diet in the world, but if you consume too many calories you will gain weight.
Over the years I have been an advocate for adding more fat into the diet, especially in the form of pasture raised eggs, grass fed meat and other animal products. However, I was lenient on my use of vegetables oils. I knew they weren’t the best thing to consume, but I didn’t think they were as dangerous as some people made them out to be. Plus, the government backed their safety and they were in every food product. So how bad could they be?
My viewpoint changed after I started reading The Big Fat Surprise. Generally speaking, the book takes you on a narrative journey of fat’s role in the American diet. According to the book, in the 1800s, red meat, butter, milk and cheese were staples in the American diet. But since then our consumption of these animal fats have dropped drastically. Instead they have been replaced by plant fats in the form of oils:
This may come to a surprise since the majority of people believe the consumption of animal fats has gone up over the last 200 years. But that is far from the truth. In fact, red meat consumption is on the decline, down 10 percent over the last eight years and down 43% since 1976.(1)
Which begs the question...If red meat and animal fat consumption has gone down, why hasn’t obesity?
Granted, as a Rokiskyfitness reader you know that exercise, mindfulness, community and sleep play a huge role in body composition. But if I had to pick a culprit for the current obesity epidemic I wouldn’t blame it on the consumption of animal fats and red meat. Rather, I would blame it on the food industry and their creation of vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils are polyunsaturated fats that are found in the majority of processed foods (chips, nuts, butters, cookies) and fried foods. Also, most restaurants and food trucks use them due to how inexpensive they are. If you look at the back of a food label you will come across one of the following:
Vegetable oils contain polyunsaturated fats, also known as omega 6 fatty acids. These types of fatty acids help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system (2). But it's very rare for someone to be deficient in omega 6s due to its abundance in processed foods and vegetable oils. The real problem lies in the over consumption of this fat versus the under consumption of omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are also polyunsaturated, but research has shown that they help decrease inflammation (3). But this can only occur if you have a higher ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s.
When you have a poor ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s, the body becomes inflamed due to the inflammation promoting effects of the omega 6s (2). And guess what, the typical American diet consumes 14 to 25 times more omega 6 fatty acids versus omega 3 fatty acids! (2) Now the answer isn't to increase your omega 3 intake and keep your omega 6 intake the same. Rather, we need to decrease our omega 6s and keep our omega 3 intake the same or slightly increased. Even though omega 3s have been shown to help, they are still polyunsaturated fats which makes them more likely to oxidize versus saturated fats.
Oxidation of fats occur when they are exposed to high levels of heat, light or oxygen. Put simply, the more saturated a fat is, the less likely it is to oxidize (4). In order for your body to function properly it needs a higher amount of saturated and monounsaturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats (butter, meat,eggs) and monounsaturated (olive oil & avocado oil) can withstand higher temperatures because they are saturated with more hydrogen atoms and have less bonds (monounsaturated) which makes them more stable versus polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). The PUFAs are much less stable and oxidize under high heat or exposure to light or oxygen(4). Therefore, every time you consume food fried in vegetable oil or processed food, you could be consuming rancid fats. These rancid fats can enter the body and cause cellular DNA damage resulting in inflammation. Overtime this adds up reducing longevity and health due to high levels of inflammation. This chronic inflamed state can lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome which puts the individual at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes (5).
Preventing this from happening is simple, but very hard to perform. You must reduce your consumption of processed and fried foods as much as possible. In addition, you need to stop cooking in vegetable oils and replace them with grass fed butter, coconut, or avocado oil (olive oil is fine, but shouldn’t be used for high heats). If you can reduce your consumption of polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and fried or processed foods then your risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes will greatly reduce.