Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Favorite Food & The Big Fat Lie

The Avocado. If given the choice to eat anything in the world, I would choose a beautiful, perfectly ripe, Hass Avocado. My favorite preparation of this delicious and nutritious fruit is simply sliced on top of sprouted grain toast with a sprinkling of sea salt. Another great breakfast preparation with avocado is a fruit salad consisting of avocado, mango, banana, and papaya.

Some have never acquired the taste for avocado, and more than one person has told me they don't indulge in avocado because "it's just so high in fat!" This statement saddens and appalls me when these very same people feel okay about eating a pastry for breakfast. There's something wrong with the general perception of and attitude toward fat. The word itself fetches associations of "evil" and "abhorrent". This attitude is reflected throughout the grocery store where one can find a low fat or zero fat option for just about everything. Labels that boast "0 grams of fat" seem to convey a kind of virtue which our subconscious, as a result of modern conditioning, interprets to mean "this is really healthy, and you can eat as much as you want!"

Today, I want to change the negative attitude toward fat by presenting the facts about fat -- the role of fat in the body, the history of fat, and the different kinds of fat.

The Role Of Fat In The Body

Fats play many critical roles in the body such as providing a concentrated source of energy and providing building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. They act as carriers of fat soluble vitamins such as A,D,E, & K. Fat is needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A and mineral absorption. When included as part of a meal, fat slows down the absorption of the meal allowing the body to go a longer period of time without feeling hungry. Those that are able to remain fat free for a length of time may develop a variety of health problems including low energy, poor concentration, depression, weight gain, and mineral deficiencies.

The History Of Fat

Politically correct nutrition says we should replace our intake of saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil. A theory called the lipid hypothesis, proposed by researcher Ancel Keys in the late 1950's, purports that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the body and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Numerous studies have questioned his data and conclusions; however, the lowfat diet became widespread by virtue of publicity and promotion by the vegetable oil and food processing industries. While many 'experts' assure us that the lipid hypothesis is backed by incontrovertible scientific fact, I find it hard to believe considering that prior to 1920 coronary heart disease was exceptionally rare. Animal fat and butter consumption was far higher in the early 1900's compared to the late 1900's. In fact, from 1910 to 1970 the intake of traditional animal fat decreased by 20% and butter by 77% while the consumption of vegetable oil in the form of margarine, shortening, and processed oils increased 400% and the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased 60%. As these dietary changes took place, incidence of heart disease increased dramatically so that today 40% of all deaths are heart disease related.

The cause of heart disease is not animal fats and cholesterol. Rather, it is caused by a number of factors present in modern diets such as over-consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats; excess consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar and white flour; vitamin and mineral deficiencies; and the disappearance of antimicrobial fats from the food supply such as animal fat and tropical oils. Analysis of fat in artery clogs reveals that only approximately 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated while over half is polyunsaturated.

The saturated fats which so many people are trying to avoid actually play important roles in the body. Examples include the following:
  • Saturated fatty acids are what give our cells necessary stiffness and integrity
  • They are vital to the health of our bones and for incorporation of calcium into the skeletal structure
  • They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins
  • They enhance the immune system
  • They are needed for proper utilization and retention of essential fatty acids (EFA's)

Types Of Fat

While the notion that saturated fat in itself causes heart disease is incorrect, it is true that there are bad fats which should be avoided. A basic understanding of the different types of fats should be obtained.

One classification of fatty acids is by saturation.


Saturated fats are highly stable due to their chemical structure. This means they are not likely to go rancid even when heated for cooking. The molecules pack together tightly and form a solid at room temperature. This fat is found in animal fats and tropical oils. The body also makes saturated fatty acids from carbohydrates.


Monounsaturated fatty acids are slightly less stable; the molecules do not pack together as tightly as the saturated molecules. They are liquid at room temperature but solid if cooled. These fats may be used in cooking at low temperatures. This form of fat is found in olive oil, cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts, and avocados. The body can make monounsaturated fatty acids from saturated fatty acids.


Polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid even when refrigerated and go rancid easily. These oils should never be heated or used in cooking. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in flax seed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.

Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been linked to increased cancer and heart disease; immune system dysfunction; damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs; digestive disorders; depressed learning ability; impaired growth; and weight gain. The reason behind this is that they become oxidized or rancid easily when subjected to heat, oxygen, and moisture in cooking and processing. Rancid oils are characterized by free radicals which attack cell membranes and red blood cells causing damage to tissue, blood vessels, and organs resulting in premature aging, tumors, Alzheimer's, cataracts, plaque build up in the blood vessels, and autoimmune disease such as arthritis. Solution: eat your flax freshly ground and never cook with extracted polyunsaturated oils.

Polyunsaturated fats include the essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These are called "essential" because our bodies cannot manufacture them. It is important to obtain these from the food we eat such as flaxseed, walnuts, and fish. While these fats are essential, a balance should be maintained. Commercial vegetable oils are high in Omega-6 EFA's and lacking in the vital Omega-3 EFA's. This imbalance can result in inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cancer, and weight gain. Deficiencies in Omega-3 EFA's have been associated with asthma, heart disease, and learning deficiencies. Modern agricultural practices have reduced the amount of Omega-3 EFA's available in commercially available meat, eggs, and fish. For example, organic eggs from a chicken allowed to feed on insects and green plants can contain omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in the favorable ratio of 1:1 while commercial supermarket eggs can contain as much as 19 times the amount of omega-6 to omega-3. Solution: ensure you are getting your Omega fatty acids from whole foods. If you eat meat or animal products, be sure that it comes from a healthy source - that is, from grass fed, truly free range animals. I wouldn't trust what is found in the store.

Trans Fat

Trans fats are created through the chemical process of hydrogenation. Hydrogenation turns a poyunsaturate, normally liquid at room temperature, into a fat that is solid at room temperature such as margarine and shortening. Manufacturers begin with cheap oils such as soy, cotton, corn, and canola, already rancid from extraction, and subject them to high heat and pressure and tiny metal particles. The result is a chemically altered molecule which can wreak havoc inside your cells and even block the utilization of the essential fatty acids. Consumption of hydrogenated oils is associated with cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons. This type of fat should be completely avoided. I urge you to begin reading the labels on items that you purchase in the grocery store. You will be surprised where these fats appear. Look for the words "hydrogenated", "partially hydrogenated", "margarine", and "shortening".

In summary, dietary fat is necessary for optimal health and physical function. Healthy fats are found in healthy, organic, free-range animal products; tropical oils such as coconut oil; olive oil; and whole foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Fat is not the culprit of disease, rather sugar, refined foods, and hydrogenated oils. If you are currently using popular canola oil in your food preparation, stop and replace it with olive oil and coconut oil. Currently, I only use coconut oil when cooking. It works absolutely wonderfully. Do not use shortening even if the canister claims "No Trans Fat". The claim is untrue. Use an organic, cultured cream butter such as KerryGold as a substitute. KerryGold butter is sold at Trader Joe's, Zupan's, and possibly other unique grocery stores in your neighborhood. The absolute best butter would be homemade from raw milk if that option is possible for you.

Do something healthy for your body and brain today -- eat an avocado!

Weston A. Price:


Rachel said...

Thank you for posting this! I am going to forward this to all my friends who have ever spoken badly of the wonderful avocado! :)

leslie said...

i looove avocados and feel the same way about people's perceptions of fat. if you ever get the chance, you must try the Reed avocado. it is so rich and buttery - AMAZING! i know they have them here in california (more at farmer's markets than grocery stores), i don't know if they're exported much.