The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
A Primer on Healthy Fats
What is so GOOD about Fat?
I am just a chef --- and as a chef I am in constant contact with food. The food that I am in contact with has been changing at an alarming rate over the last decade. Finding food that is not made with genetically modified ingredients, that hasn't been injected with chemicals and hasn't been sprayed with stabilizers is getting quite challenging. My mission is to convince you that there are definite health benefits to seeking out and eating what I like to call Clean Food. Clean Food means food that has been grown, harvested and prepared in a traditional manner. Real Food is Good.
As we venture forth into the jungle of health information, there is one reoccurring truth that continues to surface through the marketing muck. The truth is that the traditional diets of regional peoples are the healthiest diets of all. Are they low fat, low calorie, high carbohydrate diets like the one the FDA recommends for us? Not exactly. The healthy, ancestral diets of the world are based on fresh local ingredients in balance and harmony with the seasons. Clean fats combined with fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes is the optimum diet. Thinking about food in this way is the healthiest approach possible.
Many of my recipes contain a fair amount of fat, yet all of it is unprocessed, "good" fat. Most traditional diets contain considerably higher amounts of fat than our own FDA recommends. They also contain more calories. Our bodies need fat and a fair amount of it to operate properly. Fats carry the vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are found in every single cell of the body. Why do you think they are called Essential Fatty Acids? The challenging task is learning the difference between good and bad fats and then learning where to get good, clean fats. We all know that extra virgin olive oil is a great fat. We know this because there is published evidence that the Mediterranean diet is a "heart healthy" one. Consuming a tablespoon of cold pressed olive oil daily not only increases your HDL or "good" cholesterol but it actually lowers your LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
What are we doing that is so BAD?
Until recently, many cultures traditionally used cold pressed oils. Grapeseed, peanut, corn, coconut, sesame and palm oil are prevalent in the diets of some of the world's most vibrant people. Unfortunately, technology and the global economy have brought higher yield processed oils to the far reaches of the earth. More and more, the statistics indicate that a rise in cardiovascular disease is directly related to the worldwide distribution of American processed foods and food processing technology. Are we a help or a hindrance?
Here are some stunning statistics. Americans have one of the highest rates of Type II diabetes per capita in the world and the numbers are rising yearly. Over 15.3 million Americans suffer from this disease which leads to heart disease in many cases. The evidence that our processed food culture is the culprit behind this unfortunate statistic is only now trickling into our media stream. Sadly, other countries which have embraced our fast food, processed fat culture are experiencing a similar rise in circulatory diseases. The rise of juvenile obesity in China directly correlates to the rise in sale of American soft drinks and fast food in that country. We Americans don't fare very well in the cardiovascular world over all.
Sure, through our technological advances we've learned to prolong life in those who are afflicted with heart and blood maladies. But maybe we are missing the point. Maybe we should be addressing the reason so many of us are becoming sick in the first place. Over 40% of the deaths in America are due to disease of the cardiovascular system. Countries which have maintained their traditional diets have a much lower ratio of heart and circulatory illness.
In Brazil, where traditional cuisine includes abundant meat dishes seasoned with raw palm oil, the percentage of deaths due to diseases of the cardiovascular system is only 28%.
In Peru, where the traditional diet of grass fed meats, native corn varieties, legumes, vegetables and chiles has remained the same for centuries, the percentage of deaths due to diseases of the cardiovascular system is 13.8%!
My conclusion is that our dilemma in America has nothing to do with eating fat or lean foods. It has to do with eating processed foods, especially processed and hydrogenated fats. It is the commercial processing of fats which creates bad fats.
What is a processed oil and why is it UGLY?
When commercial oil is processed for human consumption it is combined with caustic acids. The introduction of the caustic acids removes the beneficial free fatty acids. The oil is then filtered, degummed, bleached, deodorized, scented, stabilized and colored. Often, synthetic antioxidants are added to replace what was lost in the refining process. Lastly, a defoamer is added before it gets to market. The oil is often sold in clear containers even though sunlight and florescent light destroys most of the remaining advantageous fatty acids.
The process of hydrogenation is intended to create a solid fat with smooth, rich mouth-feel. The hazard lies in the process of shattering fat molecules into smaller parts which are much more easily absorbed into our intestines than are fat molecules in their natural state. Additionally, all of the essential fatty acids are destroyed in the processing, leaving an indigestible product.
A quick walk through a modern American supermarket will reveal to you that the staggering majority of the foods we are sold contain processed and hydrogenated fats. Just about any deep fried food is fried in processed oil, also. So, if the FDA means that we should consume less of those foods, I agree. But without essential real fats, we become out of balance and our vital organs and blood cells will begin to break down.
On the question of animal fat, I have arrived at a similar conclusion. There are distinct differences between good and bad animal fats. Animals raised on the pasture get adequate exercise. They are grass and green fed without processed feed, antibiotics and growth hormones. When this is the case, moderate intake of their fat is a healthy and beneficial addition to our diets. When the animals are raised in boxes and are fed processed fats themselves, such as genetically modified high yield corn and soybeans, they pass these unnatural, damaging fats right into your body when you eat them.
An animal raised naturally on a diet of organic vegetation and insects contains elusive and vital minerals and nutrients from the earth. Those wholesome nutrients become assimilated into their fat, flesh and eggs for we humans to consume. It is a REAL and healthy chain of events. This is what nature intended for us. Immune system invigorators like Selenium and CoQ-10 are found in abundance in grass fed meat and free range eggs. The same cannot be said for commercial grain fed meats and eggs.
The same is true for seafood. Farm raised seafood is also fed high yield grains to fatten it up more quickly. Hence, we consume more of the same when we eat farmed seafood. Wherein wild seafood subsists on a diet of mineral rich plankton (or smaller prey who have eaten it) and pass it to us via their fat and flesh. This is the real deal.
As you prepare the food you choose to cook, file the info I just gave you. Real food can't be wrong. We are not smarter than the infinite wisdom of our ecosystem. We can't improve it, either. We are a part of it. Buy the cleanest food you can. It is a small investment in yourself and your family