Monday, November 1, 2010

Rediscovering the Value of Fats in Our Diets

By Susan DeLaney, ND, RN
2010 AANP President's Award Winner

Photo by @joefoodie via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
For most of the last 50-60 years, we have been under the influence of the “lipid hypothesis,” which translates into “saturated fats are bad,” that “cholesterol causes heart disease,” and that “to stay healthy one must eat low-fat or non-fat foods.” According to some food theories, any fat at all is bad for you and should be avoided at all costs.

I found this somewhat confusing as my grandparents grew up eating eggs and bacon with lard biscuits and butter. They worked hard and were rarely sick and lived healthy lives even as they aged. Looking at epidemiological evidence, it also seems that various groups of people living around the world consume even more saturated fats in their diets. Eskimos living in extreme cold areas consume approximately 80% of their calories from saturated fats, from marine mammals such as seal and whale meat and their fats, fish and fish eggs and their organ meats. The Masai, an African tribe, live almost exclusively on milk, meat and the blood of the cows they raise, with 80% of their diets consisting of saturated fats. Yet when scientists have examined the health of both of these groups of people living on their traditional diets, they remain free from heart disease, cancer, and the common infectious diseases.

The French present another problem, so much so that we call it the “French Paradox.” In the United States the death rate from heart disease is 315/100,000 and in France the death rate is 145/100,000. Somewhat confusing as the French eat so much butter, cheese, rich sauces and meat, all of the things we have been trained to avoid to prevent heart disease and maintain a healthy lifestyle. So we say “it must be the wine,” which does have beneficial effects but not enough to create such a difference in the death rates from cardiovascular disease. Looking more closely at the data, it turns out that in the region of Glascony, where people eat the highest levels of fats in their diets from duck and goose livers, the death rate from cardiovascular disease is 80/100,000. What’s up with that?: the highest fat in the diet with the lowest rate of heart disease! Bring on the wine, cheese and pâté!

What is now becoming evident to us is that real foods high in fats are essential to our health as they contain important fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins act more like signaling hormones acting in concert with one another, instructing the body to perform important functions within the cell. They are the primary drivers of every system in the body. Foods such as butter, eggs, cheese and milk from pasture-raised animals contain very high amounts of these important vitamins. Additionally fish and fish livers oils, organ meats, shellfish, the fats of pigs and birds, and even insects prized by certain cultures contain high levels of vitamins A and D. And what about Vitamin K2? Surprisingly, goose and duck livers are amongst the foods containing the vitamin at its highest levels. Other K2-rich sources include cheeses, egg yolks, butter and fatty meats—all those things the French love to eat!!

Science is now beginning to back up these observations with the fat-soluble vitamins, especially K2, which acts by conferring the physical ability for proteins to bind calcium, helping it find its proper placement in the bones rather than the arteries. K2 also offers protection from heart disease by regulating two important proteins involved in monitoring and clearing the plaque from the arteries. In the future it is likely that the lack of vtamin K2 will be considered one of the major contributing factors to heart disease.

As naturopathic physicians, we should take a more holistic approach by considering the combination of ALL of fat-soluble vitamins as they act together, talking to one another and influencing heart disease, not to mention the other systems in our body.

Vitamin D, an important fat soluble vitamin, has been in the news recently, with studies demonstrating that many are deficient. Such deficiency contributes to the increased risk of cancer, auto-immune disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression and many other health concerns. Were a lack of sunlight the primary culprit, one of the studies would not have shown that even in Hawaiians with exposure to sun 28 hours per week—a level most of us barely reach in a month—50% of them are vitamin D deficient!!

Why, you ask, is this so?

Our diets are lacking in the foods that are rich in Vitamin D, as well as the other fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K. Fully committed to the low fat diet, most people have limited and even eliminated healthy fat-containing foods from what they eat. Know for a fact that if you supplementing vitamin D, you are lacking in the other vitamins as well. Instead of more supplements, I recommend changing your diet to include healthy fats from animals raised on pasture land: butter, cheese, eggs and milk. Include fatty fish and shellfish from unpolluted waters and, like traditional people and the French, eat more organ meats and the fat from animals. Let real food be the foundation what your health, and enjoy it as well!!

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