Fatvital Yes But Less Is Enough

Fat is another key ingredient for health. Lipids is the more comprehensive term applied to include triglycerides, sterols like cholesterol, and phospholipids. Most of what we hear about these fats is negative because it is so easy to eat an excess, thereby crowding out more nutrient-dense foods and seriously distorting the balance of body systems and nutrient elements. Fat supplies nine calories per gram, which is more than double the four calories per gram which comes from carbohydrate and protein. That is why a little goes a long way. Too much fat is implicated in a number of diseases ranging from heart disease to a variety of cancers. Most people are concerned about too much fat because of its effect on their appearance. However, being overweight has more critical implications than our looks. It contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.

Lipids are the secondary energy source for the body; they are the best source of stored or reserve fat. As previously mentioned, the body stores some carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, but not for the long term. Fat cells can retain their stores indefinitely and have a great capacity for expansion, much to the chagrin of dieters. That does not mean that fat cells remain static, because everything about cellular activity is in constant motion. It's just that stored fat waits in storage until it is needed, and if there is an excess, it can wait a very long time. Triglycerides are the dominant lipid in both food and the body. That is the kind of fat people are talking about when they say, "I'm too fat."

Triglycerides can be made of saturated or unsaturated fat; in fact more than ninety-five percent of the fat we take in is in the form of triglycerides. That is also the body's stored form of fat and is composed primarily of fatty acids. It gets its name because it is made up of three (tri) fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone (a small compound related to carbohydrates). Fatty acids have important roles to perform in terms of fat transport and metabolism, immune function, and maintaining the function and integrity of cell membranes. *21 Adipose (fat) tissue helps to hold the body organs and nerves in position and protects against traumatic injury and shock. The layer of fat beneath the skin serves to maintain body temperature. Fats aid in the absorption and transport of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, as well.*22

While cholesterol is a type of lipid, it differs from triglyceride. It looks like a wax and is not the same as the saturated fat with which it is often associated. It has its own identity. All of the lipids are defined by their chemical configuration, and this difference in their molecular arrangement makes a big difference in how the body responds to them. There is no escape from chemistry. Cholesterol is a specialized substance made in the livers of all animals. That's why animal liver is high in cholesterol. Among its various functions is its use as the raw material to make hormones and cell membranes. It serves a vitally essential role, but it is not needed as a part of our food intake. *23 *24

Your liver is manufacturing it now, as you read, at the rate of about 50,000,000,000,000,000 molecules per second. *25 The raw material the liver uses to make cholesterol can be derived from carbohydrate, protein, or fat. Animal products, meat, dairy products, eggs, and fish are the only way you can get cholesterol in your food. The plant world contains none. By now everyone is aware of the connection between cholesterol and atherosclerosis or heart disease. Even if one is skeptical of the so-called "facts" that somehow are subject to change as researchers piece together more of the mechanisms that drive the disease process in the body, the implications of increased cholesterol levels associated with increased risk of plaque build-up and heart attack have remained consistent over the past few decades of research. It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to visualize that waxy, greasy substances which we must scrub from our dishes by means of a detergent would be likely candidates to adhere to artery walls.

The build-up of these deposits forms plaques that narrow the openings in the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart. These coronary arteries are so named because they circle the heart like a crown. It would be well to care for them as one would a jeweled crown of gold, for your life depends upon their preservation. In the U.S. someone dies of a heart attack every forty-five seconds. *26 The most advanced medical knowledge in history is telling us that heart attack and stroke victims, fifty percent of us, perish from a disease nurtured at our own hands. *27 Saturated fat and cholesterol are often spoken of together because they travel together in the same foods: meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. There is a relationship between the intake of cholesterol in our food and an increase of cholesterol in our blood. It is also true that the more saturated fat you eat, the higher your cholesterol level. In fact, saturated fat raises blood cholesterol to an even greater extent than dietary cholesterol. *28 It is suggested that the most important dietary step we can take to lower risk for coronary artery disease is to reduce the intake of saturated fat. So to eat foods which contain both saturated fat and its companion cholesterol would seem more like tempting the grim reaper than eating to promote life. One of the reasons fat in the diet raises cholesterol in the body is that since fat is not water soluble, it needs an emulsifier in order for it to be digested, absorbed, and transported through body fluids and across cell membranes. One of these emulsifiers is called bile; it is made from cholesterol by the liver. Thus the more fat eaten, especially saturated fat, the more bile must be made in order for it to be digested, which means the liver must produce more cholesterol to make more bile, which in turn elevates the cholesterol in your blood.

HDL and LDL cholesterol must also be included in our understanding of how cholesterol influences body function. When cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream to be delivered to various parts of the body, it is packaged into special containers called low-density lipoproteins—(LDL). Cholesterol makes up half of LDL's composition. It has been labeled bad cholesterol because high levels of it in the blood dramatically increase the risk of heart attack. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is composed half of protein, and rather than being in the cholesterol delivery business, it is used to dispose of cholesterol as it is released from dead cells. It is labeled good cholesterol because the more you have, the lower your risk for heart attack. High and low density have to do with the size and weight of the packages. Smoking and obesity lower HDL, vigorous exercise and foods rich in vitamin C can raise it. *29

When you have a cholesterol blood test done, it generally includes an evaluation of total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Doctors may look for a ratio of total cholesterol to HDL of 3 to 1 as an ideal. The average American male ratio is 5.1 to 1. A recent study showed that Boston Marathon runners have an average of 3.5 to 1. Vegetarians do the best, averaging about 2.9 to 1.*30 The current trend in evaluating LDL and HDL is moving away from emphasis on the ratio and instead assessing them as independent risk factors. If HDL falls within a certain range it is considered protective against heart disease and if it is below that range it is considered to be a risk factor for heart disease. Similarly, for LDL there is a normal range, above which there is risk. Although we refer to HDL as good and LDL as bad, both perform necessary roles in the body. LDL is deemed bad only when there is too much of it.

The recommended cholesterol goal has been arbitrarily set at 200 mg/dl by the National Cholesterol Education Program. Unfortunately this value may lull one into a false sense of security. The Framingham Heart Study, which for the past four decades has been evaluating who gets heart attacks and who doesn't, has shown that the ideal level would be below 150 mg/dl. Dr. William Castelli, director of the study, observed that in thirty-five years there hasn't been a single heart attack in anyone with a cholesterol under 150. We know that setting 200 as a recommended goal is inadequate because 205 is the U.S. average, and in a country where half of the people die of heart disease, that can hardly be the standard to aim for. That means a value of 180 or 190 cannot be shrugged off as nothing to worry about. *31 Generally speaking, the "average" is a suspicious standard of comparison. From what we know, the average individual is an individual at risk.

As already mentioned, dietary fats are referred to as saturated or unsaturated. The saturated fats are the more life-threatening of the two in terms of heart disease and certain cancers. All fats are a combination of saturated and unsaturated, but those which are highly saturated come from animal products. Tropical oils are the only exception. Coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil come from plants, but are mostly saturated. The unsaturated fats come from predominantly vegetable sources and from some fish. Potential problems with fish will be addressed in a later section.

Unsaturated fats are referred to as polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. The degree of saturation has to do with the chemical structure and whether the fat will be solid or liquid at room temperature. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, unsaturated fats are liquid. Chemically, saturation relates to the hydrogen component of the molecular configuration. If all the hydrogen positions are full on the fatty acid chain, it is termed a saturated fat. A polyunsaturated fat has more than one place where a hydrogen pair could attach to the fatty acid chain, a monounsaturate has one position available for a hydrogen pair. As you can guess, the chemical structure of these fats plays a key role in how the body handles them.

The unsaturated fats from plants are considered safer than saturated fats, but that does not make them problem-free. The process of removing oil from a plant to form a product like vegetable cooking oil, salad oil, or margarine, dramatically concentrates the oil and alters the way it proportionately occurred in the plant. We add an ounce of oil to a recipe and consider it to be an almost insignificant amount. But we would need to eat thirty medium ears of corn to get that much fat from nature itself, and in the processing we have eliminated all the vitamins, minerals, protein, starch, and fiber that come packaged in those ears of corn.

And then there are hydrogenated fats or trans fats as they are often called. These use a man-made process to add hydrogen to soybean, corn, and other liquid polyunsaturated oils to make them more solid, stable and thereby more marketable in terms of food texture and shelf-life. (You will recall it was the polyunsaturated oils that had room for more hydrogen to be added to their structure.) Hydrogenation transforms many of an oil's unsaturated fatty acids, making them become more saturated as those hydrogen positions are filled. Researchers are still studying the impact of these altered "transformed" fats, but at present it would seem they hold an ill foreboding.

The University of California at Berkeley Weilness Letter, September 1993, reported a Harvard study indicating that women who ate lots of food high in trans fatty acids, especially margarine, had a fifty percent higher risk of coronary artery disease than women who ate these fats rarely. Another study showed that people with coronary artery disease have significantly elevated levels of trans fatty acids in their blood. "Diet" margarines are generally lower in trans fat than stick varieties, but margarine is certainly not the only culprit. Nor does this mean butter is a better choice than margarine. But you must read labels to determine the very low fat spreads. Look for one with a liquid vegetable oil listed first rather than a hydrogenated oil. If you are a reader of food labels, you are already aware that hydrogenated oils are added to a vast array of foods.

Saturated animal fat is repeatedly implicated in the disease process, but while vegetable oils may offer some advantages, I must reiterate that they are far from harmless. It is true that cholesterol in the blood stream may drop using vegetable oils, but some studies indicate that cholesterol may simply be redistributed into tissues and arteries, which in turn can lead to hardening of the arteries or arteriosclerosis. A high-fat diet of any kind can produce agglutination—a condition in which our red blood cells tend to stick or clump together. That has several important implications, as demonstrated in research done on hamsters fed a high-fat diet by Dr. R. L. Swank of the University of Oregon (Proceedings of the Society of Experimental and Biological Medicine 82:381, 1953). He was actually able to see, by means of a microscope, this clumping together of cells in the thin walls of the hamster cheek pouch. This agglutination inhibits oxygen access through our capillary system and diminishes oxygen supply to our cells and tissues. In fact, when he hooked electrodes to the heads of the hamsters to determine oxygen content of the brain, he discovered that after a high-fat meal, the hamsters had a 62 percent decrease in the amount of oxygen available to their brains. Obviously, that would influence our mental acuity, would influence our emotional state, and would contribute to the sense of sluggishness which often accompanies a high-fat meal. High-fat diets are implicated in chest pain because of oxygen deprivation to the tissues of the heart. Oxygen deprivation may also be implicated in the development of cancerous cells.

Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his discovery of the oxygen-transferring enzyme of cell respiration, discovered he could turn healthy cells into sick cells by means of oxygen deprivation (Science, 123:309—314, 1956). The sick cells would change their structure to exhibit malignant characteristics, and he found that he could produce these malignant characteristics in as little as forty-eight hours by depriving cells of sufficient oxygen. It is generally not in our conscious awareness, but we consume more oxygen than any other element. An ample, fresh supply of oxygen is vital to optimal health. Past studies have indicated that athletes have lower cancer rates than the average American. That is attributed to the increase of oxygen intake which is part of physical activity.

We must be cautious about the use of all fats. Our most healthful choice would be to prepare food free from grease of any kind. The closer food is to its natural state, the more life protection it contains.

Saturated fats from animal sources stimulate the liver to make more cholesterol. Monounsaturates and polyunsaturated have been found to lower blood cholesterol, but that does not grant permission for liberal use. Recently the monounsaturated oils have taken center stage for being most healthful. Olive oil has captured the most attention because of its generous use among Mediterranean populations and their low incidence of heart disease. Another benefit of monounsaturates is that they do not seem to lower the good HDL cholesterol to the same extent as the polyunsaturates. Polyunsaturates lower cholesterol, LDL and HDL. Monounsaturates seem to lower cholesterol and LDL but not HDL.

Of course, if our diets contained less than twenty-five percent fat that would become a moot point. We wouldn't need to concern ourselves with trying to counterbalance one lipid against another because in that range of fat intake we would be protected from heart disease. Greeks and Chinese have the lowest rate of heart disease in the world. Greeks eat largely pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, and olive oil—fat makes up almost forty percent of their diet compared to only fifteen percent fat among the Chinese.

On the face of it olive oil looks like a life saver. Based on what we presently understand, olive oil does seem to present less risk for heart disease. However, a point often overlooked is that both Chinese and Mediterranean peoples eat more fruit and vegetables and less meat than we do, and are more active than we are. When the Mediterranean diet was studied it was found that people on Crete and in southern Italy were eating twice the whole grains and fiber that we do. The Chinese eat three times the fiber that we do. This finding gives ample indication of a diet which emphasizes plant based foods. Thirty-five years ago when the habits of the rural residents of Crete were first being observed by researchers, not only did they spend most of the day working in the fields or doing chores, but few had cars or other modern conveniences. They also had a steady diet of walking and manual labor. Rural areas of China experience similar conditions even today. Both cultures also embrace a more stable family network and a less frantic pace of life than the American way. It will be interesting to see what we continue to discover from updated studies. Heart disease is not our only concern. A high fat diet is also linked to a growing number of cancers.

The risk of a high fat diet is perhaps most pronounced in the development of colon cancer. There is not a single population in the world with a high meat intake which does not have a high rate of colon cancer. *32 As John Robbins in his book, A Diet For A New America so clearly describes, "The human intestine has a very hard time handling the putrefying bacteria, high levels of fat, and lack of fiber that characterize meat, dairy products and eggs. The human intestine is anatomically very different from that of the natural carnivores, such as dogs and cats Dogs, cats and other natural carnivores do not get colon cancer from high-fat, low-fiber, flesh-based diets. But we do."*33

Giving his expert opinion about what medical science now understood about diet and cancer, Dr. Gio B. Gori told a Senate Select Committee that "Until recently, many eyebrows would have been raised by suggesting that an imbalance of normal dietary components could lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease . . .. Today, the accumulation of... evidence... makes this notion not only possible but certain

"(The) dietary factors responsible [are] principally meat and fat intake."*34 Dr. Gori is Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention and is director of its Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer program.

Dr. Mark Hegstead, nutritional scientist from Harvard University concurs: "I think it is clear that the American diet is indicted as a cause of coronary heart disease. And it is pertinent, I think, to point out the same diet is now found [guilty] in terms of many forms of cancer: breast cancer, cancer of the colon and others."*35

Another form of cancer now widely acknowledged as correlated to fat intake is cancer of the prostate, and again it is fat from animal products that is the culprit. The University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter of February 1994 (Vol. 10, issue 5) reported on prostate cancer and the intake of red meat. A study of 48,000 men from age forty to seventy-five was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It found that those who ate the most fat had a seventy-nine percent higher risk of advanced prostate cancer than those who ate the least fat. Men who ate the most red meat had a 164 percent higher risk than those with the lowest intake. The focus of this study was on fat as it relates to the advanced conditions of prostate cancer. However, Harvard researchers suggest fat intake may account for the variation in the rate of disease progression. Avoiding red meat may also avoid the development from a symptomless disease to an invasive, life threatening one. Smoking also influences the prostate disease process. But of course to smoke and to be health conscious is almost a contradiction in terms. Prostate cancer is most widespread among men who live in the U.S., Canada, and Northern Europe. It kills about 100 American men daily.

The relationship between diet and disease is not always fully understood. There are still several studies being done on the role of fat in the development of breast cancer. This relationship is not clear-cut nor uniform in all data results to date. However, "countries with a higher intake of fat, especially animal fat, have a higher incidence of breast cancer. This has been found not just once or twice but repeatedly in very carefully conducted studies Animal products are apparently a bigger problem than vegetable oils.., but some studies of lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat dairy products and eggs) have found their cancer risk is almost as high as meat eaters. These vegetarians were avoiding meat but eating considerable amounts of dairy products that, like meat, contain animal fat and not a speck of fiber." *36 For some time it has been known that breast cancer seems to be familial— insinuating a genetic link. Just recently researchers have discovered the gene which predisposes certain women to breast cancer. However, it is still not known what triggers the gene to express the disease. Perhaps that is where dietary fat comes into play.

It should also be mentioned that according to the National Institutes of Health, as reported in the November 1993 Hope Health Letter, two alcohol-containing drinks a day can raise the estrogen levels in women enough to put them at a higher risk of breast cancer. Various studies over the past ten years show that women who drink moderately have a breast cancer risk forty to one hundred percent greater than those who do not. Increased saturated animal fat intake is a risk factor in endometrial cancer as well. The Nutrition Action Health Letter of November 1993 reported that women with endometrial cancer were more likely to eat a diet high in saturated fat than their cancer-free counterparts.

The effects of these various kinds of fat can at times be confusing, and certainly there are other factors involved, but the simple message is to eat less fat. In the September 1992 Nutrition Action Health Letter a question was raised about the minimum amount of fat necessary for health. The answer indicated that there is only one fatty acid that the body cannot make for itself. It is polyunsaturated and is found in most oils, particularly soybean, safflower and cottonseed, and in smaller amounts in whole grains, vegetables, and beans. It would be difficult to become deficient. The two lipid factors most often incriminated in the disease process are cholesterol and saturated fat. The body has no dietary requirement for either one; it makes all it needs on its own. Both of these lipids are the signature of animal products. That should speak for itself.

COMPARING VEGETABLE OILS*37

BEST

GOOD

WORST

COMPARING VEGETABLE OILS*37

Type

Unsaturated

Unsaturated

Saturated

Mono (g)

Poly (g)

(g)

Almond

10

2

1

Olive

10

1

2

Canola

8

4

1

Peanut

6

5

2

Corn

3

8

2

Cottonseed

2

7

4

Safflower

2

10

1

Sesame

5

6

2

Soybean

3

8

2

Sunflower

3

9

1

Walnut

3

9

1

Coconut

1

12

Palm

5

1

7

Palm kernel

2

11

Highly monosaturated oils are the best for cooking because when overheated they do not develop as many "free radicals" as polyunsaturated oils do. Free radicals are chemical agents that may be dangerous to human cells, and will be discussed in a later section. All oils are one hundred percent fat, so if you increase your use of olive oil, that must be balanced with a decreased use of other oils. It would be a wise replacement for saturated animal fat.

Our biggest impediments to behavior change seem to be from at least two counterproductive mental strategies. First is repetitious thinking about how much we wish we could just wave a magic wand, or find a magic pill or potion, which would automatically transform our behavior without any effort on our part; and second, we spin our wheels with thoughts and feelings regarding how deprived we are without whatever it is that we are trying to let go of. It has been my observation throughout many years of assisting others to meet their desired health goals, that those who are most successful in making change of any kind are those who have concluded that what they have to gain far outweighs what they will leave behind. For those persons, letting go of a detrimental habit does not signify deprivation, but freedom, and passage to a richer experience.

I am not advocating a fat-free diet, but rather hoping to underscore that there seem to be certain fats which have more harmful consequences than others. The ideal would be to let go of those fats which are detrimental. It is a more healthful choice to prepare our food free from grease. It's a tall order, but all fat should be used with discretion. It can be done. A study was conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle on 650 women. These women were instructed how to reduce fats in their diet and then monitored by a psychologist. Four out of five of these women were able to lower their fat intake from the typical American level of about thirty-seven percent of calories to twenty percent and keep it there. Some even lowered their intake to fifteen percent voluntarily. Four years later they were given a preference test which entailed rating high fat foods, such as potato chips and certain kinds of cookies among others. When their responses were compared to women who had had no instruction and were not following a low-fat regimen, they found that for those on the low-fat diet, the high-fat foods had lost their appeal. Somehow these women had developed a distaste for foods once considered tasty. What made the difference? Researchers suggested it could have been a psychological difference in their thinking about these foods, or it may have been that high fat foods made them feel physically uncomfortable due to the increased time it takes these foods to leave the stomach. *38 It most likely was a combination of these and other factors. We do know that habits of all kinds create well-developed pathways in our nervous system, thereby facilitating the continuation of our behavior. That can work for or against us depending on our choices. Every action, positive or otherwise, prepares the way for its repetition. The good news is that establishing new pathways in our nervous system does not take long.

Over one hundred years ago, in 1877, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a vegetarian interested in disease prevention and world renowned for his work as a physician at Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, spoke words of wisdom regarding the altering of fat from the form in which it occurs in nature. He perceived free fat, separated out from its natural food source, to be unwholesome, while at the same time he discouraged the use of butter and lard because of his concern that concentrated forms of fat were not processed well by the body. He advised that an attempt to replace butter or lard with a vegetable substitute would be open to the same objections as using the products they were intended to replace. Indeed, today we find ourselves in the position of debating the pros and cons of the diet margarines as well as an entire host of products into which trans fats have been introduced, and wondering just where the virtues lie. One undebatable truth emerges. The closer food is to its natural state, the more life protection it contains.

Low Carb Diets Explained

Low Carb Diets Explained

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