In this post I will be sharing some of my personal experience since I have not been eating grains, processed sugar, or processed foods with trans fats/hydrogenated oils. I will also go over the book Know Your Fats: Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol by Dr. Mary Enig. I will focus on these aspects: the roles good quality fats in the body and why it is important that we eat them, the molecular structure of fats and why this matters, how trans fats/hydrogenated oils cause a deterioration to health, why coconut oil, butter or ghee (clarified butter), and animal fats are superior cooking oils to hydrogenated/heavily processed vegetable oils, why we were taught good quality saturated fats were bad and how this is about money and power, bio-individuality of genes, Dr. Weston A. Price and his research, cholesterol and why we need it, and the amount of fats in the diet that are ideal for a healthy body/mind to maintain vitality and energy.
I am 56 days into 60 days off grains, processed sugar, and processed foods with trans fats/hydrogenated oils in them. I have also not been drinking alcohol. I have been eating a lot of quality animal fat, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil, sprouted sesame seed butter/tahini, vegetables and protein. I walk 4-7 miles and do 30-45 minutes of yoga a day. I recently sustained an injury that has not allowed me to do a lot of cardio so I am paying attention to portions of fat and yet I have lost weight! I was 133 and I was 121 when I weighed myself after 30 days on the Whole30 program (which I have extended to 60 days). After the 60 days I plan to incorporate a glass of wine here and there and occasional vegetable oils when I go to a restaurant that uses them to cook a fillet of fish. I do not plan on eating vegetable oils at home or again if it is not the only thing around!
I find fats to be satiating and that ghee especially really does make my food taste so much better! I also have completely fallen for coconut. Yup, I’m jumping on the paleo train ;-) I find coconut to be great with berries and nuts instead of yogurt or dessert, that coconut milk is great in soups and omelets, and that it is very creamy and satisfying. Whole foods has a nice organic brand of coconut milk and you can also stock up online easily. Coconut oil is not only great to cook with but it also is wonderful as a body moisturizer after the bath. I have stopped using other oils to cook with and expensive lotions all together. It’s simple and liberating. A little coconut oil as a moisturizer goes a long way. I also love that coconut oil is antibacterial!
I miss grains sometimes and yet I will reincorporate them into my diet again if after I test them for sensitivity they show to be beneficial for me. If I am sensitive to them at this point the world of vegetables has substituted so wonderfully with fats that I don’t feel I need them. I am sleeping better because fats and veggies for dinner is also much easier for me to digest especially at night. I get up at 6:30 am now. It’s still hard because it’s winter in MA and yet I am noticing waking and getting up is easier. Overall, eating fat is working out really well for me! I feel mentally and emotionally more stable and I trust that my hormones in general are more balanced as I feel this clarity. Let me know if you have questions or comment below to share with me your journey! It’s nice to know we are not alone :) If you want to read more about my journey with healing my digestion and learning to absorb nutrients fully check out Softening Into Injury.
Read on if you want to learn about the why behind this change that has helped me to feel better and more about the book on fats by Dr. Enig.
"EL | In interviews and toward the end of your book, you are quite critical of the food industry. Why?
ME | I believe the food industry is actively perpetuating a lie: that processed food, imitation food, is just as good as real food. The reason they’re doing this is that there are billions of dollars to be made selling that food. But to make those billions, you have to spin things so that people don’t really know enough to question or change their behavior. If you keep on repeating a lie often enough, you end up with a lot of people believing it. For instance, the medical profession bought into the industry’s myths about cholesterol and fat; then they started pushing low-fat diets into the population without really investigating the science. That helped the food industry put all of these artificially manufactured fats into the food supply. And the more of that that went into the food supply, the fatter people became and the more they thought they needed a low-fat diet."
~ Experience L!fe Magazine · DAVID SCHIMKE · JANUARY - FEBUARY 2004
Expert fats researcher Dr. Mary Enig offers surprising insider views on good fats, bad fats and the food
In the book Know Your Fats: Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol Dr. Mary Enig breaks down the science behind fats on a molecular level. The beginning of her book assists the reader in the process of understanding what fats and oils are. Fats (lipids) are made of molecules termed triglycerides. A triglyceride is made up of a few fatty acids (p. 9). If you understand the information provided on fatty acids you will have grasped one of the major takeaways of this book. Fatty acids were almost called vitamin F when scientists first began to explore the body's need for a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. They are as vital to immune health as vitamin C for example.
molecular structure and the roles of fat
The molecular structure of fats is important. Understanding how they are built can help us to understand how they affect the body. We now know that beneficial fats like coconut oil and butter which are more stable (fatty acids that are not damaged by heat). These more stable fats are favorable to cook with. Coconut oil is a good one because it is a good source of lauric acid in the diet. The structure of the fatty acids also helps us to determine which are too fragile and unstable to cook with such as olive and flax seed oil. These oils are unsaturated fat and this can mean they are polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.
Enig breaks down on a molecular level saturated fats like coconut oil and animal fats which are straight chain fatty acids that can stack evenly on top of each other almost like 2x4’s in the lumber department at Home Depot. Fats that are more fragile when heated like unsaturated fats have molecular structures that curl and bend. Compared to unsaturated fats monounsaturated are moderately stable fatty acids and polyunsaturated are comparatively unstable. This is a simplification as it always depends on the fat and the situation. The degrees to which they curl and bend is dependent upon the type of fatty acid as each have different constructions. Consistently, they do not stack on top of each other neatly like solid fats; they have space in and around their structures.
For clarification it is helpful to note a bit more about the specific structures of saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats have no carbon bonds (this makes sense as they are more solid, there is less space for anything else)! Unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. This is logical if you break it down. Monounsaturated fats have at least one double carbon bond in their carbon chain and polyunsaturated fatty acids have several. The hydrogen can interact differently with each kind of fatty acid based on how may carbon bonds they have in their chains.
This means at room temperature (depending on how cold or hot the climate) saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, or ghee (clarified butter) will be firm. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature such as sesame seed oil for example. The delicate Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and do not go rancid easily. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are always liquid and they can be damaged quickly if they are not cold pressed, organic, and prepared/stored properly. We usually see the monounsaturated, high quality olive oil in the dark green glass bottles. It protects the fragile oil from being damage by light and other environmental factors. It is also important that fragile oils such as olive oil (and most seed, nut, and vegetable oils) are cold pressed so that they are not spoiled. These oils can be chemically altered and become toxic when high heat is used. This is especially true for seed, nut, and vegetable oils that are popular in North America such as corn, canola, and peanut oil. These became some of the favorites of large food companies in the early 1900’s when the food giants began to gain power and even more so around WWII when hydrogenation of especially vegetable oils became popular and common place. It was then that the food giants first discovered the financial benefit that could come from the process of hydrogenation of fats and oils. It made the food last longer on the shelves and yet many of them had no idea what it would do once ingested.
When an unstable, omega 6, polyunsaturated fatty acid like safflower or corn oil is hydrogenated, those molecular structures are forced from bent or curled state to a straight structure so that they can maneuver and act like a solid in processed foods. These are very harmful to the body.
Our health will be improved if we can stay away from foods that have hydrogenated oils. I recommend looking at the ingredient labels on your foods always!
It is a fun process to learn which oils are best to cook with and which are best as salad dressings or used o drizzle over veggies and other foods.
trans fats/hydrogenated oils deteriorate health
Rancid and hydrogenated oils can aggravate all sorts of health problems. These harms can be seen in the form of blood sugar dysregulation, diabetes type I and II, hypoglycemia, Insulin resistance, problems with vision, lower levels of testosterone (than what is optimal), low birth weight, stunted brain development in children, and more that have yet to be studied/discovered. We need more attention dedicated to this topic in scientific research.
we need more research
Enig’s book taught me about the benefits and potential harms of dietary fats. Ultimately we need more information than we currently have as a culture! It is certainly changing for the better and yet we have more work to do. It would be particularly helpful to have more information based on unbiased scientific research that looks into the benefits of fatty acids of all types and about the harms of trans fatty acids/hydrogenated oils.
In Enig’s chapter 1 Knowing the Basic Facts About Fats she explains,
All the rhetoric not-with-standing, we really don’t know if, as adults, eating 50% of our fat as saturated fatty acids (this is the percentage that is found in human milk) causes any health problem or relieves any health problem because we have never measured the dietary intake of different fatty acid classes accurately! However, when we have looked at what the fats were in our diets from the historical perspective, we don’t find any problem with the natural fats that have been around for eons… (p. 44)
It is a sound point that humans have eaten fats found in nature as whole foods for a very long time and there is something to be said for the health of people who eat their ancestral diets and have not been introduced to the modern diet (such as the studies by Dr. Weston A. Price). It is also impossible to ignore that fats which have not been altered/hydrogenated by human food processing and are prefect just the way they are in terms of their nutritional value. I understand that simply saying, The Inuit folks in Canada, Greenland, and the United States are healthy and they eat a diet high in saturated fat so it must be good for me too is an oversimplification. A diet of 80-90% saturated fat will not be beneficial to all. And yet what about the simple test of time argument when choosing our foods?
How does exercise, job type, climate, ancestry, and so much more play into what fats may be most beneficial for each bio-individual? How can we listen to any one study that says animal fat is the worst for example when we don’t have the unbiased scientific info to back that up? I say, we can be our own experiment. We eat certain things, tactfully cut others out, add them back in, document our experiences while eliminating possible harmful foods and we see that we can think more clearly and feel more openly without hydrogenated fats in our lives. It’s pretty clear once you try it out.
bio-individuality and the ideal amount of fat in the diet
I hear a lot of concern from people in my community who are nurse practitioners, dentists, and doctors in regards to nutrition and the lack of research (for example that many supplements have not been FDA tested and we are unaware of many possible contraindications). I hear this point and I would love to see more unbiased information that was not run by big companies with particular agendas in regards to fatty acid balance. It is important to address our bio-individuality and to understand that we all have different heredity, blood type, life styles, ancestry, and other specifies and thus different fatty acid balance needs in regards to saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. It is helpful that the Nutritional Therapy Association based on their diverse nutritional resources and medical professional contacts recommends 30% saturated fats, 10% polyunsaturated (omega 3s and omega6s), and 60% monounsaturated fats as a good place to start until more individual needs are uncovered. I am excited for the day when more of the empowering information I have learned from my nutritional studies are supported by scientific studies so that we can better work with folks in various medical fields and health care professions. I understand we make great strides towards this daily and I am hopeful that we will only improve in our knowledge.
Fats ~ the test of time
Enig goes on to say that historically saturated fatty acids were consumed regularly and there were barley any trans fatty acids. When trans fatty acids were present they were in the form of ruminant fats (fatty acids that are naturally manufactured via bacterial metabolism when we have eaten specific animal products, for example dairy, beef, or lamb). I am of the mind that scientific studies cannot hurt and yet we as humans have traditionally thrived from eating fats from animals, butter, and tropical oils depending on our ancestry. This is the powerful information of time given to the modern omnivore, to coin Michael Pollan’s term from his book: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. It is not fool proof and yet we cannot deny that 200 years ago there was not nearly as much heart disease and diabetes.
I loved the historical perspective that Enig brought to the table. She compares how in the 1800 and early 1900’s using animal fats (which can be a blend of both unsaturated and saturated fatty acids depending on the fat) was quiet normal. It is incorrect to think of animal fats as exclusively bad saturated fats. Enig points out that it is easy to see how big businesses got involved in the marketing processes of the food industry. For instance if you look at how particularly the United States went from using mostly animal fats to hydrogenated vegetable oils between 1935-1985 it does make me wonder, why?
I do want to make an important note here about how much I respect the vegetarian choice from an environmental stand point and from a kindness point of view. I love vegetarian diets for the reality that so much land and resources go into raising tortured animals for the purpose of feeding many people at one time. I get why agriculture was a huge break through during the agricultural revolution and now it is on such a large scale that the animals are not treated as beings with the right to their own quality of life, or to breath fresh air, or to eat a diet that is natural to their inherent state of being. I also dislike how many resources are used in the transporting of our animal products and would love to see more local, sustainable, free range, organic practices become the norm. That being said, I still think we can eat animals and animal products, in moderation, while being aware of sustainability. We have to be really tactful and educated in how we do so. Maybe this means we eat less quantity and yet more quality products from farms that we know and love. There is also the way of hunting our own food as well.
To return to the topic of why we moved from eating animal fats to hydrogenated vegetable oils on a large scale as a country, it seems that many big food businesses put a lot of money into making specific science reports look as though animal fats can cause or contribute to cancer and heart disease for example. In contrast these studies found in Enig’s book posited that hydrogenated vegetable oils did not cause various mortal diseases. They would skew the studies by making many of the animal fat control groups full of smokers over the age of 50 when the vegetable oil control groups had younger participants as well with barley any smokers in the group. The people in power of the big food industries have an ability to spin the effects of hydrogenated oils on our health. If you want more information on this topic please look up Sally Fallon and her research, writing, and videos on the subject. Her video The Oiling of America is grounded in research and truth. It is refreshing to say the least!
I enjoyed learning about the truths of cholesterol. I’d always had a feeling this was also wrapped up in the perspectives and agendas of big food business. Up until Enig’s book on fats I had not really understood how cholesterol worked and what I should really be aiming for in terms of healthy cholesterol.
The rudimentary molecule Acetyl-coA is what cholesterol is made from. Cholesterol is different, especially in digestion from fatty acids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Enig teaches us that significantly less than 50% of the cholesterol we consume is absorbed (as opposed to infants who require more, especially for the advancement of the brain). A certain amount is required by our body to be healthy as we can only manufacture some. Again this is something that comes down to bio-individuality. A person’s lifestyle, genetics, and other factors will determine how much cholesterol (take for instance serum cholesterol) may be beneficial and what might be detrimental.
Polyunsaturated fats cause our bodies to synthesize more cholesterol than saturated fatty acids do. We also all have varying serum cholesterol. Natural fatty acids will affect a person system differently depending on the starting serum cholesterol. If you have high serum cholesterol that mostly will go down if you eat saturated fat and if you begin with low serum cholesterol and eat unsaturated and monounsaturated fat it will increase (p.57).
I could study cholesterol for years and still not understand it completely. This book was a great place to start in terms of taking a crack at it. It is important not take what we hear in the mainstream culture/media to be all there is to know about the topic and we should all be encouraged to do our own research on cholesterol when it comes to our own health.
Anything contradictory to my philosophy?
Enig suggests a 2 to 3:1 to 1.5 of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids for most people (of course this always depends on the individual needs and circumstances). This is a debated topic. Many say the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s in the diet should be approximately 1:1. Besides these differences (which I think both perspectives make sense depending on where you are standing) I did not find anything else that stood out as a contradiction. As with most things this comes down to the person, their situation, and bio-individuality.
I love this topic, Enig, and Fallon <3
I absolutely love Dr. Mary Enig’s work. I am so proud of how she challenges the misbeliefs that fat and cholesterol are simply bad. It is so harmful to not have the correct information and I am looking forward to her educational information permeating our culture!
I enjoy how Enig explains and suggests a 2 to 3:1 to 1.5 of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids for most people. She suggests 2 to 3 percent of the total calories consumed should be from omega 6s and 1 to 1.5 percent from omega 3s. This means for optimal health the beneficial fat percentage of our diet would be 30% fats (of course this always depends on the individual needs and circumstances).
I appreciate that she notes a difference for pregnant and nursing women, infants, and children. She explains that pregnant women need more minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. Enig suggests that pregnant women make beneficial fatty acids about 3 to 5 % of the calories their diet with a ratio of 2:1 of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Much of this education is left out of the everyday experience for pregnant women I have spoken to about nutrition and childhood. To be aware of the nutritional needs during childhood is so vital to a life of optimal health! I want to see more education around nutritional needs during childhood in the Unites States. Our children’s health is directly tied to our success as a culture that promotes intelligence and ingenuity. We can’t break new ground and challenge the old if we are all fatigued and deficient in fatty acids!
Fatty acids are crucial to so many of the body’s functions. So please eat what your body craves in a beneficial way. Eat butter or ghee (clarified butter) and free range, happy, local, organic animal products like raw dairy and animals that have had a good life if you participate in eating animal products and if you tolerate them well. If you don’t say yes to these please try sweet, delicious coconut oil and let your desire for beneficial fats in! Enig teaches us not to be afraid and she could not be more correct. Encourage your cravings for this splendid nourishment that make the food taste marvelous!
Stay tuned for more on how to loose fat through eating fat. Next book on quality fats I read: Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats by Enig and Fallon. Yyeeeeeess!