I'm interested in what's really good for our bodies. We all like the idea of caring for these wonderful machines we have by supplying them with everything they need, so we feel energised, think clearly, have stable emotions and look fabulous. And if you're anything like me, you'll be pretty fed up of getting dodgy advice on these things from companies desperately trying to get us to buy their products... every time we hear an advert claiming something might improve our lives as part of a healthy lifestyle we should be thinking, 'ah, so that also means it might not!'
Which brings me to fat. Fat fat FAT. We hear a lot about it don't we? From the obesity epidemic in the US, where two in three adults are now obese, to news that the world's heaviest man lives in Ipswich, fat is always big news. It gets the blame for heart disease, obesity and even cancer... so what are we doing about it?
A recent marketing survey concluded that the way most people try to improve their diets is to buy foods labelled 'low fat'. Seems sensible right? Well, apparently not. Studies show many of these these low fat products actually just lead to people eating more of them, because 1. they perceive them as being healthy, and 2. fat keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so without it these products simply don't fill you up. A 'low fat' biscuit bar might be low in fat but that doesn't mean it has fewer calories than a normal bar, and will often contain more sugar and processed ingredients.
One product which has seen a drastic decrease in usage over the past 100 years is good old butter. With all the cheap margarines and spreads out there claiming to be lower in 'saturated' fats and some even claiming to actively lower cholesterol, many people have ditched butter in favour of what they see as healthy alternatives. Personally I only eat butter, not only because it tastes SO much better, but also because common sense tells me natural is best! And when I look a bit deeper than the advertising chatter, or even advice from many supposed diet-gurus, I find that common sense has a lot to say for itself...
Saturated (animal) fat and cholesterol have come in for quite a battering over the last 60 years or so, since a study in the 1950s (the Lipid Hypothesis) suggested a link between dietary saturated fats and cholesterol could be linked with coronary heart disease. The study gained a huge amount of publicity, as well as vast quantities of funding from vegetable oil and processed food companies, who were set to benefit from the idea by selling products low in saturated fats and cholesterol. What wasn't so well publicised was the large number of studies challenging the lipid hypothesis. Even early fans of the low fat diet found that people struggled to stay on them for long, and suffered problems such as low energy, difficulty concentrating, depression, weight gain and mineral deficiencies.
We Need Fat!
Ten reasons we need saturated fat and cholesterol to stay healthy and beautiful:
Bones4u: For calcium to be built effectively into your bones, at least 50% of your dietary fats should be saturated.
Gut Reaction: Fatty acids have antimicrobial properties, protecting you against harmful bugs in your gut.
Baby Fat: Mother's milk is extremely high in cholesterol, and babies and children need cholesterol to aid brain development.
Toned Up: Cholesterol works with Vitamin D to produce benefits such as good muscle tone, immune system function and proper growth.
Shields Up: Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, protecting against free-radical damage.
Feel-good Factor: Cholesterol allows proper functioning of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is your body's natural feel-good response, vital for a balanced mood.
Fill Up: Along with proteins, green veg and whole grains, fats take time to digest, helping to prevent overeating.
Hard Cell: Saturated fatty acids make up over 50% of cell membranes, giving them structure.
I Heart Food: Saturated fats are the preferred fuels the heart uses to function.
Boozed Up: Saturated fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
Natural fat is good for you! Traditional communities in Africa, China, Italy, France, Puerto Rica and even Japan who all consume significant amounts of saturated animal fats, have world-leading life expectancy rates and low occurrence of heart disease. Heart disease causes 40% of deaths in America and obesity continues to rise, but intake of animals fats in America has reduced significantly over the past 100 years, and butter consumption is down more than 80%. So what has changed? What is really responsible if saturated fat and cholesterol-rich diets aren't so bad after all?
The Real Problem
The big changes in our diets in modern times concern the increased intake of dietary vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats in foods such as margarine, up 400% between 1910 and 1970, plus an increase in consumption of sugar and processed foods, up 60%. Many fat-reduced foods have increased sugar to compensate for the lost richness and moistness fat gives food, and reduced-fat diets tend to contain more calories provided by refined carbohydrates (which are broken down into sugar) and sugar.
The backlash against the 'anti-fat' movement is in full swing in the US, with books like Janet McLagan's award-winning Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, and nutritional experts modifying their messages worldwide. Refined carbohydrates, excessive sugar intake and industrially produced vegetable oils and fats, as well as insufficient exercise and too little fresh fruit and veg are now seen as more worthy targets in the battle against obesity and poor health.
At the end of the day all we have to rely on to see through the fog of corporate marketing nonsense and so-called expert advice is good old common sense. And common sense to me is to do what works, and to do what thousands of years of practice and nature itself has taught us. For food, as well as skincare, the days of mass-produced, processed, chemically enhanced, unnatural products are finally coming to an end!