Do you still think that eating fat is bad for you? Do you buy low-fat yogurt, carefully measure the olive oil you drizzle on your salad, and think of steaks as artery-cloggers? Are you even still using margarine instead of butter?
I hate to say it, but you're living in the past. Back in the fifties, fat was implicated in all manner of health issues and subsequently shunned. The problem is that the implication was wrong. We're only now learning the havoc it wreaked (and continues to do).
In 1955, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack that kept him in the hospital for seven weeks. The nation was in a panic. Heart disease was considered the enemy and medical researchers were put on the case of how to prevent it.
One researcher in particular took control of the situation. Ancel Keys, known as both terribly persuasive and a tyrant, determined that cholesterol was the problem. Furthermore, he extrapolated from his epidemiological studies of carefully selected countries that saturated fat was the cause of high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
His hypothesis fueled the low-fat and fat-free craze that is still prevalent in our culture to this day.
Unfortunately, it isn't true.
Eating a high fat diet, even one filled with saturated fats, doesn't automatically result in higher cholesterol numbers. (Do you know what does? Increased carbohydrate consumption. In particular, it raises the level of dangerous triglycerides.)
Even worse is that lowering cholesterol doesn't result in lowered rates of heart disease. In fact, more than half of people who end up suffering heart attacks have cholesterol levels well within the healthy range.
There's another prevailing idea that Ancel Keys left us with. He compared our blood vessels to pipes that would get gunked up over time with cholesterol from eating saturated fat. It's easy to picture. Without free blood flow, the heart needs to work harder. You can easily visualize the outcome.
Unfortunately, this isn't accurate, either.
(By the way, Eisenhower was considered a model patient that followed Keys' guidelines to a tee. However, he was also a multipack-a-day smoker and would go on to suffer seven more heart attacks before dying from congestive heart failure in 1969.)
Most likely there are many factors that contribute to any disease, including heart disease. One we really should examine is Inflammation. If you still want to picture your arteries as pipes, then picture inflammation as the rust that corrodes them.
So what is one of the major dietary causes of inflammation?
The consumption of vegetable oils. In a very frustrating turn of events, these oils are exactly what has been sold to us as being heart-healthy.
Ugh. Don't believe it.
Why "vegetable oils" are extremely unhealthy for you
They’re fragile structures
First a quick chemistry lesson: Fats consist of carbon chains. When each of the links in the carbon chain is bonded to hydrogen, they're known as saturated fats (because they're saturated with hydrogen). This makes them solid at room temperature, such as butter, and very stable. Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), such as olive oil, are chains where all of the links but one are bonded to hydrogen. They're also fairly stable. Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), however, have more than one link that's not bonded to hydrogen. This doesn't make them unhealthy--the much lauded omega-3 oils found in fish and flaxseed are PUFAs and they're wonderfully beneficial for us. What their unsaturated nature does is make them more prone to oxidation, both in the bottle and in your body.
They’re toxic to your body
We've been calling these particular PUFAs by their marketing name: vegetable oils. More accurately, though, they're industrial seed oils. See, these oils aren't easy to come by, unlike the oil that's easily pressed out of an olive. They need high heat, high pressure, and possibly the chemical hexane to extract them. As noted above, their structure is fragile and these processes easily damage them, causing oxidation. This rancidity, then, is often treated by bleaching and deodorizing the oils, which further degrades them.
When you eat these oxidized oils, your own cells are compromised. The end result is inflammation.
They’re high in omega-6 fatty acids
Just as PUFAs in general aren't unhealthy for you, neither are omega-6 fats. They're essential, meaning you need to eat them because your body doesn't product them. But if you’re like most Americans, you’re eating anywhere from 12 to 25 times more omega-6s than you are omega-3s--and more now than people ever ate in our collective past. That's because industrial seed oils are used in everything now.
For your health, you want to a ratio of less than 4:1. Some researchers recommend even a 1:1 ratio for better aging and cognitive health. You can easily get enough whole-food sources of omega-6 fats by eating nuts and seeds regularly. They’re even present in some vegetables and fruit.
They promote cardiovascular and cognitive damage
I'll remind you again that these oils have fragile structures. By cooking with them, you're subjecting them to even more damage. When you eat them, your body responds by producing free radicals and elevating your blood pressure, both of which are awful for your cardiovascular health. There's also a distinct association between eating them and suffering from cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer's. Eating them uncooked, as in a salad dressing, is the better of two evils--but either way is evil enough that you really should just avoid them.
Increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancers (especially breast cancer)
More and more studies illustrate that replacing saturated fats in our diet with industrial seed oils is having the opposite effect of what was once predicted. Overall mortality goes up with a strong correlation between high omega-6 consumption and breast cancer.
Don’t think the cold-pressed or expeller-pressed versions are better
It’s true that using cold methods to extract the oil from the seeds won’t damage its structure, though the pressure needed still often causes enough damage that they need to be refined with bleaching and deodorizing. Also, researchers have found that these oils are heavily contaminated with the pesticides they were grown in. They also often come from GMO crops. Better not to eat these oils, but if you choose to, be sure that they’re organic.
Meta-analysis of previous studies have even caused our government to back off the low-fat prescription it's been pushing for decades--though it still isn't pointing any fingers at industrial seed oils yet. Change happens slowly when lobbying groups are involved...
But you don't have to wait for it. You can change the way you eat starting right now. Don't be confused by the "heart healthy" labels. Remember instead Dr. Cate Shanahan's advice:
As always, if you feel like you need more help fine-tuning all of this information, please look into my personal health coaching and The Wonderfulness Program Fundamentals.
Wishing you wonderfulness!