Friday, June 11, 2010

Modern Hunter-Gatherer, Part 4: Oils and Other Fats

Photo courtesy of Suzi Rosenburg's photostream

Fats and Oils

For the modern hunter-gatherer, merely choosing which fats to ingest can be a problem depending on what/whom you believe. It's a very controversial subject!

If you follow the CW (conventional wisdom) espoused by many authorities (including government food and health agencies), you probably have very few problems in finding the fats touted as healthy (despite recent proven scientific evidence to the contrary). Those fats are mostly manufactured fats, available in all grocery stores; you are advised to keep your fat intake low and avoid all natural saturated animal fats at any cost.

I used to have a Peanuts cartoon I snipped out of the newspaper years ago. Charlie Brown was telling Snoopy about something he apparently didn't want to hear… and at the end, Charlie Brown turned to Snoopy and said, “and DON'T roll up your ears.

We have been led down a merry path ever since 1911 when Crisco became the first available food product to contain hydrogenated oil. They didn't start out to make a food product, though. The process of hydrogenation, which insures the fat remains solid at normal storage temperatures had just recently been patented to harden oils for use as a raw material for making soap so they made some... and since the material looked like lard, they began selling it as food.

It wasn’t long before hydrogenated oil was incorporated into many other foods, and the increase in use has been consistent with the dramatic rise in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease that occurred during the last century. Smuckers, who bought Crisco, introduced in 2004 "Crisco Zero Grams Trans Fat Per Serving All-Vegetable Shortening," which contained fully-hydrogenated palm oil blended with liquid vegetable oils to yield a shortening much like the original Crisco.

As of 2010 Crisco consists of a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils. Some nutritionists argue that while the formula has been changed to remove the trans fatty acids, the fully hydrogenated oils used to replace them may not be good for health. (See New Fat, Same Old Problem With An Added Twist? Replacement For Trans Fat Raises Blood Sugar In Humans, ScienceDaily (Jan. 18, 2007).

That study, published online in Nutrition and Metabolism, demonstrated the new fats adversely affected human metabolism of lipoproteins and glucose, when compared to an unmodified, natural saturated fat.

Current cumulative research has put to rest the long-held but erroneous concept that saturated animal fats are bad for us, and give us heart attacks. Has that made the national news? Nooooo….

The SAD (Standard American Diet) is high in fully and partially hydrogenated fats and also high in sugars. I’m not sure if it is the lack of media coverage causing even our doctors to still give out advice based on the old information, or if it's also that we collectively have rolled up our ears so we can't hear it.

Meanwhile, I have determined to eliminate from my diet all manufactured fats incorporated in anything labeled ‘food’ with an added bunch of chemical ingredients, or sold as a single ingredient. That was hard to do until I recently stopped buying anything requiring an ingredients label. I don’t eat soybean oil, corn oil, nor canola. I buy only organic, extra-virgin first cold-pressed olive and/or cold-pressed organic coconut oils and real butter, plus I eat lots of saturated animal fats like beef and egg yolks, and fatty fish like salmon.

One thing I will NOT do, however, is eat animal fats from confined factory animals. All the pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and hormones they are exposed to end up mostly stored in their fats (and their organs).

Fortunately for my food protocol, hunting and gathering good fats and oils is pretty easy. Most grocers carry butter (although not the most nutritious available, in my opinion and I no longer buy it) and a decent selection of olive oils; reading the label on olive oils is a must. After the first cold-pressing of olives, the remaining pulp is generally washed with chemicals such as hexane to extract more oil, and that bottled oil will state on the label just ‘olive oil’. In fact, some olive pulp is chemically washed as many as 4 times to extract the last drop of oil.

Why do I prefer cold-pressing?
When olives are pressed by mechanical action, the friction produces heat, and heat destroys enzymes (and other nutrients in the oil by increasing oxidation) resulting in a lower quality oil. Likewise, centrifuge extraction causes similar damage to cell walls in vegetable fats just as it does in milk fats. Only in the EU is strict adherence to olive oil regulation standardized, and enforced; few other countries have any such regulations. So I am assured by buying Spanish, Greek or Italian extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oils that I am getting the real thing.

Finding good saturated animal fats goes hand-in-hand with finding grass-fed, pastured meat animals and eggs and I covered that in Part 1.

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