01.05.2007 Natural Health

The great fat debate

The Great Fat Debate Are saturated fats as bad as we've been led to believe? In fact, are they bad at all?Teya Skae suggests it's time the Fat of Fats, virgin coconut oil, had a complete image makeover.

There is so much hype from mainstreammedia and leading health authorities, including thenaturopathic community, suggesting the many ill effectsof consuming Trans Fatty Acids (TFAs) that the GreatFat Debate deserves a closer look for the sake of ourhealth and understanding. While there is unanimous agreementthat TFAs are problematic and to be avoided at all costs,some explanations are confusing at best or misleadingat worst. We think it's time for more clarity so wecan all choose the fats that are good and avoid thosethat are bad.

Let's look at some of these warnings:

Rekha Balu, writing for the Wall StreetJournal states that TFAs are like saturated fats "whichraise bad cholesterol, causing a build-up of fatty depositsin the arteries." That is incorrect as saturatedfats raise both the good and the bad cholesterol andthey do not cause fatty deposits in the arteries. Anunderactive thyroid, coupled with stress and a diethigh in polyunsaturated oils, causes build-up of fattydeposits in the arteries. Lynn Roblin, writing for theToronto Star, advises consumers to avoid TFAs by consumingmore vegetable oils, such as olive oil and canola oil,in preference to butter and coconut oil.

Let's remember that vegetable oilssuch as canola and safflower are rich in Omega 6 fattyacids which have now been proven to cause oxidisationof our cells. This reaction leads to inflammation which,in turn, promotes degenerative conditions and prematureageing.

Harvard nutritionist Frank Hu, featuredin an article for the Washington Post, says butter isbetter than margarine, but tub or liquid margarine madefrom commercial vegetable oils is "a more healthfulchoice than butter." What Mr Hu is promoting isthe Omega 6 fatty acids which have been hydrogenatedand these are technically TFAs. Quite confusing indeed!

Why is there so much confusion amongsthealth authorities in relation to fats?

This is because in 1961, the AmericanHeart Association published its first dietary guidelinesaimed at the public. The authors, Dr Ancel Keys, IrvingPage, Jeremiah Stamler and Frederick Stare, called forpolyunsaturated oils to be substituted in place of saturatedfat and even though Keys, Stare and Page had all previouslynoted in their published papers that the increase inheart disease was due to increasing consumption of vegetableoils, the 1961 report did not publish this fact. Andthis was even after a 1956 paper by Dr Keys had suggestedthe increasing use of partially hydrogenated vegetableoils (which is what TFAs technically are) was one ofthe culprits in the heart disease epidemic.

So we have to ask why was Dr Keys'report ignored?

For obvious economic reasons the vegetable oil industryquashed the reports on the dangers of vegetable oilsand stealthily began to make saturated fats - meat,eggs, cheese, butter and coconut oil - responsible forheart disease. In actuality, saturated fats help inpreventing heart disease. If we examine the health statisticsalong with the research on saturated fat consumptionfrom the nations that consume large amounts of saturatedfats in their diet, we find that they are among thehealthiest nations/tribes/cultures in the world. Hereinlies the big "fat" confusion.
Let's look closer at the Fat Debate

TFAs are typically found in processed foods such asbiscuits, margarine, fried foods, fried potatoes, potatochips, crackers, breaded chicken, and fast food. McDonalds,has admitted its french fries contain a third more TFAsthan they had thought. In New York City, hefty fineswill soon be imposed on restaurants if they do not complyby avoiding TFAs in their cooking; this will take placein July this year.

Polyunsaturated Fats Polyunsaturated oils are liquidat room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats such as Safflower,Corn, Sunflower, Soybean and Cottonseed Oils all containover 50 per cent Omega 6 fatty acids. Safflower oilcontains almost 80 per cent Omega 6. Researchers havenow discovered there are dangers in consuming more Omega6 oils in our diet then we need. The ideal ratio ofOmega 6 to Omega 3 (the essential fatty acid) is 1:1.This is easily achieved if we avoid the using vegetableoils as Omega 6 is far more abundant in our diet thanOmega 3 essential fatty acids found in cold water fish- salmon, sardines and mackerel.

TFAs In order to have polyunsaturated fats last longerand make them look more appealing, food manufacturersuse a process called "hydrogenation". Hydrogenationtakes unsaturated liquid fat (usually some kind of vegetableoil) and adds hydrogen. The result is a TFA.

During hydrogenation, oil is heated to an extremelyhigh temperature, causing it to rapidly oxidise andcreate free radicals. In basic chemistry 101, free radicalscause prolific cell damage and premature ageing. Evenusing the so called "healthiest" organic vegetableoils, which include olive oil, in baking and fryingcreates free radicals. This is because all vegetableoils oxidise, especially when used in cooking. Theynot only produce TFAs, but form free radicals - a lethalcombination for our bodies. The only oil that does notoxidise even at 170 degree Celsius is Organic VirginCoconut oil - a saturated fat. Amazing!

Avoiding TFAs at all costs is a must according tothe WHO (World Health Organisation). This is becauseTFAs are injurious to the heart and have been linkedto cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immunesystem dysfunction, birth defects, difficulty in lactation,and problems with bones and tendons. So we want to excludethem from our diet, yet it is difficult when some ofthe most tempting foods such as commercial cakes, biscuits,chocolates and potato chips are laden with TFAs.

Why are saturated fats not TFAs? TFAs have similarproperties to saturated fatty acids when used in bakedgoods, but the claim that TFAs are like saturated fattyacids is incorrect in view of their molecular bonding/structureand their biological effect in our bodies. This is thearea that has been mostly ignored by mainstream mediaand even among the naturopathic community, accordingto lipid and nutritional expert Dr Mary G. Enig. Enigcampaigned against TFAs back in the late 1970s aftercompleting her most extensive research on the analysisof all fats. (For more extensive information see NourishingTraditions: The Cookbook that Challenges PoliticallyCorrect Nutrition by Mary G. Enig PhD www.newtrendspublishing.com)

So which oils do we use now? Organic Virgin Coconutoil is a saturated fat that is unlike any other fatand truly deserves a classification of its own. Withall the research and studies on saturated fats to date,health authorities still group TFAs with healthy saturatedfats like coconut oil. Coconut oil is not only the healthiestsaturated fat, but is one of the healthiest foods wecan consume on a daily basis. Let's examine the mostmisunderstood fat that is actually a super food.

Why is Coconut oil unique and unlike any other fat?Coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).Two thirds of the saturated fat in coconut oil is amedium chain saturated fat. This important fact deservesclarification as MCFAs actually help us to lose weight,lower cholesterol, improve diabetic conditions and reducethe risk of heart disease. One of the most outstandingbenefits of consuming MCFAs is that they do not requirethe liver and gallbladder to digest and emulsify them.This means instant quick energy, increased thermogenisis(increased metabolic rate in the body) which leads tomore heat production, as well as improved circulation.For anyone with impaired fat digestion or removed gallbladder,coconut oil is the only oil to consume as it is veryeasily digested.

MCFAs have also antimicrobial and antifungal properties,so they are beneficial to our immune system. In addition,coconut oil assists people with underactive thyroidby increasing the metabolic rate of the body and creatingmore energy. Ray Peat PhD, a physiologist who has workedwith progesterone and related hormones since 1968, saysthat the sudden surge of polyunsaturated oils in thefood chain post World War II has caused many changesin hormones. He writes: "Their [polyunsaturatedoils'] best understood effect is their interferencewith the function of the thyroid gland. Polyunsaturatedoils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement inthe circulatory system, and the response of tissuesto the hormone. When the thyroid hormone is deficient,the body is generally exposed to increased levels ofoestrogen. The thyroid hormone is essential for makingthe "protective hormones" progesterone andpregnenolone, so these hormones are lowered when anythinginterferes with the function of the thyroid. The thyroidhormone is required for using and eliminating cholesterol,so cholesterol is likely to be raised by anything thatblocks the thyroid function." http://www.efn.org/~raypeat/efatox.rtf

It is very interesting to note that high cholesterolis not a sign of eating too much saturated fat. Highcholesterol in many cases is due to an underactive thyroidwhich affects the liver, as well as the many loops andfeedback systems within the endocrine system. Stressand over consumption of carbohydrates/sugars also formshigh levels of cholesterol.

What are saturated fats and why do we need them?
Saturated fats are semi solid at room temperature andare found in animal products such as meat, poultry,lard, poultry skin, whole milk, cheese, eggs, butterand tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Ourbody actually needs saturated fats to stay healthy.Why?

Saturated fats constitute at least 50% of our cell'smembranes - the phospholipid component of every cell.Saturated fatty acids are what gives our cells structuralintegrity, so the cell walls are not weak and canprotect the inside of the cells.Saturated fatty acids play a vital role in thehealth of our bones. For calcium to be effectivelyutilised by the bones, at least 50% of the dietaryfats should be saturated.Saturated fatty acids actually lower Lipoprotein(a), a substance in the blood that leads to heartdisease, whereas excess consumption of vegetable oilsincrease it. (www.mercola.com/2003/aug/13/statin_drugs.htm)Satur... fatty acids protect the liver from alcoholand other toxins, including Tylenol, a pain reliever.Saturated fatty acids are needed for the properutilisation of Omega 3 essential fatty acids becauseOmega 3s are better retained in the tissues when thediet is rich in saturated fats (particularly organicvirgin coconut oil)Saturated stearic acid found in beef and cocoa,and palmitic acid found in coconut oil are the preferredfoods for the heart, which is why the fat around theheart muscle is highly saturated. The heart drawson this reserve of fat in times of stress.Saturated fatty acids such as caprylic acid foundabundantly in coconut oil, is antifungal and helpscombat candida (yeast overgrowth so common in oursociety)While saturated fats raise both the bad and thegood cholesterol, TFAs, together with excess consumptionof Omega 6 fatty acids, raise the bad Low DensityLipo-protein (LDL) and suppress the good High DensityLipo-protein (HDL) cholesterol, making it even worse.

In conclusion, avoiding TFAs is a must. There areno tolerance levels. They are serious culprits in degenerativeconditions disguised in some of the most tempting foodsto date. Avoiding over consumption of polyunsaturatedoils (Omega 6 fatty acids) such as flax oil and completelyavoiding corn, soy, safflower and canola is a greatstart, as polyunsaturated oils have been shown to contributeto heart disease, inflammation, underactive thyroidand weight gain. It's important to stress the importanceof using only virgin organic coconut oil, because therefined version of coconut oil no longer has the samestructure and same health benefits as the virgin organiccoconut oil. In fact, consuming plain coconut oil caneven give someone a headache or nausea.

The food manufacturers will not willingly return tousing naturally saturated fats such as coconut oil,palm oil, butter and lard because they are more expensive.Only a concerted demand by educated consumers will bringhealthy traditional healthy fats back into our commercialfood supply and restaurant cooking.

Using organic coconut oil in all cooking and bakingis the best choice for a healthy alternative. Becausevirgin coconut oil is completely saturated and no TFAscan be made from it, it is therefore harmless. In addition,it does not oxidise even at 170 degrees Celsius.

Virgin Coconut oil is the fat of fats as it also helpsus burn body fat for energy because of its unique molecularstructure of medium chain fatty acids. So do enjoy eatingmore organic virgin coconut oil, drinking organic coconutmilk/crme in your teas as well as pouring it overyour porridge and munching on macaroons made from organiccocoa and desiccated organic coconut for health andlongevity.

In Wellness!

Teya Skae
M.A., B.A., ATMS. AKA Dip Health Sciences Dip ClinicalNutrition


Keys, A., "Diet and Development of CoronaryHeart Disease", J. Chron. Dis. 4(4):364-380,October 1956
Rekha Balu, "Trans Fat: Taste Buds Cry 'Yes!'but Arteries Demur," The Wall Street Journal,June 8, 1998
Lynn Roblin, "Not all fats are created equal,"The Toronto Star Health Talk, June 24, 1998
Fred Tasker, "A Churning Controversy,"The Washington Post Health, June 2, 1997
Mary G. Enig PhD. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primerfor Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils andCholesterol (Bethesda Press 2000)
Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD Nourishing Traditions:The Cookbook that Challenges Politically CorrectNutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (NewTrends Publishing2000, www.newtrendspublishing.com
The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil, by Bruce Fife(Piccadilly Books, 2001). Eat Fat Look Thin by BruceFife (Piccadilly Books, 2002).