The Taboo Against Animal Fat

red meat

(The first of two posts about the damaging effect of the western diet on intestinal bacteria and human health.)

As a traditionally trained physician, I watch with horror and dismay as for-profit corporations intrude ever deeper into so-called evidence based medicine. I have written at length about the role of Big Pharma in corrupting good medical practice to promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals – and their bottom line (see Menopause: Made in the USA and Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit). The role of Food Inc in the dietary recommendations doctors (and government) make to patients and the public at large are even more insidious and damaging.

The current taboo against saturated animal fats is a case in point. For the past thirty years, doctors and government agencies have been lecturing us that diets high in saturated animal fats (found in red meat, whole milk, eggs, butter and lard) cause high cholesterol levels, heart disease and stroke. They have persisted in this three decade campaign against animal fat – despite the total absence of scientific research supporting a link between fat intake and high cholesterol levels – or heart disease and and stroke. In fact, growing evidence suggests just the opposite: diets low in saturated fats and high in sugar and refined carbohydrate promote obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

In other words, government and the medical fraternity have it backwards. Worse still, it appears that their purely theoretical (based on no evidence) phobia against animal fat may be the single most important factor in the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

An Unproven Hypothesis

The current taboo against animal fats is based on a hypothesis first promoted forty years ago when I was in medical school. The theory works like this:  consumption of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats promotes high levels of blood cholesterol, which lead to calcified plaque formation in arteries, which restrict blood flow to the heart and brain, as well as increasing blood pressure by making blood vessels less elastic.

There’s a credible body of research linking high cholesterol levels to plaque formation and the latter to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. However there’s no research whatsoever linking diets high in animal fats and cholesterol to high blood cholesterol levels.

In March, Annals of Internal Medicine published a metanalysis of 72 scientific studies on the effect of different fats on heart disease. The authors conclude there is insufficient research evidence to support guidelines discouraging consumption of saturated animal fats.

The Work of Weston A Price

A growing body of evidence suggests that diets low in saturated fats are, in fact, harmful to human health. Many of these studies were inspired by the work of dentist Weston A. Price in the 1930s. Puzzled that Maori, Australian aboriginals and other indigenous groups experienced no tooth decay prior to adopting a western diet, Price studied their dietary habits. To his surprise, he discovered it wasn’t the direct effect of sugar on tooth enamel that caused cavities. His patients developed tooth decay because diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates were deficient in basic nutrients essential for human health. When he helped them alter their diets, his patients not only avoided further tooth decay but healed existing cavities.

One of Price’s discoveries was that animal fats* provide essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) that play a vital role in the absorption of other nutrients essential for hormonal and neurological function and protection against chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

The Role of Intestinal Bacteria

More recent studies have elucidated the mechanism by which diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrate predispose to both high cholesterol levels and obesity. Some of this research is summarized in an April 2013 article in Mother Jones Are Happy But Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?

The article explains how high sugar and refined carbohydrate diets, coupled with massive antibiotic overuse in medicine and factory farming**, promote the growth of gram negative, endotoxin-producing intestinal bacteria. When endotoxin is absorbed into the bloodstream, it sets up a wide ranging inflammatory response that can manifest a variety of effects, including arthritis, eczema, psoriasis and neuropsychological syndromes such as autism, Asperger’s disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. A number of studies suggest that high cholesterol levels are also an inflammatory response to this endotoxin. Others link endotoxin to inflammatory damage in the brain’s appetite center. An impaired appetite center will cause people and animals to eat indefinitely without ever feeling full.

The Mother Jones article also describes several studies in which obese patients lost weight by simply suppressing endotoxin-producing bacteria – by taking probiotics and eating fermented foods containing beneficial bacteria.

*The contamination of animal fats and dairy products, even when produced organically, with fat-soluble pesticides and other industrial toxins makes choosing “safe” saturated fats somewhat problematic. Classified as endocrine disruptors, many of these toxins mimic estrogen, which promotes the development and growth of breast cancer. For this reason, I prefer coconut oil as my saturated fat of choice.

**Factory farmed animals are routinely fed antibiotics to hasten and maximize growth.

To be continued.

photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} via photopin cc

18 thoughts on “The Taboo Against Animal Fat

    • There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about an organic vegan diet, provided it includes adequate quantities of fats and oils and omega 3, zinc and vitamin B12, A, E and K supplements. Most people need to consume a significant amount of protein, fats and oils (i.e. foods that take longer to digest) to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Otherwise low blood sugar levels can lead them to crave excessive quantities of carbohydrates and sugars. And diets high in carbohydrates and sugars are linked with a number of medical problems as I describe in my post.

      Coconut oil is a good substitute for animal fat, but it doesn’t contain adequate quantities of vitamin A, E and K. Nor the essential omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Flaxseed oil contains small amounts of EPA and DHA but you have to consume massive quantities to satisfy your daily requirement and it acts as a laxative in a lot of people.

      Thus vegans who use coconut oil as their primary fat need to also take omega 3 and zinc and vitamin B12, A, E and K supplements.

      All vegans and vegetarians are advised to take zinc and vitamin B12 supplements – as there is no good plant source for these nutrients.

      Does this answer your question?

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      • Yes. Thanks for your feedback, I a big fan of your post “The Most Revolutionary Act”. So, what do you think of “Forks Over Knives” documentary?

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        • Whole food diets with lots of fresh fruits and veggies are great, but we need to stop trying to convince people that “low fat” diets are good for them. Diets with insufficient fat are making people obese and diabetic, as well as causing a host of other medical problems.

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  1. The problem now, is that everyone believes that saturated animal fat is the leading cause of CHD! I was in big Pharma for two years, and became rather cynical about Big P

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    • Sad, isn’t it? According to the Annals of Internal Medicine (as I mention in my post), the research evidence doesn’t support this erroneous belief. Meanwhile people following this advice get fatter and fatter and type 2 diabetes has become epidemic.

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      • I was very fat, and my blood sugar went sky high. I reduced my overall calorie intake, and lost weight. While I do take medication, my sugar and cholesterol are under control. I do eat red meat from time to time. Not in summer. It’s too hot here during the summer in India

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  2. Thanks for this important information. I was made aware of the Weston Price information about 5 years ago and was able to decrease my thyroid meds and then eventually “step off ” of them completely using the information about the value of saturated fats. Prior to that I’d been a Low-fat diet proponent. As you so accurately stated, the animal fat does carry any toxins from pesticides or hormones that the animal may have ingested. And with all the chemtrail spraying, GMO seeds pollinating everything, everywhere, its more than likely that even “organically grown” foods have been contaminated. I, too, turned to coconut oil as my saturated fat of choice. Haven’t found it yet here in Morocco and my knees have begun to complain. I look forward to reading Part II of this article. Blessings, Alia

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  3. Pingback: The Care and Feeding of Intestinal Bacteria | The Most Revolutionary Act

  4. Why do I need supplements? Why is the diet of my ancestors 400 to 1000 years ago not healthy? Especially Vitamin D which we produce by sun exposure. NOV-FEB maybe, but in sunnier regions, is there a need?

    I watched The Starch Solution yesterday and it seems to me this is exactly how everyone of my great grandparents and everyone before them lived. Sometimes well into their 70ies, 80ies (documented). Where do those supplements come from? Why do I have to eat stuff brought from another continent?

    They ate tubers, greens, vegetables, meat in winter, a little cheese all year long, eggs in spring, some beans, more tubers, then fruits, nuts, lots of them, after that first topinambour and then potatoes. What is wrong with that?

    And it is dead simple to cook! Throw mentioned stuff into a pot, cook with heat, throw away the water, do simmer for a while and voila, a meal or two. Add spices, herbs and salt. Never gets old.

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    • You bring up an excellent point about the insane practice of eating foods (which lose most of their nutrients during transit) from other continents.

      Yet as you point out, people residing at latitudes north of 37 degrees (and south of 37 degrees in the southern hemisphere) don’t get adequate Vitamin D from sunlight. This is confirmed by studies showing that 10 million American adults over 50 have inadequate blood levels of Vitamin D.

      It’s possible to get Vitamin D from fish, but given the high level of mercury contamination (and now Fukushima radiation) of seafood, I think it’s probably safer to take vitamin D supplements (provided the supplements don’t come from fish).

      As I mention in the post, It’s also really hard to get adequate levels of EPA and DSA without eating oily fish or taking supplements. I suspect your ancestors were supplementing their diet with fish. Either that or they were sneaking some insects and larvae on the side, another rich source of essential omega 3 fatty acids EPS and DSA.

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      • Probably a little bit of everything.

        Btw, most are not enough outside Oct. till March, so they just lack exposure. I notice the drive ppl get from skiing in the alps, lasting days after only one sunny day up there. And then there is the fog, which we don’t have here.

        I wonder where I will get supplements in 30 years, not even talking about heavy metal free krill…

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