People, when they find out that science has changed the consensus opinion about a topic always have the same reaction “There they go again, first it’s bad for you, then it’s good for you!” In the 1950s science concluded, mostly through the work of one influential scientist, that saturated fats were unhealthy and caused heart disease. As it turns out, his research was a victim of his biases, and his conclusions were reached before the data was all in. When this happens in the field of science, the system of using ‘The Scientific Method’ will eventually determine the flaws, the research will be overturned, and the science gets better, more accurately following the dictates of the facts. The damning of fats had it’s gut-level attraction, making a sort of man on the street sense. This week in Time Magazine, there is a wonderful article detailing the history of the science, and it’s metamorphosis lately: (article requires login, but its free)
The idea that saturated fat is bad for us makes a kind of instinctive sense, and not just because we use the same phrase to describe both the greasy stuff that gives our steak flavor and the pounds we carry around our middles. Chemically, they’re not all that different. The fats that course through our blood and accumulate on our bellies are called triglycerides, and high levels of triglycerides have been linked to heart disease. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to assume that eating fats would make us fat, clog our arteries and give us heart disease. “It sounds like common sense–you are what you eat,” says Dr. Stephen Phinney, a nutritional biochemist who has studied low-carb diets for years.
Advertising, marketing, and production of food changed virtually overnight, demonizing the natural foods, and hailing the newly tooled and reconfigured man-made foods.
The food industry is nothing if not inventive. Faced with a fatwa against fat in the 1980s, manufacturers adjusted, lining grocery shelves with low-fat cookies, crackers and cakes. The thinking for consumers was simple: Fat is dangerous, and this product has no fat; therefore it must be healthy…But without fat, something had to be added, and Americans wound up making a dangerous trade. “We just cut fat and added a whole lot of low-fat junk food that increased caloric intake,” says Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.
The War On Fat was on, things like lard were replaced by things like Crisco, butter by Blue Bonnet. For decades we were encouraged to drink low-fat milk, where the fat was replaced with sugar. Low in fat meant high in carbs, but we were never let in on how food science accomplished making low fat foods still taste like food. No agency or person was in charge of checking the products for their effects on the population in something like a drug trial. If any of these theories had been tested in the lab of real people we would not currently have the diabetes and hypertension epidemic we are currently suffering through.
Even experts like Harvard’s Hu, who says people shouldn’t be concerned about total fat, draw the line at fully exonerating saturated fat. “I do worry that if people get the message that saturated fat is fine, they’ll [adopt] unhealthy habits,” he says. “We should be focusing on the quality of food, of real food.”
Real Food is the magic bullet. Never stated in this article as a definitive panacea but alluded to. Processed foods cannot replace the nutrition you lose by eating it instead of real food. The fact is that no scientist knows what nutrients in real foods are the important ones. Vitamins have been proven to not be beneficial in most cases when eaten outside of their normal natural packaging. You cannot mix up asparagus in the lab. When taken apart to it’s constituent molecules and eaten that way, asparagus is not the same. This too, makes intuitive sense, but for some reason we want to eat our foods this way.
How we eat–whether we cook it ourselves or grab fast-food takeout–matters as much as what we eat. So don’t feel bad about the cream in your coffee or the yolks in your eggs or the occasional steak with béarnaise if you’ve got the culinary chops–but don’t think that the end of the war on fat means all the Extra Value Meals you can eat. As Katz puts it, “the cold hard truth is that the only way to eat well is to eat well.”
No person who cooks the proper foods will be able to overeat. A gigantic bowl of stir fried vegetables will completely satisfy the hugest appetite, but the eater will not have consumed too many calories. Cooking with real fats, lard, butter, coconut oil adds something real to real food. Cooking with engineered fats adds something to food too. It’s not real, it’s not food.