Thursday, August 25, 2011

As Above, So Below. Part 2

Girls as young as six years old have indicated having a greater fear of being fat than of nuclear war, cancer, or losing a parent. When faced with the ultimatum, the majority of people responded that they would rather lose a hand than gain 100 pounds and one third of American adults are classified as obese. It is clear that we have been on an increasing trend towards bigger waistlines and the culprit is both the adjective and the noun: fat.

We equate the cellulite on thighs, the love handles and the belly rolls with butter, oil, whole milk and other foods classified as having high fat contents. It's a rather simple, linear equation; fat goes in, fat gets put on. The body, however, is far from simple, and such an uncomplicated representation of it's function is bound to be not only incomplete and untrue, but also dangerous.

What does fat do? Well, in more visibly obvious terms, it provides protection-cushion, if you will, both for bones and joints but also for internal organs. Body fat, mostly subcutaneous (below the skin) also serves as insulation from the harsh elements. Less visibly obvious, fat stores in the body called visceral are found surrounding the organs in protection. These fat stores have a great job to do beyond simple cushioning though. Subcutaneous fat is energy storage and manufacture units for important messenger chemicals like leptin, which helps to regulate hunger cues. Stores of fat in the body are also involved in the production of sex hormones, necessary for normal development and healthy functioning of an adult body. Plus, butter makes food taste good.

So why have we become so fat-phobic? One reason often cited is that large studies have shown a correlation between high fat diets and disease risk (cardiac implications are most often the focus, but others have Bren suggested as well). What HASNT been taken into account in these studies until relatively recently, is the TYPE of fat. More recent and comprehensive studies have found that the correlation stands for saturated fat (animal fat mostly, and some plant based fats) more than for unsaturated fat, like olive oil, and so plant-based diets and low-fat options for milk and yogurt, "lean cuts" of red meat and a preference for white meat, poultry and fish have been touted as the keys for optimum health by a number of doctors as well as diet "gurus." But this also is incomplete information. The body NEEDS all kinds of fat (except trans) for proper and optimum functioning. While reducing carbohydrate sources of energy in the body forces the body into ketosis, a highly inefficient and liver-stressing process of breaking down fat and protein into sources of sugar sources of e nervy that the brain can use, limiting dietary fat intake poses a number of important concerns. For one, there is no way of obtaining fat-soluble vitamins without consuming wholesome fats in proper quantities. Vitamins A, D, E and K aid in vision, immunity, calcium absorption and usage and number of other important functions in the body. Taking these vitamins in supplement form can help, but they won't reabsorbed (compromised bioavailability) as well as if they came from food, and they are expensive. Fats also insulate neural pathways and so inadequate fat intake readily alters brain function and is needed to build serotonin. Low dietary fat has thus been linked with depression (more on this and it's effect on eating disorders from Dr. Greenblatt). Further, when low fat intake yields depressive tendencies, one's body image and self perception will be negatively impacted, and often causes a person to further limit either one or both calories and fat, simply perpetuating this vicious cycle.

I myself grew up on 2% reduced fat milk, and then switched to "skim" milk in middle school. It wasn't until this year that I started drinking (raw) whole milk for the first time since being a toddler. The reason for my switch, in the midst of many people around me making the switch in the opposite direction, is due to the processing of the milk. Another big secret is that Big Dairy adds skim milk powder to skim milk. Here’s an excerpt from “Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry” from the Weston A. Price Website:

"A note on the production of skim milk powder: liquid milk is forced through a tiny hole at high pressure, and then blown out into the air. This causes a lot of nitrates to form and the cholesterol in the milk is oxidized. Those of you who are familiar with my work know that cholesterol is your best friend; you don’t have to worry about natural cholesterol in your food; however, you do not want to eat oxidized cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, to atherosclerosis. So when you drink reduced-fat milk thinking that it will help you avoid heart disease, you are actually consuming oxidized cholesterol, which initiates the process of heart disease."

Shortly after World War II, Americans started to abandon butter and cream because of the belief that saturated fat was linked to the growing number of heart disease cases in America. However, atherosclerosis was virtually unknown prior to the mid 1920′s when Americans drowned everything in cream and butter. Something else had been introduced into the food supply of the time that was causing this worrisome increase in heart disease. Of course, this “something” is partially hydrogenated fats which were introduced around 1921. These hydrogenated oils and trans fats, heavily present in processed and fast food is the ONLY fat I ever worry about anymore. As for the rest, I opt for the foods that are closest to their sources: grass fed, local, organic, raw (or as many of those as I can, when I can... $$). While you don't want to GORGE yourself on fats, you certainly don't need to obsess over counting grams as long as you have variety and are mindful about your eating patterns. You're better off eating more satisfying and wholesome fat than you are eating empty calories and processed carbohydrates. Plus, it's about time that we start migrating back to that happy medium, accepting the curves of our bodies and enjoying pleasures in moderation.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that - about skim milk - or all that about hydrogenated fats. Thank you for the thoughtful and researched articles, they are extremely interesting and helpful. Thank you again!