In this post and several that follow, I would like to share some truths about fat (especially saturated fat) which I hope will reframe the debate about the macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content of our diets.
Consider the diets of traditional cultures from around the world. Fortunately cultural anthropologists and other interested scientists have studied these cultures and kept excellent records of many things including diet and disease. Most of our current scourge of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many cancers, were unknown to these cultures. Yet their diets, while widely varied, in many cases contained a very high percentage of saturated fat. For example, the Tokelau of the Polynesian Islands, as documented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1981, consumed 49% of their calories as saturated fat most coming from coconut. When cultures like these are “invaded” by western foods, most notably flour and refined sugar, they first rapidly develop diabetes and in short order heart and other vascular diseases.
Along these lines, I urge you to watch the documentary, “My Big Fat Diet” which follows the work of Dr Jay Wortman with First Nation Indians in western Canada. Dwelling on an Island off the northern coast of Vancouver, they became fat and sick eating a Western diet. Dr. Wortman gets 100 of the islanders to sign up for a study which involves eating in a way that mimics their traditional diet. The diet excludes starches and sweets and contains mostly fat and a reasonable amount of protein. One of the dieters, at the first of the film, wonders why the American Heart Assoc. recommends a radically different diet. How could they “suddenly” be wrong, he queries? He probably never finds out how they careened away from truth (see previous posts in this series) but learns by experience that this high fat diet has wonderful disease reversing effects on his body.
A careful study of traditional diets in the 1950’s could have prevented the disastrous experiment of trying to impose a “low fat” concept on an American culture awash in processed foods. (i.e. “eat even more carbs….doctors orders…..I’m serious”) Honestly, it could help us navigate the current debates regarding “low carb”, Paleo, Mediterranean etc….. Hint: What was the traditional diet consumed on the Isle of Crete prior to the introduction of processed foods? I’ll bet it contained plenty of fat and didn’t cause heart disease. More next time.