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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Truth about Saturated Fats and Cholesterol

For the past twenty years, we have been encouraged to believe that saturated fats and cholesterol, both found in animal fats, are the main causes of chronic degenerative diseases. Ask the average North American what they know about saturated fat, and the majority will answer that it causes heart disease. Ask the average high school student what they know about cholesterol, and they will tell you that it is bad for you. For years, I would have answered the same. Are these views on saturated fat and cholesterol with merit?

Here are some facts about saturated fats:

They make up at least 50 percent of our cell membranes, providing essential rigidity and strength
They enhance the immune system
They help incorporate calcium into our bones
Some of them have antimicrobial properties that protect us against harmful microorganisms in our digestive tracts

And here are some facts about cholesterol:

It contributes to cell membrane rigidity and strength, just as saturated fats do
It is used to make hormones that help us deal with stress, as well to make sex hormones
It is converted to vitamin D, essential for proper growth, healthy bones, a healthy nervous system, muscle tone, and proper immune system function
It is used to make bile, needed for digestion of fat in our foods
It acts as an antioxidant, actually protecting us against cellular damage that leads to heart disease and cancer
It helps maintain a healthy intestinal lining, offering protection against autoimmune illnesses
Clearly, saturated fat and cholesterol are needed for many vital processes. We need both in our diets to be as healthy as possible. The danger comes when we eat fats and cholesterol that have been damaged by heat, oxygen, and unnatural farming practices. Damaged fats and cholesterol can lead to injury to the walls of our blood vessels, promoting a build-up of plaque that heals the injured areas. It is this build-up of plaque that impairs blood circulation and paves the way to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

The following foods are likely sources of damaged fats and/or damaged cholesterol:

Pasteurized dairy products – this includes cheese and ice cream that have been made from pasteurized milk
Powdered milk
Powdered eggs
Meats that have been cooked at high temperatures, especially those that have been fried or deep-fried
Most vegetable oils
All hydrogenated oils

The following foods are concentrated sources of healthy fats and/or healthy cholesterol:

Nuts and seeds
Cold-water fish
Organic eggs
Organic chicken
Grass-fed beef
Virgin Coconut Oil
Red Palm Oil – used throughout Africa
Cold Pressed Olive Oil

The difference in organic and non-organic animal foods is significant. As an example, let’s look at the difference between organic and non-organic eggs. We function best when we eat an equal balance of two fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. Having too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 leads to numerous health problems, including generalized inflammation, high blood pressure, depressed immune function, weight gain, an irritated intestinal tract, and a tendency to form blood clots. An organic egg, one that comes from a hen allowed to eat green plants and insects, contains an optimal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids of 1:1. A commercial supermarket egg from a hen that is fed mainly grain in a factory-farm environment has a ratio closer to 15 or 20:1.

Virgin coconut oil and red palm oil are the best oils to cook with because they contain a large percentage of saturated fats that remain stable and undamaged with heat. All other vegetable oils are damaged easily with heat exposure. This is why cold-pressed olive oil is best eaten raw.

Source: Ben Kim, MD

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