Confused About Fat? Choose Grassfed!
by  Jo Robinson
In my  Grandma's day, there was no such thing as a bad fat.  All fat was good, simply because it  tasted good.  My Grandma fried her  eggs in bacon grease, added bacon grease to her cakes and pancakes, made her pie  crusts from lard, and served butter with her homemade bread.  My grandmother was able to thrive on all that saturated fat---but not my grandfather. He suffered  from angina and died from heart failure at a relatively young  age.  My grandfather wasn't alone. Population studies from  the first half of the 20th century showed that Americans in general had a much  higher risk of cardiovascular disease than people from other countries,  especially Japan, Italy and Greece. 

Was all that saturated fat to blame?  The Japanese were eating very  little fat of any kind, while the Mediterraneans were swimming in olive oil, an oil that is very low in saturated fat but high in monounsaturated  oils.   So, in the 1960s, word came from on high that we should cut back on the butter,  cream, eggs and red meat. But, interestingly, the experts did
not advise  us to switch to an ultra-low fat diet like the Japanese, nor to use  monounsaturated oils like the Greeks or Italians.  Instead, we were advised to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils primarily corn oil and safflower.  Never mind the fact that no people in  the history of this planet had ever eaten large amounts of this type of oil.  It was deemed the right thing to  do. Why? First of all, the United States had far  more corn fields than olive groves, so it seemed reasonable to use the type of  oil that we had in abundance.  But just as important, according to the best  medical data at the time, corn oil and safflower oil seemed to lower cholesterol  levels better than monounsaturated oils.

Today, we know that's  not true. In the 1960s, researchers did not differentiate between ''good'  HDL cholesterol and 'bad' LDL cholesterol. Instead, they lumped both types  together and focused on lowering the sum of the two.  Polyunsaturated oils seemed  to do this better than monounsaturated oils.  We now know they achieve this feat by lowering both our bad and our good cholesterol, in effect throwing out  the baby with the bathwater.  Monounsaturated oils leave our HDL intact.   In hindsight, it's not  surprising, then, that our death rate from cardiovascular disease remained high  in the 1970s and 80s even though we were eating far less butter, eggs, bacon  grease, and red meat:  We had been told to replace saturated fat with the wrong  kind of oil.  During this same era,  our national health statistics were highlighting another problem, this one even  more ominous: an increasing number of people were dying from cancer.  Why were  cancer deaths going up?  Was it the fact that our environment was more  polluted?  That our food had more additives, herbicides and  pesticides?  That our lives were more stressful?  That we were not  eating enough fruits and vegetables? Yes. Yes. Yes. And  yes. 

But there was another reason  we were losing the war against cancer: the supposedly 'heart-healthy' corn oil  and safflower oil that the doctors had advised us to pour on our salads and  spread on our bread contained high amounts of a type of fat called omega-6  fatty acids. There is now strong evidence that omega-6s can make cancer  cells grow faster and more invasive. For example, if you were to inject a  colony of rats with human cancer cells and then put some of the rats on a corn  oil diet, some on a butterfat diet, and some on a beef fat diet, the ones given  the omega-6 rich corn oil would be afflicted with larger and more aggressive  tumors.  Meanwhile,  unbeknownst to us, we were getting a second helping of omega-6s from our animal  products.  Starting in the 1950s, the meat industry had begun taking our  animals off pasture and fattening them on grains high in omega-6s, adding to our  intake of these potentially cancer-promoting fats. In the early 1990s, we learned  that our modern diet was harboring yet another unhealthy fat: trans-fatty  acids. Trans-fatty acids are formed  during the hydrogenation process that converts vegetable oil into margarine and  shortening.

Carefully designed  studies were showing that these manmade fats are worse for our cardiovascular  system than the animal fats they replaced.  Like some saturated fats, they raise our bad cholesterol. But unlike the fats found in nature,  they also lower our
good cholesterol delivering a double whammy to our  coronary arteries.  Maybe butter is  better after all, conceded the health experts.  Given all this  conflicting advice about fat, consumers were ready to lob their tubs of  margarine at their doctors. For  decades they had been skimping on butter, even though margarine tasted little  better than salty Vaseline. Now  they were being told that margarine might increase their risk of a heart  attack!  Some people revolted  by trying to abandon fat altogether.  For breakfast, they made do with dry toast and fat-free cottage  cheese. For lunch, they ate salad  greens sprinkled with pepper and vinegar.  Dinner was a skinless chicken breast poached in broth.  Or better yet, a soy burger topped with  lettuce.  Dessert?  Well, after all that self-denial, what  else but a big bowl of fat-free ice cream and a box of Snackwell cookies. Thank  goodness calories no longer counted!   Only fat made you fat! Or, so the diet  gurus had told us.  Paradoxically,  while we were doing our best to ferret out all the fat grams, we were getting  fatter and fatter.  We were also becoming more prone to diabetes.  Replacing fat with sugar and refined carbohydrates was proving to be no  more beneficial than replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils.

At long last, in the mid-1990s, the first truly good news about fat began to  emerge from the medical labs.The  first fats to be given the green light were the monounsaturated oils, the ones  that had helped protect the health of the Mediterraneans for so many  generations. These oils are great for the heart, the scientists discovered, and  they do not promote cancer.  They  are also a
deterrent against diabetes.  The news came fifty years too late, but  it was welcome nonetheless.  Please  pass the olive oil!  Stearic acid, the most abundant fat in  beef and chocolate, was also found to be beneficial. Unlike some other saturated fats,  stearic acid does not raise your bad cholesterol and it may even give  your good cholesterol a little boost.  Hooray! Then, at the tail end of  the 20th century, two more 'good' fats were added to the  roster: omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, the fat found  in the meat and dairy products of ruminants. 

Both of these fats show signs of being  potent weapons against cancer.  However, the omega-3s may be the best of all the good fats because they  are also linked with a lower risk of virtually all the so-called 'diseases of  civilization,'  including cardiovascular disease, depression, ADHD, diabetes,  Alzheimer's disease, obesity, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.  So, some of you may be wondering, what does this brief history of fat have to do  with grassfarming? Few people realize that  all omega-3s originate in the green leaves of plants and algae. Fish have  large amounts of this good fat because they eat small fish that eat smaller fish  that dine on omega-3 rich algae and phytoplankton.  Grazing animals have more  omega-3s because they get the omega-3s directly from the grass.  In both  cases, the omega-3s are ultimately passed on to humans, the top of the food  chain.  Products from  grassfed animals offer us more than omega-3s. They contain significant amounts of two "good"  fats, monounsaturated oils and stearic acid, but no manmade trans-fatty  acids. They are also the richest known  natural source of CLA and contain extra amounts of vitamin E and beta-carotene.  Finally, grassfed meat is lower than feedlot meat in total fat and  calories, making it ideally suited for our sedentary lifestyles.  I don't believe it's a matter of  luck or chance that grassfed products have so many of the good fats but so few  of the bad.  In fact, I'll wager  that the more that is discovered about fat in the coming years, the more  grassfed meat will shine.

The  reason for my confidence is simple: our bodies are superbly adapted to this type  of food. In the distant past,  grassfed meat was the only meat around.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors either brought home a grazing ruminant such  as elk, deer, or bison, or a predator that preyed on those animals. Either way, the nutrients found in grass  made their way into the animals'  flesh, and ultimately, into our own.  Over the eons, our bodies began to expect  the kinds and amounts of fat found in grassfed meat.  Our hearts counted on the omega-3s to  stabilize their rhythm and keep blood clots from forming. Our brain cells relied on omega-3 to  build flexible, receptor-rich membranes.  Our immune systems used the omega-3s and CLA to help fend off  cancer.  And because wild game is  relatively lean, our bodies weren't burdened with unnecessary amounts of fat or  calories. 

When we switch from grainfed to grassfed  meat, then, we are simply returning to our original diet, the diet that is most  in harmony with our physiology. Every cell and system of our bodies function  better when we eat products from animals raised on grass.

Jo Robinson is a New York  Times bestselling writer.  The Omega  Diet, the book she coauthored with Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, explores the  ideas in this article in more depth. Why Grassfed Is Best! focuses on the  benefits of pastured animal products.
Her website is where you can find more information on the health benefits of grassfed meats.
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