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Real Food, Part 3: Fats to make you thin

June 24th, 2007 · 6 Comments · Environment, Food selection, Healthy eating

In Real Food, author Nina Planck takes on lots of food issues, but most of them come down to dietary fat. She contends, as do more and more scientists, that inflammation and not cholesterol is the cause of much of heart disease. Further, she says fats are not the problem, but the wrong kinds of fat.

The wrong kinds in her view are industrial: oils wrought under high-intensity processing, especially from soybeans and corn, and hydrogenated fats of all kinds.

What’s left? Cold-pressed (extra-virgin) olive oil, butter, unrefined coconut oil, and fats from pastured or grass-fed chickens, pigs (lard) or beef (tallow).

Problems from processing

The industrial oils have two problems. First, they are very heavy on Omega 6 oils and short on Omega 3s. We need both, but the industrial oils have thrown our fat intake out of balance on the Omega 6 side, and Omega 6, when not balanced by Omega 3, promotes inflammation. Second, vegetable oil (aka soy oil), corn oil and other unsaturated oils are prone to oxidation, and oxidized fats contribute to heart disease and cancer. What is more, the body tends to burn saturated fats and to store the unsaturated ones, she says. Score 3 for old fats. Score 4 if you believe that at least some of the “old” fats can help people lose weight, as Planck suggests.

The other fat demon is transfat, the result of hydrogenation, a process that was developed to make liquid fats solid. Think margarine and old-style Crisco. Even some lard sold in stores these days is hydrogenated.

Planck is very convincing, perhaps because she returns to the fat arguments again and again, and perhaps because we’re hearing more in the mainstream press about the importance of Omega 3s and the concern about inflammation.

You can choose your fats

In any case, if you buy Planck’s arguments, this is one area where people can try it themselves. People who cook can easily swap out their canola oil (which she is suspicious of) or vegetable oil with olive or coconut oil or lard (as long as it isn’t hydrogenated). Anyone can trade their margarine for butter.

What of the noncooks, who are legion? They’re going to have to work to avoid industrial fats, which are in virtually every bag of chips and in a huge share of mass-produced cookies, crackers, bread, frozen entrees, salad dressings and so forth.

Should we, though, make such a dramatic shift to the saturated-fat-laden, 19th century mode of eating? Planck makes a convincing argument, but today’s city-based population lives in a much different world than the farm-based 19th century citizenry. I’d be interested to know what you think.

The series:

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Neel

    Interesting take on demon fats! Guess the only way is to learn how to cook and cook healthy at that!

  • Janet Majure

    Hi, Neel. You’re probably right, although the facts on fat continue to be mighty confusing…

  • Joanne

    I read this book a few months ago and appreciated its message. I am drinking pasteurized (but not homogenized) locally grown milk from grass fed cows now, and I’ve always cooked mainly with olive oil…I’ve made some changes because of this book. I feel like Nina gives permission to people to enjoy local, organic, natural foods even though some of the traditionally “natural” foods have fat in them. I agree with her, and I’m grateful she went to the effort to explain why this is ok! Thanks for talking about the book!

  • Janet Majure

    I suspected you’d read it, Joanne, after I got to the canola oil part of the book. Your earlier comment inquiring about canola oil was the first I’d heard about any canola controversy, a topic I imagine I’ll return to one of these days.

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