Is fat good for you?
Do pasture-raised animals change the health impacts to consider?
I am always asked these types of questions and found myself recommending various books over the years. I thought it would be nice to just put them up in a blog post for future reference.
I think it took me 5-6 years to unlearn what we were taught as kids in terms of the health risks of saturated fats and cholesterol.
After much experimentation, I've come to realize that if I am not eating 40-50%+ of my calories as fat, I don't feel nearly as good. I was so concerned when I started eating differently, I asked my doctor to run some special cholesterol size tests for me to have a baseline so that I could compare how my numbers changed!
I read many books and studies... I was shocked to learn that the original hypothesis that cholesterol and fat cause heart disease was completely flawed.
In fact, the studies originally used to 'prove' this hypothesis were continued decades later and over the long term, it turned out these original studies actually show the reverse is true. New research is even suggesting that high serum cholesterol actually protects us against infection and heart disease itself! This new research supports the premise of the books below, that high blood levels of cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, but rather it is the structure of the 'western diet' causing it (i.e. inflammation caused by a high sugar diet without the protection of enough fats to buffer the carbohydrates)... Read more about this at the very bottom of this page.
I've come to realize that if I am not eating 40-50% of my calories as fat, I don't feel nearly as good.
Now even the USDA has even agreed and changed their stance on diatery cholesterol, stating that it is no longer viewed as a contributing factor in heart disease or stroke. However, I think they didn't go anywhere near far enough in the recommendation to reduce sugar after the sugar industry lobbied heavily to prevent government recommendations from being what scientists actually recommended as a limit.
If you eat a low fat and low sugar diet, all that is left is protein. Many critical vitamins are only fat soluble and aren't available to us from other sources. Here is an article I wrote about one of them, Vitamin A.
I also link to a number of studies about how pasture raised animals have more of these critical vitamins than what you'd buy in the store (or even most farmer's markets). Check out our pork, beef and chicken pages for more information.
Pasture raised, grass fed beef is full of more heart healthy and cancer fighting CLAs which are a type of fat found in much higher concentrations with grass fed beef... at least those raised on actual green grass. Unfortunately 'grass fed' beef in the store, may not actually be raised how you'd expect.
When we started our farm, we really had no idea about any of this 'healthy fat' thing. We just wanted the best tasting food. However, we continually have had new members seek us out because they have found their or their children's mental health / behavior dramatically improved after switching to an alternative diet focusing on nutrient dense pasture raised fats.
These individual stories were so compelling, that we researched and raised our kids on the GAPS diet, one of the many similar diets out there. I've found I am happier and more mentally healthy as well.
This book was written by a Minnesota author. She does a nice job answering the question: 'How did they get it SO wrong?' While it can be a little repetitive, it is great at explaining the history of how our country was inadvertently mislead about the role of fat and heart disease. With references to numerous studies and long term results, this is the perfect book for those still uncomfortable or skeptical of the idea that natural fats are an important part of our diet.
This book is the first introduction we had to the concept of fats being important in our diet. It is actually a cookbook but, there is a fairly short section that is a perfect summary and introduction to why eating full fat pasture raised meats is healthy vs. eating full fat factory meats might not be so great.
This is a book that explains how the health of our gut is critical to our health. In particular this book explains how eating foods that heal your gut and ensure a good balance of beneficial bacteria helps prevent a range of diseases like heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, etc. Healthy fats from pasture raised meats and avoiding simple carbohydrates and sugars play a key role.... but the idea is that most of us first need to give our digestive system a break in order to repair damage we've endured over our lifetime first. Simply changing our diet may not lead to the results you're hoping for.
This book isn't for the faint of heart. However, it really one of my favorites. What I appreciated was the detail (something others might not enjoy so much).
If you are like I was and skeptical of why saturated fats are actually healthy, this is the book for you. Full of basic chemistry and biology, it really explains how our bodies can't function without enough saturated fats... especially for growing children or bodies in need of healing.
Keep in mind, human breast milk (the perfect food for growing bodies) is 55% fat, most of which is saturated. Young children especially need lots of saturated fats and this book explains why.
One of the things I am most grateful about being a part of TC Farm is testimonials from customers who convinced us to check out the GAPS diet. Reading this book completely changed our view of how we wanted to feed our children and I credit those choices for part of the reason they are both so healthy and balanced in their physical and mental growth.
I feel way better after learning the things in this book and Betsy even had some persistent arthritis disappear after two weeks of going on the GAPS diet.
Our experiences and those of many members seems to show that eating 'super healthy' isn't often enough... our bodies need a break to heal themselves before a healthy diet will have as much effect as it otherwise would. Highly recommend reading even though she isn't the easiest author to read.
So reading these books the following picture emerged:
The original cholesterol-heart hypothesis (i.e. guess) on what was causing heart disease was based on the fact that when arteries are clogged up and cause a heart attack, there is a lot of cholesterol in the clog. It was pretty simple leap to say 'ahh, cholesterol and fats cause heart attacks'
From there, we spent billions of dollars trying to prove this 'guess' was in fact the case. However, we've yet to actually demonstrate it, and in fact, if you read the books listed above, it seems clear that the emerging science is suggesting the exact opposite.
The problem is the biology is a bit more complex and we've missed the mark with that simple hypothesis.
In fact, if you're over 60 years old and have high LDL cholesterol, a new study suggests that you'll live longer than if you have a low LDL level. This seems crazy after all the incorrect information we've been fed our entire lives, but the biological explanation is really simple.
It turns out that if there is a small amount of damage to any part of our body, the first responder (think: ambulance) is cholesterol. You see, cholesterol is a special molecule our bodies use to strengthen and rebuild cell membranes and new cells. It also plays an important role in the immune system, preventing infection.
So if you cut your finger, that scab is full of saturated fats and cholesterol because that is what our body needs to grow new cells. Almost all of our cell membranes are saturated fat because it is a strong fat that makes those cells healthy. Our bodies also add in cholesterol as needed to the cell membranes because the cholesterol molecule does a great job at stiffening the membranes and making the cell stronger.
If you don't have enough saturated fats in your diet, your body will use (weaker) unsaturated fats, or worse synthetic trans fats to make the cell membrane. This requires extra cholesterol, but the cell is weaker and more likely to fail.
When you have a tiny cut (this is really inflammation) in your arteries, your body knows it is important for your artery to not fail and burst. So it sends over a team of first responders to quickly fix the problem... enter cholesterol and saturated fats.
They make a small coating (kind of like a scab) around the inflammation and get to work at building new strong cells for your artery.
If the cause of the inflammation goes away, then the cell wall is healed and the scab goes away as well.
If instead, the source of the inflammation stays, then the scab never heals properly (kind of like if you keep scratching a cut on your hand every day). The body knows this is a big problem and sends more cholesterol and saturated fats to fix the problem.
So over time, all the cholesterol ambulances and saturated fat fire truck first responders get into a giant traffic jam and cause a clog, which then can create a heart attack.
If we just would let them finish their job, then we would have strong arteries, but a western diet and lifestyle is full of inflammatory things ranging from sugar to the crazy chemicals they use in your foods, shampoos and many other household products. (read more about those environmental factors at The Take Care Guide)
Our lifestyles keep scratching at that tiny scab in our hearts and cause the heart disease saturated fat and cholesterol are trying to protect us from.