Chewing the Fat

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Medical studies are very confusing. Quite often it seems that multiple studies on the same subject contradict one another. One year carbohydrates are bad and the next they are good! People who eat saturated fats in amounts greater than recommended, live longer. Too much saturated fat will kill you, etc., etc., etc. You might hurt yourself by following these studies, but at least you’d never be bored.

Current consensus suggests obesity is a function of how many calories are used vs. how many are taken in, especially if those calories consist of saturated fats. Assuming all calories are equal, it becomes a question of math. A calorie is defined in chemistry as the amount of heat required to raise one gram of water one degree centigrade. Nutritionally speaking, however, all calories are not equal. The human body requires more than just raw calories to operate efficiently. If it were merely a matter of energy, we would be able to consume anything containing the pre-requisite calories and maintain a healthy body.

Refined sugar is a source of calories, but it affects the body like a drug. It’s a “hollow” calorie. Not only is there no nutritional benefit from refined sugar, consumption of it causes a net loss in the body’s essential minerals. To process sugar the body must use calcium. If there is none available in the diet, the body’s cells will take it from your teeth and bones. Cavities do not appear in the teeth merely because sugar comes into contact with them. They occur because your body, in order to digest refined sugar, must borrow calcium from your teeth and bones whenever your calcium intake is lower than what is required to process the sugar. Deficiency is generally our condition. We consume so much refined sugar per person on average that it would be virtually impossible to ingest enough calcium to make up the difference. Rates of osteoporosis and dental problems in the U.S. and elsewhere tend to confirm this.

Dr. Weston Price, a dentist in Cleveland, Ohio, became alarmed at the number of patients he treated who suffered from cavities or facial deformations. His curiosity and desire to find the source of his patients’ conditions compelled him to act. Price represents the kind of medical professionals we should be encouraging today, but that the current medical establishment and academia tends to discount. He funded and conducted his own study, which compared the health of people in 14 countries around the world who maintained traditional primitive diets with that of others in the same ethnic groups who adopted modern diets. The modern diet included refined sugar and bleached flours. The results of his 10-year study have been published in the book Nutritional and Physical Degeneration.

Price’s work busts myths that have persisted to this day. Western civilization is said to have “saved” the “savage” by providing him with modern medicine, food, work, philosophy, and the Christian religion. You can hardly find a Western text from the past 500 years which treats native populations as anything but disease-ridden, backward, heathens who should thank their lucky stars they were saved by Christian charity. “Average lifespan” is often touted as proof of native populations’ inferiority, but is nothing more than a sleight of hand. Infant mortality is included in such statistics, which drives down the overall longevity number. This has nothing to do with health or longevity but rather with the danger involved in most primitive people’s environment. If you lived past five, you probably lived past seventy.

Contrary to the picture so often painted of the sickly, backwards savages, Price found that primitive people who stuck to their traditional diets were physically superior compared to counterparts of the same ethnic background who adopted modern diets. In all 14 countries he visited, he found no exceptions. Members of the primitive diet group were also more disease resistant and had fewer cavities by order of magnitude. In some cases 1 cavity per 100 teeth in those who adhered to a primitive diet vs. 32.4 cavities per 100 teeth in those partaking of a modern diet. None of the primitive people he studied had any incidence of degenerative diseases, including heart disease. He could also find no primitive people who subsisted on a purely vegetarian diet. All sought out saturated fats from animal sources. The more fat consumed, the more healthy the people were in comparison with those who consumed less saturated fats, even when the latter was a relatively healthy primitive group.

Every primitive culture he found consumed an enormous amount of saturated animal fat by modern health standards. Primitive cultures (and this included primitive Anglo cultures) treasured animal fat of all kinds. The Inuit ate fat almost exclusively (and produced healthy babies and lived long lives). Price was not the only person to note that saturated fats were essential to good health. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an anthropologist who lived with the Inuit and Northern Canadian Indians, found that during times when saturated fats were not available people had to rely on lean meats such as rabbit. Hunger and diarrhea would invariably occur within a week of the altered diet.

Saturated fats are necessary to assimilate and utilize proteins, carry fat-soluble vitamins into your system, and help your body to metabolize fat. Saturated fats contain essential fatty acids which help your body to digest them. Synthetic trans-fats are, on the other hand, barely digestible and end up stored rather than processed. Polyunsaturated fats, now the rage in cooking oils, are very recent additions to our culinary lexicon. Polyunsaturated fats are not bad per se, but oils of this type were normally obtained by eating nuts and vegetables rather than employing complicated extraction methods. Traditional, primitive diets generally didn’t include vegetable or nut oils in cooking. Exceptions are olive oil and sesame oil.

For some primitive people, the main source of saturated animal fat was milk. The milk that they consumed, however, can’t be found at your favorite grocer, organic or not. Due to government mandates, virtually all commercially-available milk is pasteurized and homogenized. Contrary to common belief, this does not make your milk safer. It merely allows dairy farmers to sell milk produced from diseased cows by first sterilizing it. It is then homogenized, a process that restructures the fat molecules so that they are uniform (cream will not rise to the top in homogenized milk) and finally, fortified with synthetic vitamin D. There may be states where you can buy raw milk in a grocery store, but over the past few decades the states have been systematically clamping down on raw milk availability.

The effects of lactose intolerance were lacking amongst people who adhered to traditional diets and food preparation practices. About the time a human gets his molars, his pancreas stops producing the enzyme which allows him to digest “sweet” milk. Milk is “sweet” until such time as it has soured or fermented. The processes of fermentation and souring breaks down lactose and allows older humans to reap its benefits (mmmm, fat!). Pasteurization kills the bacteria that allow milk to ferment or sour properly. A jug of raw milk left in your fridge for too long, merely becomes some other form of edible milk — raw milk doesn’t require a "use by" label — the solids can be made into cheese; the liquid is whey, which is a very tasty and beneficial drink. A jug of pasteurized, homogenized “milk” simply becomes a nasty-looking, foul-smelling breeding ground for salmonella and is not safe to eat. Raw milk, cream, and butter are essential to health.

Weston Price’s research has been available for over seventy years, yet the mainstream academic work-product asserts that a diet high in saturated fat puts you at risk for all sorts of maladies. Once again, the establishment shrugs off wisdom, evolution, and established practice. This is a function of marketing and control rather than good science. Control over food production is the oldest form of tyranny. If you were able to convert your soured milk into other nutritious and delicious edibles, you would not throw it away and then run out to buy another gallon of milk, would you?

We have forgotten many of the ways our ancestors prepared foods simply because we have been increasingly marketed convenience foods. When my family started following Weston Price’s nutritional advice, we discovered that we had to eliminate all processed foods from our diet. The discipline required was a bit difficult at first. We also discovered that food preparation became more time-consuming and some of the recipes were an acquired taste. Organ meats are especially high in nutrients, but require careful preparation for best results. Liver, if overcooked, tastes strong and has a pasty texture. Cooked rare, it is absolutely wonderful. You have to be pretty careful about your meat sources though. I wouldn’t recommend rare anything with a USDA label on it.

The Nourishing Traditions book, which contains a treasure trove of traditional recipes, has been our guide through this transition and the change in diet has paid some rather nice dividends. Not only do I feel better, in spite of the fact that I still jealously clutch my tobacco and remain somewhat sedentary, but I have also shed twenty-five pounds. My saturated fat intake has nearly doubled while my sugar and bleached flour intake is almost nil. I have more energy, require less sleep, and rarely suffer from cold or flu. I can’t say that everyone else will have the same results, but friends who have adopted this diet report similar experiences.

Thanks to Dr. Price, I no longer feel the slightest bit guilty about eating saturated fats and avoiding lean meats.

Note: You can find very good sources for organic and “beyond organic” food stuffs at your local farmer’s market. There are also numerous chapters of the Weston Price Foundation which can assist you in locating sources for raw milk in your area. Since the sale of raw milk is now illegal in most states, you usually have to buy a “share” in a producing cow to circumvent these laws. It is well worth it. If you haven’t had raw milk or cream, or made your own butter from raw cream, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. Please also take a look at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to learn more about oppressive anti-market government practices.

Rick Fisk [send him mail] is a 44-year-old software developer and entrepreneur. He is married, has 3 children and resides in Austin, TX.

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