By Molly Patrick
Oct 3, 2014,
Grab your poodle skirt, your 4-cent stamp, and your favorite 45 RPM record. We’re going back to the 1950s to meet a man named Ancel Keys.
Keys was an American scientist who had a theory that heart disease was the product of too much saturated fat in the diet. This theory developed after observing the dramatically lower rates of heart disease in Italy and Spain compared to the United States.
He noted the key (pun totally intended) difference in these cultures was what they ate.
In the Mediterranean, the traditional diet comprised an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, beans, legumes, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and small amounts of meat, dairy, and processed foods.
Historically, Americans have had a hot, steamy love affair with meat and dairy and never really got turned on by vegetables unless you count french fries as a vegetable (as the USDA does); french fries give Americans multiple orgasms.
You may have already pieced it together, but Ancel Keys is responsible for introducing the idea of the Mediterranean diet as a specific way of eating to America, and he was definitely onto something.
Unfortunately, there was a negative backlash from his research that changed how America eats to this day.
Here’s what happened.
Once word got out that fat was responsible for all the heart attacks happening in the U.S. at the time, the food industry establishment came up with a solution.
They would simply take the fat out of food, label it “fat free” and BAM, the problem would be solved.
Well, not so much as it turns out.
When food makers took the fat out of things like yogurt, salad dressing, milk, cookies, etc., they tasted...like shit. So, they added more sugar and additives to make things taste better.
The war on fat had begun; real food was swapped for highly processed food, and the over-consumption of sugar began.
Ancel Keys gets a lot of flack because of what happened to the food industry after his research became public, but in my opinion, the food industry decided to turn a threat into profit, with little regard to the actual health of the products. And it worked like a charm.
Since the ’50s, we’ve been told that saturated fats are bad for us and are the major contributing factor to heart disease.
We’ve also been told that polyunsaturated fats (remember those omegas I talked about?) and monounsaturated fats (think olive oil and avocados) are important to have in moderation.
With me so far?
Good because things are about to get wonky.
In 2014, a study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, and suddenly, saturated fats were no longer bad for us. Carbohydrates and sugar are the real villains.
The news splashed all over the internet, the meat and dairy industry threw a party, and butter starred on the cover of the June 2014 issue of Time Magazine.
It was a good year for saturated fat.
The Paleo diet gained even more momentum. The Atkins Diet was being given a second chance. The coconut industry exploded, and the low-fat vegan diet was once again the unpopular kid on the playground.
Do you want in on a little secret?
Apparently, the meta-analysis that gave animal fat the green light in that splashy study was flawed. It was also heavily supported by the National Dairy Council.
But it didn’t matter. The study gave a country that’s already not great with healthy food choices a free pass to eat as much butter, bacon, and cheese as they please.
Seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that Americans weren’t actually avoiding saturated fat before this “saturated fat is a go” study came out. As of writing this, Americans spend almost 4 billion dollars a year on fast food. We also eat an average of 200 pounds of meat a year and 630 pounds of dairy a year per person.
That’s a lot of saturated fat.
Even with all this “safe” saturated fat we’ve been eating, there are still 600,000 deaths from heart attacks alone each year in the U.S. Until we make significant, positive changes in our diets, this number isn’t likely to go down.
Can you imagine what would happen to this country’s health care system if we were spending 4 billion dollars a year on cruciferous veggies, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruit? Imagine how many people would lower their cholesterol, reverse diabetes, manage their mental health, release weight they don’t want, and just feel all around better, not to mention live longer. It’s pretty much my wet dream.
It’s true that some plant foods, like coconut, dark chocolate, avocados, and some nuts, also contain saturated fat. Luckily, saturated fats from plants are processed differently in the body. This is because they’re structurally different and smaller than saturated fat molecules from animals. They’re easier to digest and not as harmful. As with most things, plant based fat should be eaten in moderation.
It’s less about the circumstances and more about how you react to the circumstances that matter.
- 1 package firm tofu, drained and rinsed (395 g)
- ½ cup celery, chopped (about 1 stalk / 50 g)
- ¼ cup red onion, diced (40 g)
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (4 g)
- 1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard (9 g)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (10 g)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Place the tofu in a large bowl and mash it with a fork until there are no big pieces.
- Add celery, red onion, and parsley to the bowl.
- To a separate smaller bowl, add all the sauce ingredients, and stir until smooth. You might have to mash the avocado cubes with a fork to get it creamy.
- Pour the sauce over the tofu mixture and stir until everything is combined. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
- Enjoy on your favorite whole food plant based bread, with crackers, or stuffed inside pitted avocado halves.
Dr McDougall – Annals of Internal Medicine
Huffington Post – Grease is good?
Daily Mail UK – Average American spends $1,200 a year on fast food
NPR – The average American ate (literally) a ton this year
CDC – Heart disease facts
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