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Fat-Starved North Americans

Fat’s getting a bad rap these days. Fat-free this and low-far that – seems like everyone’s avoiding fat.

Now, you’d think with all this fat paranoia that we would be the slimmest, healthiest people on the planet, but we’re not. We’re the fattest we’ve ever been! We’re also suffering from rising rates of depression and behavioral problems in children and adults; high rates of cardiovascular disease; and plagued by inflammatory conditions from acne and allergies to diabetes and arthritis. With all this fat-free eating going on one would think we’d be getting healthier. But could it be that there is a link between good health and fat intake? What if that every-increasing waistline and those chronic diseases are, in part, the result of being fat-starved? Many believe this to be the case.

One such individual is Dr. Jay Wortman, MD, a BC physician of Metis descent. When he found out that he had diabetes he changed hid diet to eating a more traditionally aboriginal way of eating to control his blood sugar. He’s quoted in Alive magazine saying, “There is credible scientific evidence that a diet high in carbohydrates, like the one we are encouraged to eat by all manor of authoritative sources, is actually contributing to overweight, obesity, and the resulting epidemic of chronic disease We are all eating too many refined carbohydrates and not enough protein and essential fats.”

Dr. Wortman is now helping his fellow aboriginals return to a more traditional diet and a return to better health.

A look to the past

People from what is known as the Paleolithic period (around 8500 years ago) and traditional hunter-gatherer societies consumed anywhere from 28 to 58 percent of their calories from fat, which is more than today’s average intake of 34 percent.

Consider the Greenland Eskimo’s traditional diet; no vegetables, no fruit, no grain, and certainly no refined sugars. They existed on a diet of almost entirely fish, marine mammals and blubber. Summertime would afford them some limited tundra plants and berries. Yet, these people were healthy and robust, with virtually no chronic diseases. If you were to announce to your doctor today that you were going to eat nothing but meat and blubber, he’d fall off his stool. In contrast, Eskimo populations that have adopted the North America diet are experiencing epidemic rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases, etc.

Despite the higher fat content of our ancestors’ diet, there was a more balanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, ranging from 1:1 to 2:1. For instance, meat from wild game and grass-fed domestic has two to six times more omega 3 fatty acid, compared to grain-fed cattle. And grass-fed bison have seven times more omega 3 fatty acids than their grain-fed counterparts.

Furthermore, these ancient peoples would gather and eat plenty of wild plants. In an analysis of 829 plants, the wild variety averaged a 24 percent fat content – that’s a substantial amount! So these early hunters-gatherers consumed more fat than the average North American yet were healthier for it.

Modern-day examples of cultures that consume a high-fat diet, but don’t exhibit the health problems associated with the North American diet, are people of the Mediterranean region and the French diet – known as the French Paradox. These two diets, while being high in fat, are also high in nutrition from vegetables, fruits, lean meats, seafood and various nuts, seeds and oils. There is a little in the way of processed foods, and refined carbohydrates are kept to a minimum. The diets of the French and Mediterranean people are modern-day evidence that fat is not an enemy to good health. Instead, the right fats in the right balance are now being recognized by science to be essential to our health and for disease prevention.

So where is our modern-day diet going wrong?

First, there is an imbalance of omega 6 to omega 3 essential fatty acids. It’s the classic case of having too much of a good thing, in this case too much omega 6. These widely consumed oils like corn oil, safflower, sunflower, can give rise to an increase in inflammation-causing eicosanoids.

The second problem is the widespread use of processed fats by the food industry. Many vegetable (polyunsaturated) oils are extracted using harsh chemicals and toxic extraction processes. Other methods use heat which modifies the oils turning them into trans fat. Then there are the oils that have been purposefully turned into trans fats for us in a variety of foods we eat. These transformed and altered fats directly contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and accelerated aging.

The third problem is, as nutrition researcher Brad J. King writes, “A 1999 national survey revealed that 88 percent of the U.S. population (90 percent women and 87 percent men) consume low-fat, reduced-fat, or fat-free foods and beverages. The largest numbers of fat replacers in these foods are carbohydrate-based.” In a misguided attempt to be thin, we have thrown out the very fat we need to be healthy and to prevent disease, and have replaced it with the very foods that will surely make us fat and diseased – refined carbohydrates.

We need to change our idea about dietary fats, especially the essential fats. No longer should we lump all fats into the same category; nor should we entirely seek to banish all fat from our diet.

Reclaiming our health will mean striving towards a balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and eliminating, as much as possible, the refined fats and dreadful trans fat from our diet.

The simplest way to get essential fatty acids into our diet is to take them in supplement form.

Benefiting from the ‘fat of the land’

The Essential fatty acids (EFA): Omega 3 and Omega 6

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are called essential because we cannot live without them and our only source is from the food we eat.

Omega 3 is made up of three fatty acids; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Flaxseed is the best source of ALA. For EPA and DHA, cold-water fish oils are the best nature has to offer.

Omega 6, the other essential fatty acid the body requires, is a double edge sword. As previously stated, the North American diet is lopsided with an over-consumption of omega 6 fats, which is responsible for many chronic diseases. Yet on the other hand, omega 6s are the only fats that can be converted into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which behaves much like an anti-inflammatory omega 3. GLA allows the body to manufacture the hormone-like chemical, prostaglandin E (PGE1), which is beneficial against numerous chronic diseases and systemic inflammation. However, for PGE1 to be produced it required the enzyme delta-6-desaturaes (D6D), which many of us lack sufficient amounts of. As we age we produce less (D6D. It is also suppressed by high-sugar diets, alcohol consumption, trans fats, disease and infections. Furthermore, low amounts of vitamins C, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, zinc and magnesium will decrease how much of the enzyme is produced. GLA is found in evening primrose oil, borage seed oil and black currant seed oil.

Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) benefits:
• Improves all markers of cardiovascular health
• Modulates immune system response
• Reduces inflammation throughout the body
• Help with diabetes complications
• Improves arthritis symptoms
• Fight autoimmune diseases
• Improves allergy and asthma symptoms
• Improves the appearance of hair, skin and nails
• Nurtures the retina of the eyes
• Assist in growth and tissue repair
• Important in brain development in children
• Accelerates leaning
• Improves ADHA/ADD
• Strengthen the nervous system
• Improves mood
• Lifts depression
• Increases energy and stamina
• Reduces stress
• Supports glandular and hormonal functions
• Relieves PMS
• Supports healthy cell membranes
• Helps prevent osteoporosis
• Improves weight loss

There are some non-essential fatty acids worth mentioning because of their tremendous benefit to our health.

Omega 9: Olive Oil (extra virgin)

Although olive oil (monounsaturated fat) is non-essential, meaning the body can make it itself, it has some impressive qualities that can’t be explained by its fat content alone and put it on the level as a nutritional supplement.

For years science has recognized the heart health, anti-cancer and longevity quality of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil has come out on top as the main contributor to the diet’s health benefits.

The rather liberal use of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet makes it a high-fat diet, but as researchers have repeatedly discovered, this doesn’t detract from its impressive health benefits. Studies by the European Union and reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found those consuming the most olive oil on the Mediterranean diet had the lowest blood glucose concentrations, lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol and fewer markers of inflammation, than did those eating a low-fat diet.

Polyphenol antioxidant compounds in olive oil were responsible for some of its cardiovascular health benefits, including reduced oxidation of LDL cholesterol and elevated HDL cholesterol.

In other studies olive oil has proved preventative against skin, breast and prostate cancers.

It also works synergistically with omega 3s. By regulating the cell plasma membrane, oleic acid in olive oil helps EPA and DHA fish oils penetrate cell membrane to enhance cellular health.

Incorporating extra virgin olive oil into your diet is easy. Some have called it one of the “tastiest supplements you can eat.” Of course, it’s excellent mixed with herbs and used over green or stir fries and dressing. Even a tablespoon or two in your morning breakfast shake.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Helps you lose fat and build muscle

CLA is a polyunsaturated fat that’s found primarily in organic grass-fed beef and milk that has gained attention as a fat-loss aid, especially stubborn abdominal fat.

Participants in several studies were able to lose inches off their abdomen without changing eating or exercising habits.

One study found that when a group of dieters stopped dieting and gained back weight, those who had been supplementing with CLA were more likely to gain muscle instead of fat.

University of Toronto researchers discovered that by combing CLA with green tea the fat loss was even greater.

Health benefits of supplementing CLA:
• Decreased abdominal fat
• Muscle growth
• Improved metabolism
• Improved insulin sensitivity
• Reduced food-induced allergic reactions
• Improved immunity

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Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal/Fats that Kill, Alive Books, Burnaby, BC, 1993
Brad J. King, Fats Wars, John Wiley & Sons, Canada Ltd, Mississauga, ON, 2003
Jack Challem, the Inflammation Syndrome, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken NJ, 2003
Robert C. Atkins, MD, Dr. Atkins’ Vita-nutrient solution, Simon & Schuster, New york, NY, 1993
Sam Graci, The Path to Phenomienal Health, John Wiley & Sons, Canada Ltd, Mississauga, ON, 2005, Olive Oil’s Newfound Benefits, vol. 170, No. 16, October 14, 2006
Alive, August 2007, Dr. Jay Wortman, Leads First Nations Back To Health, by Lucretia Schanfarber.
Alive, February 2007, Essential Fats, by Udo Erasmus.
Alive, April 2007, Trans Fat Free, Is it risk Free? By Sandra Tonn.



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