One thing I get asked a lot is how eating fat can be good for us, after all, even the name FAT conjures up images of obesity. Then there is saturated fat, that is the bad one, but why? Again, even the name, saturated, makes it sound as though it has more fat in it than mono unsaturated or polyunsaturated right?
Firstly, on a whole saturated means a fat that has no double bonds and as such has the maximum number of hydrogens bonded to the carbons, and therefore is “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Mono unsaturated have one double bond and polyunsaturated have multiple double bonds. If we were to change the names around a little and call the saturated fats simple fats and the others complex fats do you stink there would still be the same stigma about saturated fat?
Being in my 50’s I can remember back several generations and the observations I made growing up. Lets look back at my grandparents, my grandfather ran a dairy farm and had farmed it same way since the turn of the last century. He would start work around 6.00am in a fasted state and after the milking had finished, which I still remember being done by hand, he would take breakfast around 9.00am. This would consist of bacon, eggs and some fried vegetables, they would have been cooked in homemade butter from unpasturised milk and also lard which I remember watching my grandmother render from chunks of pork fat she would get from the butcher. Bread would be an occasional treat, in fact she would buy one loaf a week from the local baker and this would last the family of five all week. Eggs were considered a staple food, those old enough may remember the advert stating go to work on an egg. Evening meals would be a simple affair of meat and two veg and where I was brought up it was referred to as tea. They never ate any differently all their lives and my grandfather lived until 84 and my grandmother died at 79.
Now, my generation growing up in the 60’s and 70’s things changed. More of us had TV’s and were bombarded by the advertising for these new convenience foods and tasty treats. I remember my mother would buy both me and my sister a pack of biscuits each week, Karen liked custard creams and I like bourbons so we would have a couple when we got up in a morning dunked in our cup of tea and then we would have a bowl of cereal, we even spooned large amounts of table sugar onto them. We would then leave the house for school with a fun size Mars bar, after all the slogan for Mars back then was “a Mars a day helps you work rest and play” so all that glucose must have been good for us growing kids right? School dinners on a whole were probably nutritionally a lot better than they are now, I remember we had chips just once a week, one day would be salad (which I hated back then and would move it round my plate and try and drop bits on the floor to get rid of it) and one day would be a roast dinner. The other two days would be something like a simple stew or liver and onions, pretty traditional fare for a rural community. The puddings however were the let down, who remember sickly sweet pink custard and bright green mint custard with lots of stodge? When it came to teatime I suppose we were lucky, my father was against a lot of this modern food so my mother would always cook from scratch with real ingredients, again chips would be once a week which we had on a Thursday (the one day we ate without my father as he wasn’t big on chips) and the meals were pretty traditional stuff. Mince and onions was a regular along with oxtail and rabbit, which I know Karen hated but I enjoyed it.
Now, when I left school I stopped having breakfast, I would have to leave for work at 7.00am and I did loose a small amount of weight, looking back if I hadn’t started eating sandwiches everyday at lunchtime it would probably have been a lot more. By the time I left home in the mid 80’s things had moved on so fast, having my first mortgage and not having the disposable income I had with just paying mum board each week the allure of 19p loaves of bread, bags of pasta for 10p and cheap packaged food at Kwik Save was too tempting. However I was never a fan of pasta so I never ate much of that, my father used to say it wasn’t real food, it was stodge invented by the Italians for feeding their prisoners on the cheap, and on the whole I agreed with him. Now the funny thing is by the early 90’s I had lost a lot of weight which you might find strange, my waist had dropped from 34″ to 30″ in a short period of time, so let me explain why. I had become self employed, and was doing as my grandfather had in his day, I was leaving home in a morning in a fasted state, and my first meal of the day would probably have been at a local cafe serving all day breakfasts. I knew about all the low fat being good for you advice, but I didn’t care. Fast forward to the year 2000, I had been suffering with back pain for a few years, I knew how to do two things, fix lorries and cook food so I decided to give up the manual work and opened a cafe. Within twelve months I had put on three stone, so what changed?
Well, cooking fried breakfasts all day long for hungry truck drivers put me right off bacon and eggs, I began having toast in a morning and at lunchtime would make myself another sandwich. I could never figure out why, if I was following the healthy advice I was getting heavier, after all I had cut right back on the fat and was trying to do the same with my evening meal. My back pain was also getting worse even though I was doing no heavy lifting anymore.
Of course, we now know that the reason behind it was the shear amounts of carbohydrates I was consuming, my insulin levels were probably very high contributing to the inflammation causing the serious amounts of pain I was experiencing.
So, where am I now? two years of eating a low carb high healthy fat diet and making meals more along the lines my grandmother would have done I am almost back to my lowest weight and only one size off in my jeans to where I was in the 90’s and have been free of back pain since. So, what is the answer to current epidemics of diabetes, obesity and heart disease? Simply we need to stop applying 20th century thinking to 21st century problems, things have moved on so fast in the last ten years but current advice is still clinging onto the failed experiment from the 60’s and 70’s. For the sake of all of our health we need to take a step back and think, perhaps we got it wrong and what can we do next.