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Americans Need More Fat

In: Social Issues

Submitted By takiouttio
Words 1424
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Every weekend, millions of Americans go shopping at the grocery store for the food they’ll need for the week ahead. Any casual glance down the aisles and you’ll be bound to see thousands of products that advertise “Now with 40% Less Fat!”, “Low in Saturated Fat!”, or something of the like in blinding bright colors across the packages. According to a 2011 census done by the CDC, at least 35.7% of all American adults are classified as obese (CDC 2011); so it’s no wonder that products advertising low-fat are so popular. However, while many people who buy these food-products are seeking to remedy their weight problem, they are simply making it worse. In order to fully understand why this “low fat craze” is causing so many problems for Americans today, we have to travel back in time about one hundred thousand years, or so, into the past. For quite some time, anthropologists falsely believed that our ancestors primarily obtained their energy from plant sources. However, in more recent and “later studies, [they] demonstrated that animal foods, rather than plant foods, comprised the majority of energy in the typical hunter-gatherer diet” (Miller 31). This means that the food humans evolved to eat was mostly comprised of animal tissue and meat. “Carnivorous diets reduce the evolutionary, selective pressures that act to maintain anatomical and physiological features needed to process and metabolize large amounts of plant matter”(Miller 35). Evidence supporting the homo-sapiens’ carnivorous diet is evident in our evolutionary physiology: humans, as opposed to pre-existing ancestral species Australopithecus, have had “a reduction in gut size and metabolic activity, along with a concurrent expansion of brain size” (Miller 35). These qualities, like in the evolutionary history seen in feline species, have shown to be evidence of a shift in diet primarily composed of plant-materials, towards one composed of animal-derived food products. The reasoning behind the shift in diet is due to the fact that plants do not contain much energy, and to obtain the proper level of nutrition from plants, alone to fuel our now enlarged brain-size, our ancestors would have to consume impractical amounts of plant-based materials (Hussain). The only logical answer would be a change in diet towards one based in animal products, like protein and fats, which are high in energy. In a comprehensive study performed on still-existing hunter-gatherer tribes, researchers found that the average percentage of animal products consumed (among 229 tribes) was mean-value of “sixty-eight percentage” of their entire dietary intake (Miller 35). For example, the Nunamiut (essentially the Inuit or “Eskimos”) in Alaska and Western Canada obtain 99% of their diet from animal products alone, such as whale fat/skin, caribou, and seal, with literally no signs of cancer or heart disease. In an article in the Canadian Newspaper, Vancouver Sun, researcher Dr. Eric Dewailly of Laval University found that Eskimos’ diet, which is “high in selenium, common to whale skin [and fats], … likely explains why … cancers” are practically unheard of among the Inuit (Victoria). The study also found that, “cardiovascular diseases [were a rarity]…, likely because the Inuit diet remains rich in wild game, [as well as] ‘the traditional Inuit diet [as a whole] is [composed of] fats and proteins, [and] no sugar at all’. Researcher Dewailly goes on to say that "it is probably one of the healthiest diets you can have [because] the human body is built for that."(Victoria) It’s extremely common in America today for many people to avoid red meat, animal fats, and generally most foods containing saturated fats, on the false notion that taking these fats into their bodies will, in turn, make them fat. This assumption makes about as much sense as the idea that consuming plastic will, in turn, make you plastic. The body needs fats; it cannot function without them. From the production of hormones, to the provision of necessary components, such as lipids, to form cell walls, fat is vital for humans to thrive. In another study of Eskimo’s diet, a Canadian ethnologist, Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, spent a decade studying the Inuit Tribe in Northern Canada in the 1930s. However, unlike in the study mentioned previous, the study of the Inuit’s diet was conducted on someone with the same general modern-day westernized human physiology as you and I; whereby for one year Dr. Stefansson ate nothing but meat and fat: no carbohydrates, no sugars, no fruit, no vegetables and not even a single drop of milk. To observe the effects of a “fat-free” diet on a modern westernized-human Stefansson experimented using his own body. By cutting out the fat from his diet, he chose to only consume protein-rich meat.
Not too surprisingly, Stefansson soon became ill after only a few days, experiencing “diarrhea and nausea”, and it was only “after fat was added back into the diet, [whereby he made] full recovery… in two days” (Lähettänyt). Although Stefansson wasn’t “overweight to begin with, and weight loss was not the goal of the experiment [he] lost a few pounds during” the first year of his experiment, and “this was despite the fact that [his] caloric intake… averaged at 2,650” calories a day (2,100 from fat and 550 from protein); which is higher than the daily amount recommended for adult males (Lähettänyt). Given the higher caloric-intake one would assume it had little effect on his weight due to his strenuous activities, when in fact during his study Stefansson was “fairly sedentary” and no “calorie burning” exercises were performed. Not only that, but after the first year of this diet “Stefansson's blood pressure remained at 105/70 mm”, which was the amount he had started with (Lähettänyt). Seven years after the one year diet, Stefansson “had reacquainted himself with some aspects of the Western diet” such as bread, some fruits and vegetables, and sugar; whereby an author, upon visiting Stefansson, discovered that:
“he now weighed 84 kg, compared with 70.8 kg in 1922 and 72.5 in 1928. His hair was as thick as before, but his gingivitis had returned. Blood pressure was up to 120/80 mm. All in all, the author states Stefansson was in excellent general health. Looking at the numbers, however, it seems that he was doing better on his monotonous carnivore diet” (Lähettänyt).
The standard belief most Americans hold is that fat is an absolute evil. However, it wasn’t always this way. The origins of the cultural belief that “fat makes you fat” began in the 1950’s by a “bogus study” done by a nutritional researcher, Ancel Keys, to determine the cause of rising heart disease:
“Ancel Keys …conducted a very large study called the “Seven Countries Study,” which examined 22 countries (Japan, Italy, England and Wales, Australia, Canada, USA, Ceylon, Chile, Mexico, France, Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Check Republic). However Keys decided to only look at the results of 7 specific countries (Japan, Italy, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, and USA), selected because their data confirmed Keys’ hypothesis (that high saturated fat and cholesterol diets were causing heart disease).”(Ungar)
Keys completely ignored contradicting findings that destroyed his theory, and basically “cherry-picked” data to support his hypothesis. It worked. In 1980, Keys published his study, “Seven Countries: A Multivariate Analysis of Death and Coronary Heart Disease”, and published it through the well-renowned and well-trusted Harvard University Press. The study took off like lightning; it was quoted hundreds of times and the subject of the 1984 edition of Times magazine. It influenced the way the U.S. government legislated health laws for Americans, such as the “food pyramid”, or today’s “food plate”, on the false belief that saturated fats cause heart disease and obesity. In 1985, only five years after Keys’ study was published, did the epidemic of heart disease really begin to take off (Ungar). These are the origins of the myth and how it has grabbed hold of our culture. There is, however, some good news in light if all this darkness. Little by little the secret is getting out, and new health trends, such as the Paleolithic Diet (which is basically the same thing that Stefansson was on, whereby you consume only what hunter-gatherer humans ate), are starting to seep through and destroy the age-old myth that saturated fat is unhealthy. Unfortunately, unless something is done on a federal scale, the obesity and heart disease crisis this nation is experiencing will only continue.

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