Want to live well and longer? Then do exactly what doctors and the mainstream media have been saying not to do for the past few decades…
Eat butter, eat lard, and eat bacon!
So-called science has claimed for decades that the greatest enemy to human health is the deadly duo of cholesterol and saturated fats.
Heart disease is the #1 killer in the U.S., and scientists and doctors have told us that saturated fats and cholesterol are holding the smoking gun.
This nonsense is beginning to meet its bland, flavorless end, as more and more truly brilliant doctors, nutritionists, and scientists are pointing out that cholesterol and saturated fats aren’t the problem with modern American health! Many of these individuals have been protesting against the current food paradigm for years, but until recently they have been largely ignored.
Only in the past few years have we at The Ozark House been heeding their advice. We started off our marriage by drinking skim milk and eating fake-butter. (Nathan rebelled pretty hard against the skim milk… it didn’t last long!)
Now we eat unbelievable amounts of fat. People sometimes gasp when I tell them how much butter and coconut oil we eat. Both are very high in saturated fats.
Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a gasp-preventative measure. Because, truly, eating fat makes a lot of sense.
The Creation of Margarine
Let’s go back in history. For hundreds of years, people ate what came from the land and from their animals. That meant things like whole, raw milk. And cheese. And butter.
The earliest form of margarine was actually created by Europeans, suitable for use by the armed forces and lower classes in the 1800′s. This “original” margarine’s main ingredient was actually beef fat.
Fast-forward many years, after a lot of experimentation with beef tallow and the hydrogenation of plant materials, the Great Depression, the rationing during WWII, and post-war society’s infatuation with everything technological.
By 1945, that “original” margarine had almost completely disappeared from the market and was replaced with margarine made of only vegetable oils. This switcheroo was due, largely, to The Lipid Hypothesis (that’s a whole other post), changes in legislation, and a reduction in the supply of animal fats. By the 1950′s, the food industry was ready for an era of product development, and wartime industry was ready to churn out the “latest and greatest” in technological advancements. Companies who had made weapons of destruction now began making food.
So industry introduced Americans to margarine. It was introduced as the “new” and “better” butter. It was cheaper. And it was also advertised as being “healthier.”
American’s swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker… and fake-butter. Turns out, advertisements worked as well back then as they do now.
So the companies competed, trying to market their margarine as the cheapest, best-tasting (obviously the goal was to make it taste like real butter), and healthiest margarine out there. But then they discovered something unexpected: TRANS FATS! Oh no!
All the margarine contained trans fats, and it was revealed that trans fats are very bad news for the body.
But I thought the ads were saying the golden fake stuff was supposed to be good for me and my children? Yeah, about that…
Margarine manufacturers have continued to work hard since then to reinforce the perception of their product’s healthfulness. They’ve tried slapping claims like “High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids” on their labels, when really all they did was add a little olive oil.
Ultimately, margarine will never be a good substitute for butter. It might not contain trans fats anymore, but it still contains highly processed, rancid vegetable oils.
What’s Wrong with Vegetable Oils?
The term “vegetable oils” refers to canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, and safflower oils.
This next sentence might seem a little extreme.
We need to stop eating vegetable oils, altogether, forever. (Unless perhaps someone else is cooking for us, or we’re at a party, or we’re on vacation, etc. – places where it might be more important to preserve our relationships than to be rigid about our food rules).
Vegetable oils were non-existent until the early 1900′s. They can only be extracted through chemical processes and are some of the most chemically altered foods in the Western diet. Yet, because they are found in almost all packaged and processed foods, the average American is eating A LOT of them! Vegetable oils are found in salad dressings, conventional mayonnaise, cereals (even the healthy brands like Kashi), chips, crackers, cookies, and conventional nuts and snacks. They are petroleum-produced, overheated, oxidized, and chemically deodorized. The oxidized oils cause inflammation (sugar also causes inflammation; we’ll talk about that later) and cellular mutation.
Vegetable oils are also very high in Omega 6 fatty acids. The human body needs a balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. But since vegetable oils are in everything the average American consumes far too many Omega 6 fatty acids.
Lastly, vegetable oils can also contain harmful chemicals like BHA and BHT – residues of pesticides – and are usually derived from genetically modified plants (GMOs).
One of the most important changes we can make in our diets is to stop eating these oils. They cause inflammation in the body and should be avoided. Let me point out that even the Earth Balance brand of buttery spreads, esteemed to be a healthy alternative to conventional margarine, have these harmful oils in their ingredient list.
What should we be eating instead?
Saturated fat and cholesterol! (Yes, I’m completely serious.)
Cholesterol: The body’s Band-Aid
Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap for a few decades now. The theory that cholesterol causes heart disease and cancer is based on bad science and is just now, in mainstream media, beginning to be revealed as such.
Cholesterol is actually a wonderful thing. It is essentially the body’s Band-Aid.
Vegetable oils and sugars cause inflammation. That much is indisputable. Omega-6s and sugars cause inflammation. Anyone who knows much about biochemistry will tell you that is true.
Now, inflammation can be a wonderful thing. It’s the body’s response to physical crises. But when we consume large amounts of Omega-6s (in the form of vegetable oil) and sugars, we end up with lots and lots of inflammation. Too much inflammation!
In the body, when inflammation occurs, cholesterol comes in to repair the damage. If you remember your high school or college biology class, cholesterol was the tiny, tiny little particles (I remember them being yellow) that plug all the tiny holes in cellular walls. Cholesterol plugs holes and fixes cellular cuts/gaps/gashes/etc. Like a Band-Aid.
But when a person has arterial walls clogged with cholesterol, we always blame the cholesterol. Turns out, we blamed the wrong thing! Cholesterol wasn’t the problem; cholesterol was trying to fix the problem. The problem was inflammation!
A commonly used example here is of a house fire. It would be (sadly) laughable if a person, not understanding why house fires occur, thought to him/herself, ”Whenever there is a fire, I notice there are always are firemen there. That must mean the firemen are causing the fires!”
Cholesterol is just like the firemen in that example. Cholesterol has been blamed for the problem of heart disease because it has been at the “scene of the crime.” But the cholesterol is found “at the scene” because it’s trying to put out the “fire.” Appropriately, the “fire” cholesterol is trying to “put out” is inflammation.
What ends up happening, as I understand it (but again, do the research for yourself), is that the cholesterol begins clogging the artery as it attempts to heal the damaged artery (damaged by inflammation). The artery isn’t being healed because the person’s diet isn’t changing. The cholesterol bundle is referred to as a “plaque.” Then it bursts, then the blood clots against it. Then… heart attack. But not because of cholesterol… because of a diet high in inflammation-causing foods like sugar and Omega-6.
In conclusion, cholesterol is not bad for us. It is necessary for us! It has so many functions in our bodies!
Cholesterol, along with saturated fats from animal sources, allows for the proper absorption and assimilation of vitamins and minerals and is essential for nearly every function in the body. If you are taking any cholesterol-lowering drugs (e.g. statins), and you are only taking them based on your cholesterol levels being “too high”, I would, very seriously, recommend you do your own research and consider getting off of them immediately! They can have very serious side-effects. It is also worth mentioning that the cholesterol levels the experts tout as those you must reach to be healthy have never been proven to be healthy. Many people have lived long, healthy lives with incredibly high cholesterol levels.
A brief word about Omegas
Omega-3s, Omega-6s… we hear about these things all the time these days, and sometimes it can sound like we’re in some futuristic space movie, with all the crazy terminology!
All the body’s chemical processes are complex, but here’s an easy way to understand Omega-3s and Omega-6s:
Omega-6s create inflammation (remember, in the right place and the right amount, inflammation is very helpful for the body!)
Omega-3s reduce inflammation.
If we have too many Omega-6s, they outnumber the Omega-3s, and our body is overrun by inflammation. Then the cholesterol kicks in, and so on…
Note: Animal products can be a good source of Omega-3s, but only if they’re grass-fed or pasture-based. Research has clearly shown that cows on pasture have high Omega-3 counts (and interestingly, incredibly low E. coli bacteria counts), but cows given grain – typically in feed lot situations – quickly lose their Omega-3 acids (and interestingly, exponentially increase their E. coli levels… by 10 MILLION!). Sounds crazy, but it’s sadly true. Science Magazine. 1998. Or just click here to see it all graphed out.
Summing it all up…
When it comes to health, the bad guys are not saturated fats and cholesterol. The bad guys are vegetable oils and sugar! Also, refined grains (breads, especially white breads), when eaten, essentially just turn into sugar in the body. That’s not to say I advocate avoiding all bread all the time (just as I like a little sweetness now and then). It’s just something to be aware of. Eating bread is essentially like eating sugar.
The amazing thing about this truth is that it’s not new! Eating a diet low in sugar and high in animal-derived saturated fats is the kind of diet humans have been eating and thriving on for thousands and thousands of years.
What should I eat and not eat?
While I’m not a big fan of a long list of rules, here is a comprehensive list of what we eat and don’t eat in our home. I’m writing all this as I would say it to a family member or friend who asked me.
Disclaimer 1: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or scientist. Heck, I’m a college drop-out. So, please do your own research.
Disclaimer 2: We aren’t unflinchingly rigid about these rules, and we’re still in the process of cleaning up our food intake. It’s definitely a process! But this is where we’re going, and what we’re trying to do, the best we can.
Disclaimer 3: I really hope we don’t come off as arrogant or obsessive. We care deeply about these issues because we believe our bodies are the temple of God and so we should tend them well. We don’t think of ourselves as superior because we eat this way; we eat this way because we are convinced that thoughtless eating is wrong, and our thoughts have led us to eat this way.
Fruit and Vegetables: We eat lots of fruits and veggies in whole form. Nathan is slowly cutting back on his indulgence: store-bought orange juice at breakfast! (We’re beginning to substitute something better anyways: smoothies!) Besides that, we drink fruit juices very sparingly and usually mix them with water kefir or kombucha. We eat fermented vegetables including, sauerkraut, kimchi, and lacto-fermented pickles.
Fats and Oils: We cook with coconut oil, butter, bacon grease, ghee, and lard (rendered from fat from our own hogs… obviously not everyone can do that, but you should consider rendering your own lard, it’s actually quite simple, if you can find a farmer who raises pastured pork! And it makes pie crusts and other delightful things so much more delightful!). All animal fats are from pastured animals with no added hormones or antibiotics. We make homemade salad dressings with cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (By the way, this is also terribly easy, and beats the heck out of store-bought dressings… even ranch!). We don’t cook with olive oil (heating can damage olive oil and ruin its healthfulness). We eat avocados.
Dairy, Cheese, and Eggs: We eat full-fat cheese, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt (with live, active cultures), and milk kefir (with live active cultures). Pretty soon here, we will be drinking whole, raw cow’s and goat’s milk, and will make all these dairy products in our home. We eat lots of eggs from our pastured hens.
Meat and Stock: No hormones or antibiotics are allowed in any of our meat. We eat beef from cows that eat grass and that did not spend their last weeks or months in a feed lot. We eat pastured chickens that we raise here at home. We eat pork from the pigs we raise here at home. We try to eat wild salmon 2-3 times a week. We make stock from chicken feet and bones and incorporate it into our diet, typically by putting it in soups (it adds lovely flavor!)
Grains: I’m still not quite settled on how much grains we should/should not be eating in our home. I’m still researching that and have been for some time. There may have to be a future blog post about it. At the moment, we are eating whole grains that have been soaked or sprouted to reduce phytic acid content and in moderation. I tend to gain weight when I’m eating a lot of grains, so I have been limiting myself lately. We eat popcorn made with coconut oil and butter (Oh, and if you’ve never tried this, you must! You’ll never microwave popcorn again!).
Sweeteners: We sweeten our food with maple syrup, sucanat, honey, stevia, and molasses. Every once in a while, Nathan sneaks a little white sugar into a food or beverage, and as long as it’s only “every once in a while” and “a little,” it’s not that big of a deal. We avoid high fructose corn syrup (we don’t like the flavor, but more importantly, we don’t like that it’s chemically extracted and that it comes, typically, from GMO corn).
What we try to limit or avoid: vegetable oils; refined sugar; white flour; artificial sweeteners; artificial flavorings; artificial anything; pasteurized milk (and if we can’t get raw milk, we at least go for the low pasteurized, non-homogenized); meat that is raised or finished on grain and has been given steroids, antibiotics, and hormones; eggs and cheese that come from animals given solely grain and/or steroids, antibiotics, and hormones; store-bought fruit juices; all store-bought box cereals; all conventional and packaged chips*, crackers, and cookies.
*Our vice: One thing we eat that I would eventually like to stop eating is store-bought tortilla chips! We love our homemade salsa and guacamole, but we have not found an easy way to make tortilla chips at home quickly and on-the-cheap. And it’s nearly impossible to find tortilla chips at the store that don’t use vegetable oils. So, we just buy organic, non-GMO, blue corn tortilla chips. Our favorite brand is this one from Target. They’re pretty tasty. And they’re surprisingly inexpensive.