From the days of George and Martha Washington up through the 1940s, our traditional more saturated and monounsaturated fats – tallow, lard, and butter – provided safe, nutritious cooking options and provided diversified income for small mixed family farms, benefitting local communities.
Then, beginning in the 20th Century, especially after 1950, the American Heart Association – supported by vegetable oil interests – attacked our traditional fats as “artery-clogging” and began promoting the use of the newly invented – cholesterol-free – cheap vegetable oils, margarines, and vegetable shortenings.
As a result, trans-fat laden hydrogenated vegetable oil replaced tallow for frying. By 1957, margarine had outsold butter for the first time. Lard, the number one cooking fat in 1910, was replaced by hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated soybean oil, which today has greased 80 percent of the U.S. edible fat market.
Benefits of saturated fatty acids
As you may know (and your doctor doesn’t), there are many different saturated fats and they offer a variety of nutritional and physiological benefits, including providing structure and stability to our 70 trillion cell membranes.
“Saturated” means chemically stable; a saturated fat is resistant to oxidation (like rusting on a car). Because of chemical stability, saturated fats make up 50 percent or more of the fat in our 70 trillion cell membranes (fatty bi-layers).
These fatty membranes function as the “brain” of the cell. You can remove all the intracellular organelles and the cell continues to live if given food. Saturated fat protects cellular integrity by providing “solid state” computer-like homeland security.
Fats (or fatty acids) are chains of carbon. (Think of rail cars in a train.) The carbons in a saturated fat are connected together by single, saturated chemical bonds – no missing hydrogen. There are many types and chain lengths of saturated fats, but all contain single, stable chemical bonds.
Despite what you’ve heard, saturated fats are not animal fats. As an example, 18 carbon saturated stearic acid in beef, 18 carbon stearic acid in chocolate, and 18 carbon stearic acid in olive oil are identical. Your body can’t tell the difference.
Saturated fat is never alone. Fat in food is always a mixture of different fatty acids, saturated and unsaturated. As an example, milk fat or butter contains 12 different fatty acids, including 8 different saturated fats.
Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds. Double bonds introduce chemically instability; they are reactive to heat, light, and oxygen. (Monounsaturated fats have one double bond and are relatively unstable; polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds and are very unstable).
The safest fats for cooking contain the highest percentage of saturated and monounsaturated fat – and the least amount of highly reactive polyunsaturated fat. As an example, tallow, the rendered fat from beef or lamb, is more than 90 percent saturated and monounsaturated – safe for high temperature cooking.
For the most definitive information about dietary fat, consider purchasing Know Your Fats by Dr. Mary Enig or my latest book, Cereal killer by Alan Watson.