Pharo Cattle Company Newsletter- Jan/Feb 2007
Confused About Fat?
By Jo Robinson
In my Grandma's day, there was no such thing as a bad fat. All fat was
"good" simply because it tasted good. My Grandma fried her eggs in bacon
grease, added bacon grease to her cakes and pancakes, made her pie crusts from
lard, and served butter with her homemade bread. My grandmother was able
to thrive on all the saturated fat - but not my grandfather. He suffered
from angina and died from heart failure at a relatively young age.
My grandfather wasn't alone. Population studies from the first half of the
20th century showed that Americans in general had a much higher risk of
cardiovascular disease than people from other countries, especially Japan,
Italy, and Greece. Was all that saturated fat to blame? The Japanese
were eating very little fat of any kind, while the people of the Mediterranean
were swimming in olive oil, an oil that is very low in saturated fat but high in
So, in the 1960s, word came from on high that we should cut back on the butter,
cream, eggs, and red meat. But, interestingly, the experts did not advise
us to switch to an ultra-low fat diet like the Japanese, nor to use
monounsaturated oils like the Greeks or Italians. Instead, we were advised
to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils - primarily corn oil and
safflower. Never mind the fact that no people in the history of this
planet had ever eaten large amounts of this type of oil. It was deemed
"the right thing to do." Why? First of all, the United States had
far more corn fields than olive groves, so it seemed reasonable to use the type
of oil that we had in abundance. But just as important, according to the best
medical data at the time, corn oil and safflower oil seemed to lower cholesterol
levels better than monounsaturated oils.
Today, we know that's not true. in the 1960's, researchers did not
differentiate between "good" HDL cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Instead, they lumped both types together and focused on lowering the sum of the
two. Polyunsaturated oils seemed to do this better than monounsaturated
oils. We now know they achieve this feat by lowering both our bad and our
good cholesterol, in effect throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Monounsaturated oils leave our HDL intact.
In hindsight, it's not surprising, then, that our death rate from cardiovascular
disease remained high in the 1970s and 80s even though we were eating far less
butter, eggs, bacon grease, and red meat. We had been told to replace
saturated fat with the wrong kind of oil.
During this same era, our national health statistics were highlighting another
problem, this one even more ominous - an increasing number of people were dying
from cancer. Why were cancer deaths going up? Was it the fact that
our environment was more polluted? That our food had more additives,
herbicides, and pesticides? That we were not eating enough fruits and
vegetables? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
But there was another reason we were losing the war against cancer. The
supposedly "heart-healthy" corn oil and safflower oil that the doctors had
advised us to pour on our salads and spread on our bread contained high amounts
of a type of fat called "omega-6 fatty acids". There is now strong
evidence that omega-6s can make cancer cells grow faster and more invasive.
For example, if you were to inject a colony of rats with human cancer cells and
then put some of the rats on a corn oil diet, some on a butterfat diet, and some
on a beef diet, the ones given the omega-6 rich corn oil would be afflicted with
larger and more aggressive tumors.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, we were getting a second helping of omega-6s from
our animal products. Starting in the 1950s, the meat industry had begun
taking our animals off pasture and fattening them on grains high in omega-6s -
adding to our intake of these potentially cancer-promoting fats.
In the 1990s, we learned that our modern diet was harboring yet another
unhealthy fat: trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are formed during the
hydrogenation process that converts vegetable oil into margarine and shortening.
Carefully designed studies were showing that these man-made fats are worse for
our cardiovascular system that the animal fats they replaced. Like some
saturated fats, they raised our bad cholesterol. But unlike the fats found
in nature, they also lowered our good cholesterol - delivering a double whammy
to our coronary arteries. "Maybe butter is better after all," conceded the
Given all this conflicting advice about fat, consumers
were ready to lob their tubs of margarine at their doctors. For decades
they had been skimping on butter, even though margarine tasted a little better
than salty Vaseline. Now they were being told that margarine might
increase their risk of a heart attack!
Some people revolted by trying to abandon fat altogether. For breakfast,
they made do with dry toast and fat-free cottage cheese. For lunch, they
ate salad greens sprinkled with pepper and vinegar. Dinner was a skinless
chicken breast poached in broth - or better yet, a soy burger topped with
lettuce. Dessert? Well, after all that self-denial, what else but a
big bowl of fat-free ice cream and a box of Snackwell cookies. Thank
goodness calories no longer counted! Only fat made you fat!
Or, so the diet gurus had told us. Paradoxically, while we were doing our
best to ferret out all the fat grams, we were getting fatter and fatter.
We were also becoming more prone to diabetes. Replacing fat with sugar and
refined carbohydrates was proving to be no more beneficial than replacing
saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils.
At long last, in the mid-1990s, the first truly good news about fat began to
emerge from the medical labs. The first fats to be given the green light
were the monounsaturated oils, the ones that had helped protect the health of
the Mediterranean's for so many generations. These oils are great for the
heart, the scientists discovered, and they do not promote cancer. They are
also a deterrent against diabetes. The news came fifty years too late, but
it was welcome nonetheless. Pass the olive oil!
Stearic acid, the most abundant fat in beef and chocolate, was also found to be
beneficial. Unlike some other saturated fats, stearic acid does not raise
your bad cholesterol and it may even give your good cholesterol a little boost.
Then, at the tail end of the 20th century, two more "good" fats were added to
the roster - omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, the fat
found in the meat and dairy products of ruminants. Both of these fats show
signs of being potent weapons against cancer. However, the omega-3s may be
the best of all the good fats because they are also linked with a lower risk of
virtually all the so-called "diseases of civilization," including cardiovascular
disease, depression, ADHD, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, asthma and
So, some of you may be wondering, what does this brief history of fat have to do
with grass-farming? Few people realize that all omega-3s originate in the
green leaves of plants and algae. Fish have large amounts of this good fat
because they eat small fish that eat small fish that eat smaller fish that dine
on omega-3 rich algae and phytoplankton. Grazing animals have more
omega-3s because they get the omega-3s directly from the grass. In both
cases, the omega-3s are ultimately passed on to humans, the top of the food
Products from grassfed animals offer us more than omega-3s. They contain
significant amounts of two "good" fats, monounsaturated oils and stearic acid,
but no man-made trans-fatty acids. They are also the richest known natural
source of CLA and contain extra amounts of vitamin E and beta-carotene.
Finally, grassfed meat is lower than feedlot meat in total fat and calories,
making it ideally suited for our sedentary lifestyles.
I don't believe it's a matter of luck or chance that grassfed products have so
many of the good fats but so few of the bad. In fact, I'll wager that the
more that is discovered about fat in the coming years, the more grassfed meat
will shine. The reason for my confidence is simple: our bodies are
superbly adapted to this type of food. In the distant past, grassfed meat
was the only meat around. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors either brought
home a grazing ruminant such as elk, deer, or bison - or a predator that preyed
on those animals. Either way, the nutrients found in grass made their way
into the animals' flesh, and ultimately, into our own.
Over the eons, our bodies began to "expect" the kinds and amounts of fat found
in grassfed meat. Our hearts counted on the omega-3s to stabilize their
rhythm and keep blood clots from forming. Our brain cells relied on
omega-3 to build flexible, receptor-rich membranes. Our immune systems
used the omega-3s and CLA to help fend off cancer. And because wild game
is relatively lean, our bodies weren't burdened with unnecessary amounts of fat
When we switch from grainfed to grassfed meat, we are simply returning to our
original diet, the diet that is most in harmony with our physiology. Every
cell and system of our bodies function better when we eat products from animals
raised on grass.
Contact us for more info >