The History of Fat

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TRUTH: Fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. Check out our previous article on fat and it’s role in the human body.

The good fats are essential for a healthy brain and to facilitate crucial metabolic functions in the body. A single study from the 1950’s was the catalyst for shifting the way Americans viewed and consumed fat, and how the the food and drug industry fed that change in behavior. In this article we go into the history of how we were conditioned to fear fat, what the healthiest countries in the world are eating, and why you should re-wire your thoughts on fat consumption to improve your health, vitality, and athletic performance.

Ok fam. Twilight zone time. America is amongst the fattest countries in the world and 28th in overall health. Yet the average American diet is relatively low in fat. So what gives?! See, fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. The good kind of fat is actually quite healthy and essential for so many metabolic functions and overall brain health. Yet, in recent decades, high fat consumption has been frowned upon deriving from one single study.

Phat beginnings.. How it all started

In the 1950’s, Americans were gaining weight and was on a steady incline through the 1970’s. In fact, it all began in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack which put heart disease in the hot seat. It triggers a worldwide search for the scientific cause of the growing health threat and “What is making America fat?” In 1953, processed and prepackaged foods like TV dinners began to emerge to accommodate the ever increasing pace of American life. These foods contained relatively high amounts of both sugar and fat. The question then became, “Is it fat or sugar that is making America fat?”

By 1956, Dr. Ancel Keys is the first academic to get a grant from the Sugar Research Foundation, publishing the now controversial Seven Countries Study, defending the hypothesis that dietary fat is the leading cause of heart disease. By 1975, the Sugar Association’s popularity was waning. In effort to salvage its reputation, the sugar industry pushed Dr. Keys to show how sugar has no negative health effects and that it is the dietary fat (similar to what tobacco companies did).

Dietary fat.. Correlation, NOT causation

Dr. Keys found that higher serum cholesterol and higher saturated fat consumption tended to be related to coronary heart disease incidence. However, in the same study it was noted that sucrose was always present with a saturated fat (aka a donut). Instead of searching for causation- which was the added sugars, not the fat, they went with correlation.

At the USDA, Dr. Sheldon Reiser, and his colleague, Dr. Judith Hallfrisch, researched the effects of excessive sugar in the diet. In fact, there were many published articles on sugar and it’s harmful effects in 1974. Sugar companies were worried about these scientists and the media making sugar the bad guy, so the Sugar Association published ads in newspaper and magazines promoting sugar as a healthy nutrient. They appealed to a new demographic of women starting to diet, and pitch sugar as a way to keep that weight in check.

That didn’t quite work out.. American health and growing waistlines in 1976 prompted the FDA to officially review the health effects of sugar. Instead of going to Dr. Sheldon and the independently funded researchers who already had evidence of potential diet effects of sugar, the FDA instead chose to work directly with the sugar industry and Dr. Keys. The FDA marked sugar as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) ingredient leaving fat to be a key contributor to metabolic syndromes like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and abdominal fat. These syndromes apparently double your risk of blood vessel and heart disease, leading to heart attacks and strokes with a increase risk of diabetes by five times.

The Corny Story of Fats Fall From Fame

In 1966, the Japanese created High Fructose Corn Syrup and was introduced to Americans in 1975.  At the time, Nixon waged a “war on poverty”, so him and Earl Butz changed the US Agriculture policy to massively subsidize corn production in the US, and scientists also figured out how to make HFCS in the lab from corn. It was half the price of sugar.

By 1984, the American diet shifted to a low-fat consumption rate in response to the FDA’s findings. The U.S. government released guidelines permitting 30% or less of our daily diet to consist of dietary fats. In our recent article, we’ve highlighted fat’s function in the body and it’s role as a primary nutrient, but we’ve ignored the fact that fat just tastes good. Once fat had been taken out of food, packaged food companies had to find a solution to the flavor lost from low-fat products. In order to make low-fat foods taste good, companies injected refined/processed sugars like HFCS in their products. So how did that pan out? Well, with America at 28th in the world in overall health, 44% of U.S. adults are at increased risk for heart disease and 79 million Americans have prediabetes– you decide.

Fat, all the cool countries are doing it

Scoring $300 round-trip flights to Iceland aren’t the only desirable thing about the lonely island these days. According to the lancet study, Iceland ranks in as the healthiest country in the world where fat consumption on average makes up 40% of the typical Icelandic diet.  The same goes to the 2nd ranked country, Singapore, and 3rd, Sweden. And you know what? Iceland ranks as the lowest for liver disease which is often correlated with high sugar, or, alcohol consumption. Findings suggest that the healthiest countries have comparatively high fat to carbohydrate to protein (macronutrients) ratios present in their diet. This is with taking into account 230 indicators, 169 targets with 17 universal goals across 188 countries. Other studies bring France to the discussion whom also have a high fat diet, but yet rank as one of the lowest in coronary heart disease and strokes according to

So what’s different about these countries? They value their food sources. Countries like France, Sweden and Iceland have very stern regulations on the farming and quality of food being produced in the country for distribution allowing little room for HFCS and processed/refined sugars. The Icelandic diet is also very high in fish and whole milk dairy products including award winning yogurts. This kind of diet is beneficial because of the high portions of the right kind of fat keeping the consumer fuller for longer. Foods from a clean source (less processed sugary products) keeps us from eating processed foods that do not satiate our hunger.

As mentioned before, fats are thought to even contribute to high blood pressure. Here’s a great article from our friends at Health Ambition with suggested natural remedies to lower blood pressure from clean sources!