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Dietary Fats

Emily Siebach
7 April 2014

Nutrition, specifically dietary fats, have been a hot topic in the United States for decades.
The media presents so many different ideas for healthy nutrition that some contradict each other
outright. How can this mess of information be strategically navigated to find out the truth? One
way is by paying attention to scientific research instead flashy media. Everyone from experts to
laymen knows that excess body fat is not healthy, and current scientific research in dietary fats is
helping educate the public understanding of why these excess fats are bad, as well as the role of
food manufacturing in nutrition, and what the individual can do to stay as healthy as possible.
Excess body fat is a detriment to overall well-being of a person, and understanding
differences in dietary fats is key to staying healthy. Walter C. Willett, a professor of Medicine at
Harvard Medical School, wrote an article for the Journal of Internal Medicine in which he
discusses dietary fats and the correlation that excess body fat has to coronary heart disease.
Willett identifies excessive fat as a risk factor that should be taken more seriously. This is just
one example of a condition or disease that is aggravated by extra amounts of fat in the human
body. Understanding what causes this extra fat is crucial if one is to maintain good health and
body weight. Sharon Palmer is a dietician as well as a food and nutrition journalist. She wrote an
article regarding the intake of different kinds of fats and their effects on the body. Saturated fats,
unsaturated fats, and trans-fats are all mentioned in her article. Palmer relates that dietary fats are
a class of nutrients and most are essential for a healthy body. What Willett and Palmer can both
agree on is that the latest research has shown trans-fats to have intense negative effects on the
body, in fact Willett recommends specifically to eliminate this type of fat because the effects are
so adverse. Listening to these experts and understanding the research on health and nutrition will
improve and reduce the fats a body consumes, which will, in turn, improve how that body
functions and its overall heath.
Food manufacturing companies have capitalized on the publics fear and perceptions of
dietary fats. Vera Tweed, a journalist for the magazine Better Nutrition, specializes in the latest
research regarding nutrition and recently wrote an article discussing the role manufacturers play
in the food industry. She specifically attacks the fact that, as a culture, we have told that low-fat
foods are good for us, but this is not always the case. In foods that are processed to be low-fat,
the fat is taken out but it is replaced by refined carbohydrates. This is done to maintain the flavor
of the product, but it is not good because it significantly increases the amount of carbohydrates
our bodies consume causing spikes in blood-sugar. In Palmers article she quotes Alice
Lichtenstein, D.Sc., who is the director of the cardiovascular health lab at Tufts University.
Lichtenstein discusses food manufacturers and their solution to reducing fat in consumer
products. She calls it an oversimplification, and goes on to say its not as simple as reducing
all the fat one intakes if the fats are only replaces by sugar. That sugar is then converted into fat
by the body and there is no reduction of fat at all, in fact, people often allow themselves to eat
more of the low-fat products than they normally would, thinking the low-fat option to be more
healthy. As we can see, not only are low-fat products not a healthier option, they can be worse
for the body than products that contained the original amount of fat. Food manufacturing
companies are capitalizing on consumer phobias of dietary fat because the consumer has been
poorly educated on the essential nutrient that fat is. Instead the public is educated by media paid
for by food manufacturers, as well as social normalitys that do not agree with current scientific
The latest research in Tweeds article shows which fats are good, why we should eat
them, and how to get those essential nutrients into daily diets. In her article, Tweed identifies two
types of essentials fats, these are pro-inflammatory omega-5s and anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
Both are essential to maintain excellent health, but in the right balance. She suggests that our
ratio of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory is enormously out of balance due to extremes in
the normal American diet. Instead of oils that cause inflammation, such as vegetable, corn, and
canola oils, try to use oils that are unsaturated like coconut and rice bran oils. Also curbing
consumption of refined or processed foods as well as not eating fast food can significantly
decrease the negative fats consumed on a daily basis. Pro-inflammatory fats can be found in high
a percentage of commercially fed animals because their feed is saturated with corn instead of
natural grasses. This feeding process, Tweed states, alters the composition of the meat. This
alteration is an unhealthy balance for consumers, and her solution is to try and eat grass-fed
meats. The problem of imbalance extends to fish, which, when farm raised are also fed diets
supplemented with corn. Again, Tweed recommends eating only fresh caught wild fish. The
grains and sugars in the typical American diet are highly processed and increase amounts of pro-
inflammatory omega-5s. If some of these carbohydrates are exchanged for unadulterated fruits,
which contain natural sugars and carbohydrates, it can help start to alleviate the imbalances of
inflammation. Tweed also quotes Tom Gilhooly, MD in her article. Gilhooly is the founder of
The Center for Nutritional Studies in Scotland, and he states that omega-3 fats have been
extensively studied and research has shown conclusively that increasing your intake of this
dietary fat is the simplest change one can make to improve overall health. Brain function can
specifically be enhanced by increasing omega-3s. Supplements are a recommended way to make
sure one is receiving sufficient omega-3 fat. If the public becomes more aware of which fats are
good for their bodies and how to get them, it will increase health throughout the nation.
In Palmers article she discussed how processed carbohydrates, saturated fats and
unsaturated fats have varying effects on overall health, as well as suggestions on how these
different fats can be rearranged to achieve maximum health benefits. She quotes an associate
professor at the Harvard School of public Health named Dariush Mozaffarian, MD., Ph.D.
Mozaffarian talks about the risk of coronary heart disease being significantly increased by
consuming processed carbohydrates and the considerable lessening of that risk when those
carbohydrates are replaced with natural saturated fats. But saturated fats can contribute to bad
cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, the solution would be to exchange a high percentage of saturated
fats with unsaturated fats. This resolve to reorganize and replace harmful fats with better fats and
replace better fats with the best fats can increase health and strongly decrease risks associated
with dietary fats.
Willett addresses imbalance in his article and gives recommendations to alleviate the
imbalance. Willett specifically states that if expenditure of energy and intake of energy are not
balanced a persons body fat percentage will be imbalanced. If the expenditure is more than the
intake, there will be continual lessening of body fat, but if there is continual intake without
enough expenditure, there will be increases to the fat in a persons body. This second example of
imbalance is the most common, and with fat increase come increased risks for disease,
specifically coronary heart disease. Willett suggests dietary changes such as substituting red
meat with fish and nuts as well as substituting sugary beverages and refined starches with natural
fruits and vegetables. Heeding these suggestions by increasing balance, will reduce risks of
weight gain and therefore reduce risks for coronary heart disease.
These experts and researchers all agree, fats are nutrients that are necessary for health. If
the public paid more attention to the facts and the research, each individual would benefit
personally. There are many ways to put health at risk but there are just as many ways to help
ones body run at optimum efficiency, and nutrition based in research is beneficial to
understanding what our bodies need to be as healthy as possible.

Literature Cited
Sharon Palmer, RD. The Great Fat Debate Continues. Environmental Nutrition. Volume 34,
Number 3; pages 1 & 4.
W.C. Willett. Dietary Fats and Coronary Heart Disease. Journal of Internal Medicine. Issue
272; pages 13-24.
Vera Tweed. The Secrets of Healthy Fats. Better Nutrition. July 2013 Issue; pages 29-32.