The conventional wisdom of the last 40 years has been that saturated fats in our diets […] are a principal cause of high cholesterol and rising rates of heart disease. However, those conclusions now seem to be based on rather shaky science. A more recent scientific analysis of 21 studies determined that there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Instead, the principal culprit in the obesity epidemic, and a major contributor to heart disease, appears to be overconsumption of sugars and carbohydrate-intensive foods.
A year (well, two years now) of reading and studying
I started at my sister’s house following Mike’s wake. She had had in interest in nutrition since her teens (I never then understood her interest in sprouts and bird seed), and regarded Andrew Weil, the well-known American as ‘fairly sound’, so I started reading his books. It did indeed all sound fairly sound indeed, and took my down the path of trying to understand my fats.
Fat are very complicated – there’s a huge variety of them. Just about everyone recommends extra virgin olive oil and tells of the perils of saturated fats and the virtues of vegetable oils. But, specifically, which oils are good, which are bad, and of that which are OK to cook with? This exploration led me down a labyrinth of research until I eventually unearthed what is by no means a consensus, but I believe is reality: the saturated fats are the best for you, the vegetable oils very dangerous – many contain the dreaded very unstable polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. Initially, this total disconnect between conventional 'wisdom' and what is healthy surprised me. But as I've thought more about the incentives on corporations and government, it just depresses me.
In the process of getting my head (and lips) around the good fats, I discovered the diversity of opinion on proteins, carbohydrates and many other Greek words, so I just carried on researching. There's a huge variety of views on nutrition in the research papers, books and websites, so it's not at all easy sorting our the wheat from the chaff. (Not that, I discovered in time, wheat is necessarily better than chaff). The bookshelves are full of every conceiveable diet and opinion under the sun. Which to believe?
I came across (thanks to Amazon's 'you may also like') Weston Price's 1938 Nutrition and physical degeneration - a comparison of primitive and modern diets and their effects. Weston Price realised what was happening with western diets, and travelled far and wide to research then-existing traditional societies, their health and diets. I was lucky to encounter this classic so early on in my research.
Price's research was a great advance, and arguably better than anything in the 75 years since, which is a blink of the eye in the evolutionary timescale. As a believer in evolution I decided that studying what our ancestors ate would be a good guide. I then discovered that this stroke of insight was by no means original: the 'paleolithic' diet concept was raised in 1985 and was now an area of profuse books and websites. The 'paleo' viewpoint is undeniably sound, but to take it literally would mean only eating animals and vegetable species native to the Rift Valley, including of course the insects and reptiles. And while we might allow barbecues, as we discovered fire some 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, we would not allow any boiling or baking, as clay pots we invented far too recently.
How do we decide which foods that we discovered in other continents, and which food preparations that we have developed over the millennia, are sound? To answer this, we can only really turn to what has worked over the millennia in ancestral cultures, and what has not. And given the complexity of homo sapiens and the thousands or tens of thousands of years required to adapt to new foods, we should be deeply suspicious of anything novel, however cheap or alluringly wrapped. For what has worked ancestrally, we turn to the likes of Price.
So I carried on reading and researching: read on, and check out the references...