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Examining Fat

The title story for a recent edition of Time Magazine is simply and provocatively entitled "Eat Butter". The author, a member of Generation Y, relays memories from his own childhood full of margarine, skim milk, and low-fat products (from crackers to salad dressing). Being of the same generation, I can relate to this. Butter was never seen in our household, and our shelves were stocked with low-fat fare. We didn't pay attention to the sugar or carb content, as fat was labeled the enemy.

This wasn’t always the case. Prior to the early 1980s, American diets involved much more red meat, butter, and fat. The beginning of the change came in 1977, when the landmark "Dietary Goals for the United States" was published. This report urged Americans to eat less of these high fat foods in order to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Since 1970, consumption of beef is down 29%, butter down 8%, and whole milk down a whopping 78%. Whole milk has been replaced by skim milk, which is supplemented with sweeteners like chocolate. When fat is removed from our food and diets, we have to replace it with something, and for the past 30+ years, we’ve replaced it with artificial ingredients, carbs and sugar. The consumption of high-fructose corn syrup is up an incredible 8,853% since 1970.

This shift in the way we eat has not improved our health. There has been a 166% increase in Type 2 diabetes from 1980-2012, and while deaths from heart disease have fallen, many experts attribute this to better emergency care, less smoking, and the increase in cholesterol-controlling drugs rather than a decrease in the consumption of fat. Despite mainstream acceptance of the anti-fat message, experts have been researching for the real effects of fat for the past 20+ years, and many studies have found that fat is not the mortal enemy that we were told. Omega-3 fats were the first fats to be liberated from this belief, and have now been accepted as “good fats” by public opinion and most medical professionals and associations. Saturated fat is still demonized. However, studies have shown that the link between saturated fats and heart disease is not as simple as we had thought, and saturated fats are actually more complex. This does not mean that one should go out and eat a bunch of Big Mac’s; it simply means that more research needs to be done to fully understand the effects of saturated fats, “good” fats, and carbs and sugars for the sake of public health.

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