Demystifying Fat

PART 1: THE ORIGIN OF YOUR DIET


BY DR. BAYNE FRENCH, MD DC

It pains me to see people spinning their wheels, exchanging years of vitality, independence, leanness, clarity of thought, and hope for years of lassitude, immobility, and polypharmacy.

Most have accepted faulty advice regarding diet, especially fat, from special interest-soaked government food policy makers and those better suited to be pill purveyors than dispensers of sound advice on healthful living. Case in point: In 1990, the obesity rate in America was 10-14%. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid came out in 1992 and was massively promoted and adhered to. At its base is the recommendation to consume 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. In 2000, the obesity rate was 15-24%; in 2010, 25-30%; and in 2017, 29 states had an obesity rate over 30%, with West Virginia leading the way at 38.1%.1 Go Mountaineers! How are you feeling now about the legitimacy of that advice?

The pyramid has been replaced by the plate. Different shape, same terrible advice. And there is no mention of fats on that plate at all.

I read, re-read, and mull over. I read something else and mull further. I take histories on thousands of patients, give recommendations, document observations, and measure outcomes. And I’m always checking to see if it passes the DIMADS (Does It Make Any Darn Sense?) test. That’s my Scientific Method. Nutritional research is tricky, and there’s a big difference between “association” and establishing “causality.”

As our species grows sicker, there simply is no time to wait for quality food studies. Furthermore, if and when they are done, validity is always a concern. There are countless examples of studies that we in medicine accepted as Hoyle, only to learn years later that they were subject to some type of bias and that the truth fell somewhere in the middle, which is where I’ve usually seen it drop. In addition, many studies focus on one nutrient in isolation and its effect on some outcome. But we don’t eat or live that way. DIMADS?

WHAT THE FIRST HUMANS ATE

What is understandable, achievable, and valid is the study of what we as human animals ate in the past. These historical insights from isotope testing of fossilized early human bones and teeth and studying in real-time what remaining hunter-gatherer cultures are eating now can help guide us. Compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) is precise enough to determine that a Neanderthal bone found in France came from a breast-fed baby whose mother ate mostly meat from deer and horses. And the Paleolithic humans who followed the Neanderthals had even higher nitrogen isotope ratios, indicating high animal protein consumption.2

This anthropological perspective, coupled with scientific investigations (recent and past), immutable physiological and biochemical pathways, and my own observations have galvanized what I feel is the optimal way for most humans to eat. Human animals are hugely adaptable. We “embraced the grind” of natural selection for millions of years, coevolving with our food.

With our relatively short gut, opposable thumbs, and big brain, we are the consummate omnivore. Part of this omnivoring is the consumption of fat, in varied forms, and likely as much as we could get.

If you’ve spent any time in wild places pursuing wild game, even with modern weaponry, you know it is not an easy prospect. On average, it is estimated that hunter-gatherers obtained one-third of their calories from animals. This made the “gatherer” part pretty important.3 Now, our hunting efforts end at the first drive-through, and we may not define ourselves as hunter-gatherers anymore, but our brain and metabolism still are.

TYPES OF FATS

To understand fats, their health benefits, and their detriments, a basic understanding of their types is necessary. Fats are many structurally and biochemically distinct compounds that may be categorized into three basic groups: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. There are several types within each category, all comprised of chains of “fatty acids.” Each chain possesses linkages of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms with an acidic carboxyl group on one end. The carbon atoms are bonded to each other, resulting in different lengths. Some are held together with single bonds, and others with double bonds. These different lengths and types of bonds are what make each type of fat unique.

The University of Wyoming performed extensive analyses of the fat content of wild game (antelope, deer, elk, and bison). After trimming off external fat, approximately 45% of the total fat in the meat was saturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 25% polyunsaturated.4 Also, Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, and others determined that the dominant type of muscle fat of wild game was unsaturated (mono and poly), while the dominant type of stored fat of wild game was saturated.5

For almost the entire existence of our planetary experience, carbohydrate has been sparse. Simple sugars were found only in ripe fruit and honey. Realistically, these were rare, competed for, and guarded by venomous dive-bombers. This rarity led to our biochemical ability to produce sugar (glucose) from other nutrients (fat and protein) in a process called gluconeogenesis. Here’s the rub: gluconeogenesis is energetically costly. It is much easier (requires less energy) to make sugar from carbohydrate. Hence, the innate drive to seek it out. The brain is primitively driving you to seek out carbohydrate, and after eating it, quickly driving you to get more through hunger and cravings. See? You ARE a hunter-gatherer. You are programmed to be fat during times of abundance! Although this carb-seeking impetus is very natural, it is deeply unhealthy in our carbohydrate- and sugar-filled environment.

FAT IN THE HUMAN DIET

About 2.5 million years ago, from the genus Australopithecus, humans went one way, apes another. Interestingly, that same time period of 2.5 million years ago corresponds with the first use of stone tools. What does a chunk of granite have to do with fat? That sediment allowed us protection while we scavenged what apex predators (predators at the top of a food chain that are not preyed upon by other animals) killed. The stone also provided a means to crush skulls and long bones to access FAT! There is disagreement among those I consider authorities about how much fat we evolved eating. Some would say heaps of it, others a more moderate amount. Although marbled meat is unheard of in nature, even lean wild game does contain fat. Organs, brains, and marrow are extremely fatty. Our brains grew. And when we figured out fire about 400,000 years ago, the road to jumbo brain was paved. We spread and evolved into numerous human species, of which only sapiens remain. I feel the future success of our species relies in part on improvements in our diet. If not, we might slowly be replaced by Homo rotundus.

Surrounding every single cell in our bodies (a staggering 37 trillion cells) is a lipid bilayer—two separate layers of fat linked with other molecules. Historically, this layer was thought to confer only structure to its cellular owner. Now, numerous functional roles of this bilayer are known, including forming a proper matrix for proteins, regulation of cell growth and cellular linking, and acting as receptors and channel pores, thus controlling the entry and exit of other molecules. The fat of the lipid bilayer is a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. The ratio of these fats and their “health” (trans fats, oxidized fats) is of extreme importance to the vitality of the cell, and eventually the collective you.

Three separate fatty acid chains are commonly linked to a glycerol molecule, thus forming a triglyceride. This fat molecule comprises 95% of the fat we consume and is our storage form of fat, making up every single inch of our generous midsections. The three fatty acid chains may be saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or a combination.6 Triglycerides are measured with a standard cholesterol panel, and the vast majority are formed from carbohydrate in a process called lipogenesis, driven by insulin. We don’t store carbohydrate well at all and must convert it to fat. So, if your medical provider identifies elevated triglycerides in your blood and tells you to avoid butter, find a different provider.

In Demystifying Fat, Part 2, we will dive into all the types of fat. We’ll cover all the ones you’re familiar with and a few you’ve never heard of. There are mountains of rhetoric about which kinds are good for you and which kinds you need to avoid. But can you trust something you see on potato chip labels at the supermarket? Here’s a brief preview of the types of fat. Next time, in Endurance News 119, we’ll explore them in more detail.

TYPES OF FATS TO EAT

1. SATURATED FATS
Saturated fat is the most contentious fat subject of them all. It is comprised of fatty acids with only single bonds (no double bonds) linking the carbon atoms together in the chain. A misguided study in the 1950s led to decades of misinformation about this kind of fat.

2. MONOUNSATURATED FATS
This type of fat is comprised of fatty acids with single bonds and one double bond in the chain. This type of fat is widely agreed to be the most favorable for your health, and it is the primary driver behind many physicians recommending the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil.

3. POLYUNSATURATED FATS
These are fats with single bonds and more than one double bond in the chain, and they come in two types: omega-6 and omega-3. As with other fat types, there are numerous polyunsaturated fats (LA, ALA, DHA, EPA, AA, GLA, CLA, and trans fat). Some offer myriad health benefits, and others confer an increased risk of developing disease.

SUMMARY

There is a direct relationship between how we live and the development of many diseases. We are engineered to consume certain foods, and when we do so repeatedly, we tend to remain lean and have limited need of the medical establishment. The staples of carbohydrate (all types, refined or otherwise) and polyunsaturated vegetable oil are scourges on our health. Free yourself from their grip and the abysmal advice we’ve all been given. It’s about what you do from this day forward. The origin of many of our modern diseases is dietary. I have extensively read the works of Dr. Hyman, Dr. Cordain, Travis Christofferson, Dr. Davis, Dr. Perlmutter, Gary Taubes, Dr. Fung, and many others. Many of the most impactful articles I’ve ever read were found in the bibliographies of their books, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude. Dr. Perlmutter, in his outstanding book Grain Brain, states:

“Decisions about what to eat and drink have gone from habits of culture and heritage to calculated choices based on shortsighted nutritional theories, with little consideration of how human beings reached modernity in the first place.”

Dr. Bayne French, MD DC, Hammer Nutrition’s medical advisor, competes in the Bigfork Spartan Beast. Along with an MD from the University of Washington, Dr. French brings over 20 years of health experience, with a focus on wellness, to the Hammer team. Dr. French currently works at Glacier Medical Associates and is double board certified in Family Medicine and Obesity Medicine. Bayne picked up obstacle course racing in 2013. He won the Masters division of the Bigfork, MT Spartan Beast (2016) and tHE Monterey, CA Spartan Super (2016). He competed in the Spartan World Championship Ultra Beast in 2016 and earned a 2nd place finish

REFERENCES:
[1] ConsumerProtect.com. The States with the Worst Eating and Exercise Habits in America. July 8, 2019. consumerprotect.com/hot-topics/worst-eating-and-exercisehabits- in-america/
[2] Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Neanderthals’ Main Food Source Was Definitely Meat: Isotope analyses performed on single amino acids in Neanderthals’ collagen samples shed new light on their debated diet. ScienceDaily. February 19, 2019. sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190219111704.htm
[3] Gibbons, A. The Evolution of Diet. National Geographic. September 2014. nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/evolution-of-diet/
[4] Medeiros, L, et al. Nutritional Content of Game Meat. College of Agriculture, University of Wyoming. August 2002. wyomingextension.org/agpubs/pubs/B920R.pdf
[5] Cordain, L, et al. Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: Health Implications for the 21st Century. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. February 2005; 81(2): 341-54. academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/81/2/341/4607411 (doi.org/10.1093/ajcn.81.2.341)
[6] Angelo, G. Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute. High Triglycerides. May 2015. lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/heath-disease/high-triglycerides

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