Fats and Oils and Their Impact on Health

By Mary G. Enig, PhD

I want to address the topic of food fats and oils and their impact on health, because fat represents an important nutrient that was negatively impacted by the forerunner to the planned National Nutrition Summit, namely, the 1969 White House Conference on Foods and Nutrition and the resulting McGovern Committee hearings in the 1970s, which produced the Dietary Goals. These Dietary Goals and later Guidelines have been largely responsible for promoting an unbalanced intake of the fat components of our diets. Natural fats such as butter, tallow, lard, and palm and coconut oils have been relegated to the garbage heap, and the man-made fats such as the widely-used, partially hydrogenated shortenings and margarines, and excessive polyunsaturated oils, have been promoted as if they were magic medicine. That is just the opposite of what we should be doing because those natural fats and oils have components found only in them, which are health-promoting, and their replacements are now known to be disease-causing.

The 1969 White House Conference produced the New Foods Document, which promoted the acceptance of imitation foods as if they were real foods. This has led to a major decline in the quality of our foods and especially in the quality of food fats. It has led to the open promotion of genetically-modified foods that suit the production of processed fats, and has also led to a decline in quality and uses of our farm-produced fats.

Now, 30 years later, there may be an opportunity to correct some of the mistakes. It is necessary, however, for those who will be in charge of the forthcoming Summit to make an effort to become properly educated as to the changes in the diet that occurred during the intervening 30 years, which have resulted in the situation we have today. We are confronted with the problems of widespread obesity, runaway diabetes in adults, ever-increasing cancer incidence rates, immune dysfunction, a continuing increase in heart disease rates, and growth and development problems in our young.

In 1970, the FDA prepared an internal memo that said the trans fatty acids in the food supply should be identified. Thirty years later the FDA has proposed the cloudy labeling of the trans fats under an unsuitable saturated fats umbrella. In the intervening 30 years in my former position as a fats, oils, and lipids researcher in a university lipids laboratory, I have frequently pointed out to various agencies, through reports to the appropriate dockets, that ignoring the levels of trans fatty acids in foods has prevented us from having accurate data on fat composition of our diets. As a result of being misled, we have a consuming public terrified of natural fats and oils–a public, which, by its avoidance of these natural fats and oils, and consumption of fabricated, man-manipulated fat and oil replacements, such as the trans fats and the unstable polyunsaturates, is becoming increasingly obese and ill.

This attempt by the FDA to tar the wholesome saturated fats with the sins of the trans fats so as to promote in the minds of the consumers the idea that they are both the same, is not supported by real science. Biologically, the saturates and the trans have totally opposite effects; the effects of the saturates are good and those of the trans are undesirable.

By considering a proposal which would put trans fats and saturated fats together on nutrition labels, the FDA is simply responding favorably to a petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is a transparent and ingenious effort by the CSPI and its mostly vegetarian nutritionist staff to malign the dairy and meat industries by having consumers incorrectly associate animal products with trans fat.

Many of you at this meeting may not have been born by 1969. Those of us who were adults at that time know the extent to which the “new foods” really are imitation foods even though they are not labeled as such.

About the Author
Mary G. Enig, PhD is an expert of international renown in the field of lipid biochemistry. She has headed a number of studies on the content and effects of trans fatty acids in America and Israel, and has successfully challenged government assertions that dietary animal fat causes cancer and heart disease. Recent scientific and media attention on the possible adverse health effects of trans fatty acids has brought increased attention to her work. She is a licensed nutritionist, certified by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, a qualified expert witness, nutrition consultant to individuals, industry and state and federal governments, contributing editor to a number of scientific publications, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition and President of the Maryland Nutritionists Association. She is the author of over 60 technical papers and presentations, as well as a popular lecturer. Dr. Enig is currently working on the exploratory development of an adjunct therapy for AIDS using complete medium chain saturated fatty acids from whole foods. She is Vice-President of the Weston A Price Foundation and Scientific Editor of Wise Traditions as well as the author of Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol, Bethesda Press, May 2000. She is the mother of three healthy children brought up on whole foods including butter, cream, eggs and meat.