Last year I had a memorable encounter with a milk-buying neighbor near my Beijing apartment. The man was taking a one liter container of skim milk off the shelf. I asked him, “你觉得好喝吗？” (=Do you think that stuff really tastes good?).
He told me “不好喝！” (=No way) Then he patted his belly. “但是能怎么办呢？” (=But what can I do?).
It’s a fact. Skim milk doesn’t taste very good, especially pasteurized homogenized skim milk. Rare is the person who actually likes the stuff. Why? Because the skimming process takes all that tasty fat out.
I think it is fair to speculate that our bodies are probably not fools. Fat must be tasty for a reason.
And in fact, there is a very good reason. Humans are not merely “water-based creatures”, as some have claimed. Humans – and all other animals for that matter – are water AND fat-based creatures. Think about it: what is the most common substance used to package liquids in? Plastic, of course. And what is plastic made of? Oil! This works for a very basic reason: oil repels water. And in fact, in very basic terms this is the concept behind the basic building block of multi-cellular life: the eukaryotic cell.
The cell membrane is in essence a structured layer of fat which allows cells to keep their watery guts inside, while at the same time facilitating both communication and exchange with the outside world. These membranes play the role of the “brain” of the cell. In essence, our bodies are composed of trillions of tiny little “intelligent” plastic sacks.
In this light, it should become clear that both water and fat are essential to maintaining life.
But – and here’s the catch: just as not all liquids are water, neither are all fats the types our bodies were built to use. In particular, our bodies were not built to use many of the “artificial fats” formed during the processing of vegetables oils.
Part of a healthy diet is drinking at least 2 liters of pure (ideally alkaline) mineral water every day. But many people find it difficult to drink so much water. Why is this? Well, perhaps one reason is that they don’t consume enough natural oils – i.e. their water/oil balance is out-of-whack. Those cell membranes, along with many other internal systems, need a range of natural oils, and few people living in today’s industrialized countries get enough of any of them.
There are a number of different types of natural fats which our bodies use. Fats are essentially chains of carbon atoms of various length with hydrogen atoms stuck on the sides. If the chain has all the hydrogen atoms it can possibly absorb, it is called a “saturated fat”. This is the #1 building block of cell membranes. “Monounsaturated” fats by contrast are short one hydrogen atom, whereas polyunsaturated fats are missing two or more. Amongst these, the so-called “Omega-3” fats may well play one of the most crucial roles in human chemistry, since they are a crucial component in pulling oxygen into the cells. [Omega-3 fats lack two hydrogen atoms, with the first “hole” at the third carbon atom; hence the “3” in the name.]
What are some common sources of natural saturated oils? Here’s a partial list:
– Milk (limited amounts)
– Virgin Coconut Oil
– Virgin Palm Oil
– Animal Fats from healthy (grass-fed) animals
What about the Omega-3 fats, in particular so-called linolenic acid? One of the best sources is unheated virgin flaxseed oil, but hemp seed oil also contains a fair amount – and in my opinion is tastier, too. Understandably supplementation of these oils can be particularly crucial for people afflicted with cancer, a condition which is characterized by oxygen-deficient cells. So-called “fish oil” is of course another well-known source of Omega-3 oils, and even (uncooked) green leaves contain a substantial amount – approximately 0.5% on average by weight. Most inhabitants of industrialized countries tend to be deficient in Omega-3s.
Getting back to my neighbor, his own awareness that skim milk doesn’t taste good might have told him something. Instead, he fell victim to his Faith in the anti-fat propaganda. Natural fats don’t make people fat! It’s simply not true. “Body fat” is synthesized in the liver when there are more simple carbohydrates floating around than can be used short-term, particularly pure fructose and its close relative alcohol. [Table sugar (glucose) is 1/2 fructose.] True, artificial “trans-fats”, as well as fat from unhealthy animals fed on corn or rice, hardly help one’s health, but even their contribution to obesity is not a direct one.
On the contrary, natural saturated fats like those in the list above are an instant cure for hunger, producing almost instantaneous long-lasting satiety. Consumption of coconut oil, for example in a mixture with coconut powder and a bit of milk or almond milk, has long been known to contribute to weight loss. So next time, buy the real thing!