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The Good Fat Cookbook by Fran McCullough

Posted by medconsumers on December 30, 2003

(Paperback — Scribner: New York, 2004)

This book is organized around a simple premise: “Foods that are really good for you taste really good.” And believe or not, science has begun to back up this appealing idea. In the last few years, foods once thought to be unhealthy were judged to be good for us. Among those that have made a comeback are: eggs (rich in two essential nutrients–choline and lutein), butter (healthier than margarine which usually contains trans-fatty acids), avocados (contain protein, fiber, antioxidants, monounsaturated fat), nuts (protect against heart disease and cancer), beef (see below), and alcohol (moderate daily drinking is good for the heart). If this trend sounds good to you, this book will make you even happier. Part I deals with the scientific evidence; part II provides the recipes.

The low-fat diet has been promoted to the public for over 30 years by government officials and the American Heart Association. It is considered the ideal way to prevent heart disease and obesity. Yet despite the proliferation of reduced-fat products (over 15,000) and a small drop in the nation’s fat intake (34% down from 40%), Americans have become the fattest people on earth. 

Now the low-fat diet is undergoing a major rethink, and the tide of scientific evidence is changing in favor of those who have challenged the conventional medical wisdom. Two population groups are frequently cited to support the contention that certain fats are so healthy that they should be consumed in high quantities: The Greenland Eskimos with their high consumption of fatty fish (rich in heart-healthy omega-3 oil) and people living in Mediterranean regions where the diet is high in olive oil, a healthy monounsaturated fat. Both groups have a total fat intake that is just as high or higher than that of the average American, but the Eskimos have virtually no heart disease and the Mediterranean people have low rates of heart disease and some cancers. Citing studies of such populations, a 1998 international conference convened by the Harvard School of Public Health, reached a consensus that a healthy diet need not be restricted in total fat. 

In The Good Fat Cookbook, Fran McCullough gathers the latest scientific evidence to show there are healthy and unhealthy fats. Her findings are likely to surprise. “The best fat of all is coconut and the worst fat of all is soy,” she writes. Canola and soy oils are so highly processed that the good nutrients are lost and trans-fatty acids develop (80% of cooking oil used in the U.S. is soy oil). The biggest surprise comes in the section on the health benefits of coconut. As anyone who has tried to keep up with the latest nutrition information knows, tropical fats (coconut and palm oil) are extremely unhealthy and should be banished from the diet. Not so, says McCullough. Coconut has numerous health virtues: It protects against heart disease and cancer; stimulates metabolic activity and gives you a burst of energy; provides high levels of antioxidants; contains lauric acid, the protective substances in mother’s milk; and has strong antiviral, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory activity. 

Coconut oil used to be the predominant fat used in cookies, crackers, and most baked goods. In 1986, writes McCullough, the soy industry mounted a campaign to discredit coconut oil and warn the public of its dangers. The campaign was successful, according to McCullough, because “there is no Coconut Council to fund research and send out press kits, take journalists on junkets, and lobby Washington for favorable treatment in the way other elements in the agribusiness food industry cooked up the Dietary Guidelines.”

Some foods are innately healthy but become much less so due to human interference. When cattle and sheep are allowed to slowly fatten on grasses, as they are meant to, their meat has a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. But that has changed with the mass production feedlots that supply most of America’s meat. The animals are fed corn that disrupts their digestive systems because they weren’t meant to eat grain, which, in turn, creates major health problems that necessitates antibiotics. Furthermore, their meat often undergoes irradiation to be sure that infections are not passed on to us. 

The book has a resource section with web sites and 800 #s for finding high quality products, such as meat from grass-fed animals, high quality oils, and omega-3 supplements. 

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers©2003

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