The Fats You Need for a Healthy Diet

Delicious news: You may want to bring bacon and butter back to your plate!

| August/September 2011

The Fats You Need For A Healthy Diet

Think a hearty breakfast complete with bacon and butter is off-limits if you’re trying to eat right? Not so! Just consider the source: Moderate amounts of the saturated fat in bacon, butter and eggs from grass-fed animals is actually good for you. The same isn’t true of the saturated fats in these foods from industrially raised animals, however.


Long before the dawn of agriculture, our ancestors spent 2.5 million years fine-tuning their metabolism and collective physiology to an opportunist’s diet that included everything from found or hunted meats and seafood to plants, insects and perhaps an occasional spot of honey. No doubt early humans feasted on plenty of leafy greens, nuts and other seeds as well as high-quality animal proteins and fats, all of which were loaded with vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Our scavenger predecessors would’ve likely raised their eyebrows at shortening, margarine and other processed vegetable and animal fats, and likely even at breads, cakes and cookies.

A lot has happened to the human diet since then.

About 10,000 years ago, humans developed agriculture and discovered it was possible — even desirable — to settle in, tend the land, develop the mind, create art and populate the Earth. In living this new, good life, our diet shifted from that of the widely diverse hunter-gatherer’s to one consisting of more fats, dairy products, grain-derived carbohydrates and sugars from cultivated fruits.

Now, fast-forward to the 1950s, when the U.S. food industry was beginning to take off, already capitalizing on cheap fossil fuels and cheap raw materials from the farm that were about to become a lot cheaper thanks to astronomical government subsidies. Rather than producing meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on pasture and supplemented with grain, the United States shifted to livestock production systems that removed animals from pasture and fed them much higher quantities of grain. That swap caused some big changes in the composition of the fats from those animals.

In 1956, nutrition scientist Ancel Keys drew the spotlight to the lipid hypothesis, which held that a high-fat diet — particularly one high in saturated fat — contributed to high cholesterol, which in turn led to heart disease in the form of plaque buildup in the arteries. Following suit, the food industry, medical community and media all jumped on the low-fat bandwagon, vilifying saturated fats (mostly animal fats) and promoting vegetable fats and low-fat diets. Interestingly, at the time, plenty of money stood to be made in processing cheap vegetable oils into their solid, hydrogenated forms to then be used in making cheap, processed foods — far more money than could be made in marketing traditional animal fats.

Cut to the present, and the idea that corn, soy and other vegetable oils are preferred for optimal health continues to be dominant, yet the United States still has high rates of cardiovascular disease. We are overweight and unhealthy despite five decades of low-fat and no-fat health advice and faddism. How could the medical community, our Food and Drug Administration and so many others be so wrong about dietary fats? To untangle this mess — which involves shunning the widely held nutritional belief condemning saturated fats — let’s go back to basics.

6/4/2012 3:58:14 PM

Why not make it simple. Just list the good foods and the bad foods and let us get with it. I really don't need a lot of verbage. I hear enough from my wife!!!!!

Allen Howell
5/31/2012 10:19:18 AM

I've been reading Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor's Program for Conquering Disease by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It seems to be great advice that contradicts flatly everything that the Weston Price/Lierre Keith/Mother Earth News group says. Neither camp has a lot to say about the other. I appreciate all of the info that contradicts the Vegan ultra-low fat diet that Dr. Fuhrman suggests. Please keep it coming. I have a lot of Vegan friends who refuse to be persuaded.

Rachel Hanna
10/6/2011 1:42:27 PM

Thank you for this article! I have been eating a diet rich in whole foods like liver, beef, chicken, eggs, butter, lard and vegetables for about a year now. I never use canola oil and choose olive oil instead. It's so nice to see such a topic discussed in such a mainstream magazine. Everyone today is afraid of fats, so instead they just consume higher amounts of calories from sugar via fat free milk and breads. And all the while diabetes skyrockets. It's such a hard concept to accept but I think you have really helped paved the way to health with this article. Keep it up! (And thanks for helping me prove to my in laws that I'm not a lunatic for not sandwhiches)

9/30/2011 3:32:58 AM

Thank you for a good article. Just one comment. It is not necessary to limit good natural saturated fat - in fact it can be beneficial for those who need to restrict carbohydrates. I'm not sure what "good science" you refer to showing too much saturated fat causes stiff arteries, but such research is usually pretty poor, as they never use natural saturated fats in the context of a healthy diet. If you want to see commentary on how junky that science can be check out this

Frank Foster
8/24/2011 9:20:37 PM

As a grassland beef farmer in my 70th. year I am very gratified to be sent this article by a customer. I, with my family are lifelong proponents of grass based beef, hence the name Linden Leas(old name for grasslands). All truth passes through 3 stages, first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, third, it is accepted as self evident.(Arthur Schopenhauer) We are hopefully entering the third stage but are still facing remnants of the second. As a result of experience and research into evidence across the various disciplines involved I have come to believe the big game plant eating ruminant, manifested today in modern cattle, is a necessary link in carbon sequestration, soil fertility and the very future of human health. We cannot continue to deny, because of vested interests, the relevant truths evidenced. Ruminant red meat is good, not bad as the grain/ non plant eating meat, fossil fuel dependent, agro industry propaganda would have most believe. We are creatures of the natural world and the more disconnected societies become, the more Mother Nature will correct and we disregard her warnings at our collective peril. Links to irrevocable evidence to the goodness of grass manifested in cattle, flower of the field(Isaiah)the 'Fat of the Land', across the various disciplines are available on request.

t brandt
8/17/2011 12:36:53 PM

Aboriginal hunters always ate the bone marrow and liver first- both loaded with fat. The "studies" on dietary fat are based mostly on questionaires- virtually useless. Now that the patents on statins are expiring, watch for new research that will show high cholesterol levels are a reaction to inflammaton, oxidative stress and arteriosclerosis and not a cause of same. The economic incentive to insist cholesterol & fats are bad will be gone.

8/17/2011 12:08:32 PM

In the shortness of this article there is no way possible to cover all the issues, even in many books. One good source for this information is "Primal Blueprint" by Mark Sisson.

8/16/2011 5:50:29 PM

Not 100% correct but close. We need to emphasize the damage that heat does to fats and oils. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are easily damaged by heat. Once heat damaged they form dangerous compounds that destroy our vitamin E and create free radical damage in the body. Cold pressed Extra virgin olive oil is easily pressed at low temperatures. But most other oils require high heat to get economical amounts of the oil out. This high heat makes them dangerous to use. Unfortunately cooking with olive oil can create similar damage. The less omega fatty acids the safer it is to cook with. So organic coconut oil with 1% fatty acids or butter is safer to cook with. As the article mentions meats and fish have omega fatty acids. And if carefully cooked at low temperatures are very healthy. But too many people cook at high heat and end up with dry well dome meat and fish. Not healthy due to damaged fatty acids and damaged amino acids. Charcoal grilling over hot charcoal where the fat can drip onto the coals also creates toxic compounds that are bad for us. Butter olive and coconut were the staples of 100 years ago and today they are still the safest fats especially if organic.

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