“If I were a king, I’d eat nothing but fat.” So a 17th-century Italian farmer expressed his longing for this noble 3-letter word, F-A-T, a cocktail of triglycerides, fatty acids and other compounds that together form a vital fuel for the human body. Our slim, hungry farmer was righter than he knew. Consider this: fat plays essential roles in metabolism, cell membrane permeability, the immune system, stabilizing heart rhythms, producing essential compounds like vitamin D, reducing inflammation, and modulating the body’s response to insulin. Fat is essential to neural transmission: the brain is 70% fat. Jimmy Bell, head of molecular imaging at Imperial College London (whose attitudes may indicate some family connection with that fat-loving 17th-century farmer), recently called fat “a beautiful organ” which “controls and modulates your fertility, your appetite and your mood” (here).
Yet fats, all fats, have gotten a bad rap ever since the 1980s, when the US government declared unconditional war on the stuff, issuing anti-fat guidelines via a senate select committee, the USDA, and other agencies. “Fat” swiftly became an obscenity, a 3-letter word synonymous with ill health, the root cause of obesity. Dietologists dreamed up low-fat diets and food companies churned out low-fat foods to fill them, often loaded with carbohydrates, sugar and salt. Countless billions of dollars were spent in food marketing, nutritional education programs, and clinical studies aiming to prove that fat hurt us. Instead, this generalized rejection of fats, whatever their source, has itself harmed American health. In the four decades since the US condemned fats, the number of obese Americans has climbed from 14% of the population in 1980, when America went on a low-fat diet, to 34% today.
Most of us have lost sight of the fact that fats come in two radically different kinds, Good and Bad. The Bad Fats, most notably hydrogenated fats (with saturated fats in distant second place), raise cholesterol levels and produce inflammatory responses, which can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Good Fats, on the other hand, help reduce serum cholesterol and inflammation, with predictable results against these same conditions. (For details, see this in-depth report on fat by the Harvard School of Public Health.) Slapping the same 3-letter word on these 2 radically different substances is the worst kind of misinformation.
Photos by Francesca Mueller
Among Good Fats, high-quality olive oil reigns supreme. Not only does good olive oil provide an ideal monounsaturated/polyunsaturated balance of fats, but adds in doses of natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, not to mention a range of magnificent flavors and aromas unrivaled by any other lipid, vegetable or animal. It’s no surprise that the traditional Mediterranean diet pattern, singled out by Harvard School of Public Health and countless other dietary authorities as the healthiest on earth, is actually quite high in fat intake – mostly from olive oil.
Not just any olive oil will do, however: only fresh-squeezed oil from healthy fruit provides these benefits. Sadly, few olive oils sold as “extra virgin” match this definition – and some are downright unhealthy. Some aren’t even made from olives. For your primary source of Good Fat, you have a right to buy first-quality olive oil. Truth in Olive Oil aims to guarantee this right.