For the Love of all things Natural

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let them eat fat! Cavities oh my!

    One of the most dramatic journeys I have gone on nutritionally in the last year has been in regards to fats. Towards the end of high school I went on what I now view as a misguided health craze. I became vegetarian, and then vegan. Instead of healthy and nutritionally dense food I was eating a lot of highly refined carbs and sugar because those were "allowed" in my "healthy" diet. Of course I realize now that there are safe and proper ways to follow a vegetarian and vegan diet, but at the time I was nutritionally naive. One of the things which went the way of the beef during this period was real butter. My mother, bless her sound nutritional approach, always has and still does use real butter in her cooking. However, during my misguided cleanse I decided that butter was the devil (as portrayed still in popular media and much of popular medicine) and substituted a form of vegan margarine which seemed like the healthiest butter alternative option. It was one which was loaded with omega-3's, which I now know are super good, but it was also based on heavily processed long chain vegetable oils. In biochemistry we learned all about the metabolism of fats, but moreover we learned how not all fats, and especially not all saturated fats, are the same. We have had it drilled in to our heads for the last century that "saturated fats" are bad for us, that they cause heart disease, obesity, all these evils of our modern time. Despite the fact that as people have moved away from saturated fats these diseases have skyrocketed we still think that all saturated fats are the same. The truth is that they are very different! There are short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). The difference is that SCFA are less than 6 carbons in length, MCFA are 6-12 carbons, and LCFA are longer than 12. Each of these categories are metabolized entirely differently by the body. SC and MCFAs are able to pass directly through the intestinal lining, whereas LCFA must be carried across by special carrier molecules. LCFA must also go through all sorts of biochemical changes in the body before they can be used. SC and MCFA can be burned immediately by the body. These shorter fats burn "cleaner" if you want to imagine it that way. How I explained this to my husband was comparing rubbing alcohol or butane that you use in your lighter versus the high octane gasoline that you put in your car. If you light rubbing alcohol or butane on fire it will burn very quickly and with very little smoke whereas the high octane gasoline requires a lot more more energy put into it to combust and has many toxic byproducts (would you want to use this fuel near your face to light your smoke?). Real butter falls into the category of a SCFA (it's fancy name is butyric acid) with only 4 carbons in it's back-bone. This means that your body can use it immediately and give your cells the fuel they need with very little "clogging" of the system with all the by-products. Not only do you get a rapid boost in energy but there is no insulin spike like what you get from eating carbs for that same rapid energy. There is a great article in the Huffington Post discussing this topic in relation to coconut oil. ( Coconut oil falls under the medium chain fatty acid category which is "burned" very cleanly and efficiently by the body too. He mentions a funny old fact that in the 1940's farmers in the US tried using coconut oil to fatten their beef cows and it didn't work! The cows' metabolisms increased and they became lean-mean fat burning machines. Coconut oil is absolutely fabulous for cooking as it has a very high smoke point and can be used for frying or for any situation where you would otherwise use some of those long-chain fats like canola or vegetable oil. It is solid at room temperature but melts rapidly once it gets above around 80 degrees so it melts immediately. I have also made clarified butter as an alternative for high heat cooking. Butter, in its raw form, cannot be used for high heat cooking as the solids begin to burn very quickly, but if you make it into butter oil (put in glass measuring cup at 225 oven until the two layers separate and then pour off the butter oil that floats to the top, straining through cheese cloth to get out the remaining floating solids) it has a much higher smoke point and I have used this alone or in combination with coconut oil very successfully to cook and fry a huge variety of foods.
    The reason I really made this switch and got so into fats actually had nothing to do with metabolism but rather cavities! My little man got his first teeth at 4 months, by 8 months he had all four lower incisors and all four top incisors. The bottom teeth are fine, but the top teeth.... from the moment they came in they started to degrade. He got very rapidly progressing cavities despite brushing those pearlies every day and being incredibly strict with his sugar intake. He doesn't get juice (except diluted on very special occasions), absolutely no soda, no high sugar foods, he doesn't go to bed with a bottle (he is still nursing for naps and bedtime), and until recently he very seldom used a bottle at all. The first dentist I took him to told me that his cavities were because he was still nursing and that I needed to wean him, but referred us to a pediatric specialist since he was so young. I took serious insult! I was highly unprepared at the time but it sat so uneasy with me that I went home and did a ton of research. It just didn't make sense- if breast milk caused cavities then why do mammals have teeth?! No other mammal has the dental hygiene ability we do (when did you last see a bear brushing it's teeth) but yet wild animals don't get cavities or dental decay like we do. I thankfully found that most modern research does actually support this view (the dentist I saw was obviously of the "old school") and studies have shown that breastmilk can even prevent bacteria from binding to the enamel. The pediatric specialists I saw reassured me that it was not due to breastfeeding but did not have a whole lot of options to treat. The options were to watch and wait, knock him out with general anesthesia (because he was too young to do awake work) and cap the teeth, or extract them. We opted to watch and wait and I started reading everything I possibly could about early childhood caries ("caries" is the fancy professional term for cavities) My research eventually led me (thanks also to a wonderful colleague's tip) to Dr. Weston Price. Dr. Price was an American dentist back in the 1930's who saw the skyrocketing rate of cavities as well as a crowded upper jaw in the populations he was working at and he started really questioning what was behind this. He hypothesized that it might be connected to the modern diet which he defined as consisting in large part of refined sugar, refined white flour, and canned vegetables and fruits. He then did something which I am absolutely in awe of. He traveled the world several times over and sought out every indigenous village which had no contact with modern foods. He went to Australia, Indonesia, Alaska, Africa, and even found isolated populations in Europe such as tiny Swiss villages tucked into the mountains and remote Scottish Isles who had existed on the same foods and traditions for many centuries. He looked at literally millions of teeth. Time after time he showed that these unmodernized cultures consistently had rates of cavities and upper jaw deformities below 1%. He also took samples of all the traditional foods and analyzed them. He then looked at the same populations who had been in contact with modern foods (like the village down the road that had gotten a railroad) and saw that within one generation of a population adopting a modern diet that the rate of cavities and jaw deformities skyrocketed, sometimes as high as 50%! This means that half the teeth in that given village had signs of decay and crowding. The native populations, which often did not practice any sort of modern dental hygiene (i.e. no flossing or toothbrushes) had not only gorgeous non-decayed teeth, but their jaws were large enough to accommodate all their teeth (including the wisdom teeth!). When he analyzed what they were eating, which ranged from a diet based primarily on the ocean (like the Alaskan natives) to one based largely on grains and dairy (Swiss Alps- think Heidi so full of vigor!) he realized that they had one thing in common and these were fats and the fat soluble vitamins. He realized that these fat soluble vitamins conferred some major protection to future generations against cavities and other physical degeneration (he also noted radically low rates of cancer and arthritis in the traditional populations). He noted that in all these cultures newly married couples (or during courting) were fed diets very high in these vitamins in order to provide good nourishment to the unborn child that they would hope to conceive. When parents adopted a modern diet (even if they themselves had perfect teeth) the children born after this change consistently showed remarkable signs of degeneration, specifically high rates of tooth decay and crowding of the upper jaw. Oh how I wish I had read this before I got pregnant! My whole first trimester I was so challenged with nausea that I virtually lived on simple carbs, a trend which unfortunately followed my whole pregnancy. Had I known the consequences I would have tried so much harder to get better nutrition even with the morning sickness. He realized that these modern foods were incredibly devoid of nutrients and specifically these fat soluble vitamins. He took this information back to America and wrote an amazing book titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration which is a great, albeit lengthy, read and was written so that even non-professionals can understand it. He also started recommending increasing healthy fats, and specifically pasture butter and butter oil as well as fish oil, to his patients in America (particularly children) to slow the rate of dental decay and had amazing results (well documented in his book with the before and after dental x-rays). Depending on the starting level of decay it was sometimes possible for the decay to be completely reversed and he had many cases where cavities filled back in with healthy enamel. In more severe cases the damage was not able to reverse but was at least slowed or stopped in it's progression and the dentin (the yellow stuff under the enamel) was much less penetrable to bacteria. Long story short (as I realize this blog post is becoming a novel) we started giving Jay butter oil and cod liver oil (yummy strawberry flavored that he loves!) as well as using exclusively pasture butter and mostly grass fed beef in our every day cooking. His two lateral top incisors (the ones between the front two and the canines) were in pretty rough shape by the time we started this and unfortunately there wasn't much to save but the central incisors have virtually stopped the decay! The cavities are ever so slowly filling in but have definitely not gotten worse. I am hoping that with continued supplementation and better diet he will be able to keep these teeth until they fall out naturally. So far the rest of his teeth are looking okay with the exception of a little discoloration on one molar. I also got a copy of the cookbook put out the by the Price and Pottinger Institute (who have continued Dr. Price's good work) called Nourishing Traditions and it is chock full of not only amazing recipes but each page contains tons of research on the main ingredient in the recipe and why it is so good for us. I highly recommend this cook book to anyone wanting to learn more about wholesome and traditional foods that are not only delicious but incredibly nutritious. There are huge chapter introductions too discussing fats, grains, etc and how traditional cultures have utilized these foods. Okay, I think that's plenty of information for a single blog post. Thanks for following this! Marie Antoinette got it wrong: don't let them eat cake, let them eat fat!

Oh! One final article that is sort of on this topic (it talks about reasons why we crave those carbs) that I recently read: 

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