on July 4, 2002
This book, written by one of the world's leading lipid biochemists, is a much needed title in today's "fat-phobic" world. Discarding politically correct notions that saturated fats are unhealthy, Dr. Mary Enig presents a thorough, in-depth, and understandable look at the world of lipids.
The publication of Know Your Fats is a rare treat: it is, to this reviewer's knowledge, the ONLY book on fats and oils for the consumer and the professional written by a recognized authority in the field. Virtually all of the titles on fats and oils in print now are either too technical to be accessible by the layman, or are too error-laden to be worth the paper they are printed on.
Mary Enig made her mark in the nutritional world in 1978 when she and her colleagues at the University of Maryland published a now-famous paper in the American journal Federation Proceedings. The paper directly challenged government assertions that higher cancer rates were associated with animal fat consumption. Enig, et al, concluded that the data actually showed vegetable oils and trans-fatty acids to be the culprits in both cancer and heart disease--not naturally saturated fats that people have been eating for millennia. In the ensuing years, Enig and her colleagues focused their work on determining the trans-fatty acid content of various food items, as well as publishing research that clearly demonstrated TFA's to be potent carcinogens, prime factors in heart disease, disruptors of immune function, and worse.
Enig's book begins like any other on lipid biochemistry and discusses the nature of saturates, monounsaturates, polyunsaturates, and trans-fatty acids. Included also is a revealing discussion of cholesterol and its vital importance to the body. The first chapter also clearly discusses the molecular structure of different fatty acids (with diagrams) and presents the metabolic conversion products of each of the major fatty acids (oleic, linoleic, linolenic, and palmitoleic).
The physiology of fats and cholesterol is fully covered in chapter two. Almost half of this chapter is devoted to shattering popular myths about saturated fats and their roles as disease promoters. Not mincing any words, Enig methodically demonstrates the faulty data and reasoning behind the ideas that saturates either cause or contribute to heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, mental illness, obesity, and cerebrovascular disease. For example, after trashing the "data" that supposedly prove that beef and beef fat caused colon cancer, Enig flatly concludes: "And now, more than three (3) decades after the initial fraudulent report, the anti-animal fat hypothesis continues to lead the nutrition agenda. It was a false issue then, and it remains a false issue today."
Subsequent chapters deal with fats historically used in Western diets; the fatty acid composition of various oils and fats such as coconut, butter, lard, and olive oil; and a succinct summary of "fat facts." The book is rounded out by detailed appendices on definitions, fatty acids in a huge number of foods, and molecular compositions of major fatty acids.
What is most telling, however, is Enig's insider take on the nutritional research world and the forces at play that manipulate the facts. Never one to shy away from controversy, Enig makes some pretty strong indictments of such organizations as the American Dietetics Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association, and the food industry in general. More shocking are her thoughts on research scientists:
"The common scenario is that of a highly intelligent person . . . who finds a research task that will lead to funding from the food and/or pharmaceutical industry or from the industry-controlled government agencies. If that research shows an adverse effect of any of the new foods studied, this is frequently ignored. . . . Of course, the research that is done by the industry-supported scientists is good basic research, and it usually is of great interest so as long as it supports the food industry or avoids a clash with the industry it is promoting. What seems so ironic, is that the very foods (saturated fats and cholesterol) that people are avoiding are the very foods that are healthful. When it comes to fat, this really has become the age of the flat earth."
Hopefully, Know Your Fats will help make the earth round once more.