Do we need fat in our diet?
In the beginning Adam and Eve were given a wide variety of fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and vegetables to eat (Gen. 1:9; 3:18). Their diet contained no animal fat but it did supply plant sources of fat. When the flesh of animals was permitted for human consumption, animal fat (and blood) were excluded. (Gen. 9:3; Lev. 3:17; 7:22-27; Acts 15:28, 29). By contrast, when God provided manna, the cakes made from it had "the taste of fresh oil" (Num.11:8). They were like "cakes baked with oil" (Num. 11:8, RSV). God blessed the fruit of the land, including oil, and promised a "good land" wherein they would "lack nothing" (Deut. 7:12-15; 8:7-10, RSV; 11:13-15; 14:22, 23). Later, when famine came and Elijah and the hospitable widow with her son lacked food, God provided flour and "a cruse of oil" that did not fail until rain came (I Kings 17:16, RSV).
Today fat is still necessary in the diet to provide essential fatty acids, to facilitate the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and to provide satiety value and palatability to meals. Fat is a source of concentrated energy and is important for those persons eating high-fiber vegetarian diets and others who need a higher caloric intake.
Why do we need fat in our diet?
Essential fatty acids are found mainly in plant sources. They must be eaten because the body cannot make them. These fatty acids are converted into substances very important to the regulation of many body processes, including normal cell growth and activity and proper nerve function. The substances made from the essential fatty acids are also important in maintaining hormonal balance, for immune response and resistance to disease, in lowering blood pressure, in decreasing clumping of blood cells, and for lowering of blood cholesterol.
Should the amount of fat in the diet be regulated?
For optimal health one should avoid the extremes of too much or too little fat in the diet. The typical Western diet contains too much fat and contributes to major health problems, e.g., coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Too little fat may result in caloric deficiency, dry skin, decreased resistance to disease, irregular of lack of menses, muscle wasting, and retarded growth in young children.
Many Seventh-day Adventists also eat too much fat. Those using flesh foods or fat from dairy products and eggs consume a type of fat which is less desirable than vegetable fat since it is higher in saturated fat and
Does everyone require the same amount of fat in their diet?
With the present state of knowledge, the Surgeon General's Report, the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board, the American Heart Association, the National Cancer Institute, the Inter-Society Commission for Heart Disease Resources, the American Medical Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the American Health Foundation recommend a fat intake of less than 30% of the daily calories. Based on scientific research a diet severely restricted in fat may not provide adequate nutrition. Therefore, the General Conference Nutrition Council recommends a fat intake of 20-30% calories from fat.
It should be noted that very young children require a well-chosen diet with more fat than adults require. This is especially important for vegetarian children, infants and toddlers need fat calories to support optimal growth. Breast milk remains the most desirable food for infants. Non-fat and low-fat milk are inappropriate for the first two years of the child's life.
The dietary guidelines developed by the General Conference Nutrition Council provide a balanced vegetarian diet which assures the diet best known to promote health and prevent disease.
Does the Nutrition Council have any guidelines for fat consumption?
In order to achieve a fat intake of 20-30% of total calories, the following dietary guidelines are suggested by the General Conference Nutrition Council.
1. Use generous amounts of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and dried peas and beans. Consuming liberal amounts of these foods is the cornerstone of good dietary practice and lowers fat consumption while providing essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
2. Begin to follow a vegetarian diet without meat, fish, or fowl. The Adventist Health Study, funded by the National Institute of Health, shows that this diet reduces heart attack risk more than any other diet commonly promoted to prevent heart disease. A vegetarian diet is also likely to reduce cancer risk because of the higher content of carotenes (precursors of Vitamin A) as found in leafy greens and deep yellow vegetables. It also contains cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards, etc.), more Vitamin C, fiber, and other protective substances.
3. Learn to cook without eggs, particularly egg yolks. The egg yolk is the single greatest source of cholesterol in the American diet. In addition to heart disease, several studies show a higher mortality rate from other causes for those consuming eggs regularly.
4. When using dairy products, choose low-fat items in place of butter, high-fat cheese, whole milk and other high-fat dairy products. This will decrease cholesterol and saturated fat intake, reducing risk of obesity, heart disease and various cancers. These restrictions do not apply to children under age two.
5. Use limited amounts of visible fats and oils such as those used in fried foods, mayonnaise, salad dressing, shortening, and margarine. The total elimination of oil or visible fat from the diet cannot be supported from science, the Bible, or the writings of Ellen G. White.
6. Use nuts, nut butter, and seeds, which are nutritious foods, but remember that they are high in fat and calories. When eaten in excess, they can increase the total daily fat intake to higher than recommended levels.