STRUCTURAL FATS REVISITED
by Lynn Lawson
The Winter 1987 NOHA NEWS article by Marjorie Fisher, compared structural fats with storage fats and discussed their implications for our modern diet. Reviewing the book What We Eat Today,1 by Professor Michael A. Crawford, a London (England) zoologist, and his wife Sheilagh Crawford, the article pointed out that our modern diets have become highly deficient in structural fats, which are needed inside every cell in our bodies, especially in our brains and arteries.
What exactly are these somewhat mysterious terms – structural fats and storage fats – and why do we need to know more about them? Here is a brief summary of their characteristics:
Thus we have two quite different body fats – one essential to life and found in brain, liver, kidney, lung, heart, spleen, muscle, and other cells; and one found outside these organs and needed primarily by hibernating animals and by humans who eat well only during certain seasons.2 Although professional athletes can work off much of the storage fat they ingest, those leading more sedentary lives need to ingest less. Most of us do not need the storage fats nor the health problems they cause.
In looking at the relationship between food and health, it would seem that we have much to learn from the continent of Africa. Medical researchers in Africa (and elsewhere) are discovering an increasing incidence of the so-called Western diseases among native populations as their diets and lifestyles become westernized. In the preface to their pioneer work Western Diseases: their emergence and prevention,3 editors H.C. Trowell, MD, and D.P. Burkitt, MD, former professors of medicine in East Africa, define "Western diseases" as those "characteristic of modern affluent Western technological communities." In his forward to the book, John Robson, MD, notes that a shift from acute communicable diseases to chronic and degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and obesity, long observed in the developed countries, is now occurring in the developing ones. While these researchers were aware of the adverse effects of modern technological factors such as auto accidents, industrial pollution, and new drugs, they were looking primarily at dietary changes as groups evolved from hunter-gatherers through peasant-agriculturists and migrants to westernized people.
Likewise, the Crawfords based many of their conclusions about structural fats on their extensive research on the eating habits of wildlife and humans in Africa, which they then compared with those of modern civilization. Modern food production, they observed, affects the structural/storage fat ratio in two major ways:
The Crawfords speculate that the loss of structural fat in domesticated animals is related to the 30 percent loss in brain size of domesticated animals throughout the process of domestication. In fact, "paleontologists use the [30 percent loss of brain capacity] to identify whether of not remains found in caves are from domestic or wild animals."4
"No, this is not what Dr. Rinkel meant by a Rotary Diversified Diet."
In this context, the Winter 1987 quote from the Crawfords’ book bears repeating:
What can we learn from this alarming prospect and the evidence that led up to it? A significant insight may come from the Crawfords’ studies of certain African animals, such as the giraffe – one of their more vivid descriptions. The giraffe, a herbivore with twice our blood pressure, requires a superb cardiovascular system, including at least eight feet of carotid artery in its neck. As might be expected, about 99 percent of its food comes from trees and bushes, rather than grass. Giraffes range widely, eating from a wide variety of trees. According to the Crawfords, "A remarkably long tongue is placed halfway up a branch and one sweep pulls off all the leaves, fruits, flowers, and buds, [also] twigs, and . . . thorns."5 Elephants, which in their native forest habitats have a similar fibrous oil-rich diet, have been observed to degenerate when confined to the grassland areas of game parks. Two medical researchers "independently produced the startling conclusion that one of the major obvious pathological changes seen in grassland elephants was gross arterial degeneration with excessive calcification not dissimilar from that seen in humans."6 Also, "studies on the chemistry of the tissues of giraffe and elephant revealed that the oil-rich nature of their food structure was reflected in their tissue structural fats by comparison with the grass-eating herbivores. Furthermore, tissue degeneration in grassland elephants was associated with loss of structural fats."7
From these observations, one is inescapably drawn to NOHA’s recently revised "Bull’s Eye." There one sees in the center ring, among other foods, fresh fruit, raw nuts and seeds, wild game, and fresh fish – described as nutrient-dense superior foods. Fresh fish are known to be a good source of the unsaturated fatty acids, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids so necessary for our bodies but so undersupplied in many modern processed foods. Once again, one is reminded of the maxim "Eat as close to nature as possible," nature in this case implying the same fibrous, oil-rich foods of the African wild game – and even the wild game itself. Also, the Crawfords’ research is further evidence of the need to avoid processed foods, in which the manipulation of ingredients has resulted in the loss of essential oils and structural fats. For example, in their laboratories the Crawfords found that "homemade chicken soup contained ten times the amount of structural fats as [the] chicken soup from a packet or tin."8 Was Grandma on the right track after all?9
1Crawford, M.A., and
S. Crawford, What We Eat Today, London: Neville Spearman, 1972.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Fall 1988, pages 1-3