Fat is Flavor!

maggie-o'quinnAs a southerner raised in Georgia and now a proud nine-year resident of Alabama, I have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with saturated fat. I live for pork BBQ from local hole-in-the-wall restaurants with dirt floors (my favorite is Fresh Air BBQ in Jackson, GA), CAB® fat-on tri-tips on the grill and my husband’s buttermilk biscuits where lard is the not-so-secret ingredient. And no respectable southerner serves their greens without some saturated fat to make our dishes sing:  We are unapologetic about adding bacon to our kale and ham hocks to our collards.

I was born in 1975 at the time the “war on fat” was raging in our country. But I never understood why saturated fat was considered the evil enemy until I read Nina Teicholz’ book, “The Big Fat Surprise.” Her book is a fascinating dive into the studies that propelled the low-fat diet craze into our modern day lexicon.

A few key takeaways from the book that help explain how fat came to be the bad guy:

  • In the 1950s, Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota, was the leading researcher to demonize fat because he provided a quick answer to why middle-aged men were dropping from heart attacks: eat less fat. Despite lots of flaws in Keys’ research methodology, his idea prevailed because several prominent leaders died from heart disease, including President Eisenhower. Corners were cut to back up Keys’ flawed science due to the pressure to find a solution.
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) recommended a diet low in saturated fats to prevent heart disease in 1961 on the basis of Keys’ work, and the government followed the “war on fat” bandwagon in 1980 by publishing the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans which later became the basis of the USDA food pyramid.
  • AHA pamphlets published in the 1970s and 1980s recommended that Americans control their fat intake by increasing refined-carbohydrate consumption. To avoid fat, people should eat sugar, advised the AHA.

Fortunately, a paradigm shift is happening: As early as 2011, nutritionists began admitting that saturated fats aren’t as harmful to us as carbohydrates. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease aren’t caused by saturated fat but rather by sugar, white flour and other refined carbohydrates.

I was thrilled to see saturated fat redeemed in the October issue of Prevention magazine whose target audience is women my age (read: we are 40+ but know our best years are yet to come if we follow a healthy lifestyle!). In an article filled with delicious meat-inspired recipes entitled “Bring Back the Flavor,” Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic admitted that much of the early science on saturated fat was flawed. “Saturated fat is essential to our functioning. We now know that whole foods high in saturated fat can improve cholesterol quality, cognitive function, and even metabolism.”

And the global fat outlook is bullish according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute: Fat will increase from the current 26% of calorie intake to 31% by 2030. Saturated fat will grow the fastest, increasing from 9.4% to 13% of calorie intake.

While this is great news for the meat industry, long-standing public opinion is slow to change. Knowing this backstory spelled out by Nina Teicholz only makes it more clear to me what those of us in the meat business need to do:

  • Shamelessly tell your story. Share your unique selling proposition with your target audience – they crave your products!
  • Tout the health benefits of saturated fat in your products.
  • Remember that you are in the flavor business. Fat is flavor! Your products are the proteins of celebration!

Pass the bacon, the porterhouse and the pulled pork sandwich, please.

About the author:
Maggie lives on a farm in Alabama with her husband, James, and three-year-old son Jimmy. They will welcome another little boy to their family in 2017, who will grow up with lots of delicious saturated fat recipes passed down from multiple generations of farmers and foodies. Maggie joined Midan Marketing in April as the new business development manager.

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