I feel like such a pig.
I already knew that humans and pigs share a lot of the same DNA. (Some would argue this is more true for men than women.) But it only occurred to me recently that we might also store the same kind of fat in our bodies.
The thought was sparked by some literature my wife brought home from a town fair. A registered dietician had her own booth, and she was passing out pamphlets that warned – surprise! – against consuming too much “artery-clogging saturated fat.”
Yada, yada, yada … same old bologna about how saturated fat drives up your cholesterol, the cholesterol sticks to the inside of your arteries, and then someday you clutch your chest and realize you should’ve tried hang-gliding when you had the chance. I’ve heard it thousand times, and I’ve known for at least two years that it simply isn’t true, so my reaction was, “Okay, whatever.”
Then I checked another pamphlet, which explained how we should all eat less and exercise more to lose weight. Yada, yada, yada. But then my usual “Okay, whatever” screeched to halt at about “whatev—.”
Looking at both pamphlets, I started thinking about the twin pillars of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life: Don’t consume animal fat, because it’ll kill you. And you should eat less to lose weight – which means consuming your own body fat.
Uh, wait a second … that sounds a teeny bit inconsistent. Are we talking about two totally different kinds of fat here? Or is it more likely that the fat in fat-back bacon is similar to the fat in Fat-Back Francis Bacon? So I looked them up.
It’s easy to find the breakdown of lard on the internet. It’s mostly oleic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid, with several others making up the balance. Add them up, and it turns out that lard is about 38 percent saturated, 11 percent polyunsaturated, and 45 percent monosaturated. (The numbers don’t add up to 100 because some of the trace fats were unclassified.)
So most of the fat in lard isn’t even saturated, and nearly half of it is monosaturated, like olive oil. Pretty interesting, considering that in The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life, monosaturates are worshipped as The Great Protector Of Arteries and Valves. And while stearic acid is saturated, it’s been shown to raise HDL. That hardly sounds like a killer fat.
For some reason, finding an analysis of human body fat was trickier. (I suppose it’s because few of us care about the smoke point or other cooking properties.) I finally found a paper in which the researchers stated that they extracted human body fat from the subjects’ buttocks. Since research subjects are often college sophomores, I’m guessing this took place at a fraternity initiation.
In any case, I saw pretty much the same list of fatty acids. Add them up, and it turns out that human body fat is about 35 percent saturated, 51 percent monosaturated, and the rest polyunsaturated. In other words, it’s similar to lard.
The implications are interesting. For one, if you were fat growing up, this means the skinny snot-nosed kid who used to call you a “lard butt” might not have been such a bad kid after all. He may have just been studying biochemistry – secretly, of course, because if the classroom bullies found out, they would make alterations to his biochemistry during recess.
For another, if the anti-fat hysterics are correct, then we know why cannibals are mostly extinct: they died of atherosclerosis. I’ve already started writing the docu-drama:
EXT. The Cannibals’ Camp – Day
The cannibals are tying Livingston to a pole. He remains calm, chin up, even as other cannibals begin lighting the kindling around his feet.
Go ahead, you savages! Wait until my beer
belly collides with your coronary arteries. Ha!
EXT. The Cannibals’ Camp – Night
A feast is in full swing. A grinning CANNIBAL takes a hearty bite from a roasted leg. Then, wide-eyed, he clutches his chest and falls to the ground. From inside his chest, we hear LIVINGSTON LAUGH.
The other cannibals drop the bones they’ve been chewing and begin fighting over the pile of untouched vegetables.
So let’s do a little math. If you consume 2500 calories per day and half of them come from fat, that’s 1250 calories – pretty close to my daily fat intake, in fact.
Now, suppose you’re overweight and burn about 2500 calories per day. The High Priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life (otherwise known as dieticians) would happily put you on a diet in the 1200-calorie range, with very little fat. Why? So you’ll burn your own body fat to make up the difference and lose weight.
This is considered healthy. But it means you’d be getting 1300 of your daily calories from fat. Even if your diet consisted of nothing but Weight Watchers “Smart Ones” meals (just 1 gram of fat per serving!), more than 52 percent of your fuel would come from fat. And not just fat: human body fat, which is nearly as saturated as lard.
So, much as I did when I was in catechism classes, I have an annoying question to ask: when this porky fat streams out of your adipose tissue and invades your unsuspecting muscles and organs to be burned for fuel, why isn’t your health at risk? Why don’t your arteries clog up?
Maybe you’d be better off leaving all that “artery-clogging saturated fat” safely imprisoned in your buttocks. After all, it’s an unrepentant killer.
Or perhaps there’s something about body-fat the High Priests haven’t told us. Perhaps our own fat knows a secret password it can use to identify itself so the body doesn’t try to commit suicide – which is, of course, what it does when saturated fat mounts an invasion via the digestive system.
“Red alert! Red Alert! Fat globules attempting flanking maneuver!”
“Roger! Liver, crank out the artery-clogging LDL! Small particles, full charge, dead ahead! Stop the heart! Stop the heart! They’ll never take us alive!”
“Wait, sir! The fat globules are signaling! I’ll issue the challenge. Flash!”
“Abort! Abort! They’re ours! Proceed back to full health; I repeat, proceed to full health!”
Then, of course, the muscles and organs would welcome the fat globules, who would regale them with stories about life trapped in a prisoner-of-war buttocks, and express their gratitude to have finally escaped. Then they’d be ceremonially eaten.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see the difference. If you go on the Atkins or Protein Power diet and get most of your calories from fat, why is that more dangerous that consuming your own body fat on a calorie-restricted diet?
According to the theories espoused by the High Priests, Mother Nature screwed up, big time. She designed our bodies to store our fuel reserves as a fat that could kill us when we actually need it. But I don’t think Mother Nature is that stupid. After all, she was smart enough to make pigs. She was also smart enough to make fat-back bacon delicious.
But for the record, I have no opinion on Fat-Back Francis Bacon.
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