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When Fat was Good for You

Donald Miller -- It's said you can never be too thin nor too rich. Historically speaking, however, this hasn't always been the case, at least where the former is concerned.

Saturated animal fat is now considered a serious threat to health. The exact opposite was true before the latest one to two centuries.

I remember National Geographic articles showing chieftains from inner Africa. The wealthiest were the ones whose wives had the highest profiles when lying face down on the ground. That extremity of obesity meant the wives would survive the inevitable hungry times.

I recall some old LIFE magazines, from the 1940s-1950s time frame, in which there were ads for healthful suet loaves [beef fat] for kids to snack on and moms to use in cooking.

I remember visiting a farm on which the owner looked like an inverted turnip. He had traded in his father's horse drawn plow for a tractor, but had not traded up his main menu items.

I have read enthralling stories of the pioneer days and the wild west. The Indian (Native American) food of pemmican (fruit and meat pounded together, then bonded with animal fat) kept many a frontiersman and mountain man from starving to death. This trail food was a very compact source of protein and calories for when fish and game were not plentiful, and required no refrigeration.

I have seen paintings by the Dutch Masters, wherein all the women were voluptuous (fat). This was a sign of beauty in their era around 1400-1700.

I have seen paintings of kings since the knightly era, where the more powerful they were, the more likely they were obese. Only royalty, priests, and wealthy merchants were likely to afford an over full tummy in those days. No one else had a choice on fit or fat. Of course, they were also the people to have gout and other illnesses less seen today.

What caused this change in viewpoint? Well, several key things. When life was more nasty, brutal, and short, we had little opportunity to understand most of the medical conditions we now consider to be treatable. Not only did we have less time to develop the illnesses, but short life span, the absence of eyeglasses and printing press, meant that our medical doctors did not have time to become experts by present standards.

After spectacles and the movable type printing press, the next key inventions were steam, petrol, and electric powered motors. We still use the old terms of man power and horse power, but we are no longer limited to the calories consumable by man or beast.

Technology developments meant that the work week could be shortened from 12 hours per day, 6 or 7 days per week, for both children and adults. Education, libraries, and theaters could soak up some of that new leisure time. After movies, there came television, so we can vegetate on our sofas while being passively entertained.

World War II helped us to start becoming aware of the bad effects of fat. Many young soldiers, supposedly at the peak of their physical fitness, were found at autopsy to have major arteries nearly blocked solid with fat based plaque. Yucky! Further study suggested that saturated (animal and dairy) fats were more likely to cause such circulation problems than unsaturated (plant) oils.

Subsequent statistical studies found that too much fat in the diets of athletes, and a condition of excess weight for anyone, contributed to the risk and severity of a whole host of diseases, the ones the CDC says cause 7 out of 10 deaths in the USA. Sedentary life style just made the story worse.

Of course, a huge crowed of fast buck artists have been quick to offer magic pills and miracle diets. They suck in billions of U.S. dollars per year for this quackery.

Fortunately Mother Nature provided us with a special organ to help deal with this mess. It's called the mouth organ. If you are overweight, it has to be from something you ate, so learn when to shut your mouth. Mass is not created out of vacuum.


Wellness is a life style. See how easy it is to manage weight without hunger at Easy exercise at all ages stimulates immunity to common scary diseases. For more, visit:

© 2009 Dr. Don Miller

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