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The Queen of Fats

Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them

Susan Allport (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 232 pages
ISBN: 9780520253803
January 2008
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
A nutritional whodunit that takes readers from Greenland to Africa to Israel, The Queen of Fats gives a fascinating account of how we have become deficient in a nutrient that is essential for good health: the fatty acids known as omega-3s. Writing with intelligence and passion, Susan Allport tells the story of these vital fats, which are abundant in greens and fish, among other foods. She describes how scientists came to understand the role of omega-3s in our diet, why commercial processing has removed them from the food we eat, and what the tremendous consequences have been for our health. In many Western countries, epidemics of inflammatory diseases and metabolic disorders have been traced to omega-3 deficiencies. The Queen of Fats provides information for every consumer who wants to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and obesity and to improve brain function and overall health. This important and compelling investigation into the discovery, science, and politics of omega-3s will transform our thinking about what we should be eating.

* Includes steps you can take to add omega-3s to your diet

* Shows why eating fish is not the only way, or even the best way, to increase omega-3s.

* Provides a new way to understand the complex advice about the role and importance of fats in the body

* Explains how and why the food industry has created a deadly imbalance of fats in our foods

* Shows how omega-3s can be reintroduced to our diet through food enrichment and changes in the feeding of livestock
1. What’s for Dinner?
2. A Trip to Greenland
3. How the Omegas Got Their Name
4. Monsieur Cholesterol
5. Fishy Fats
6. Tree Lard and Cow Oil
7. The Chemist in the Kitchen
8. Out of Africa . . .
9. . . . and into the Membrane
10. Where Have All the Omega-3s Gone?
11. The Speed of Life
12. Putting Omega-3s Back into Your Food Supply
13. The Proof Is in the Pudding

Time Line
Susan Allport is author of The Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Foraging, and Love and A Natural History of Parenting: Parental Care in the Animal World and Ours, among other books. She lectures widely on issues related to food and health.
“A decidedly proactive voice for healthy balance and moderation in fat consumption.”—Gastronomica: Journal Of Food & Culture
“A brief and absorbing guide to the past few decades of research into dietary fats.”—Atlantic Monthly
“An interesting and comprehensive account of the history of omega-3 fatty acids. It not only provides a clearly reasoned case for the benefits of having more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, but also offers practical advice about how to add these fats to our diet.”—Nature
"A wonderful explanation of the wide world of fats that is a must-read for discerning (and healthy) eaters."—Mehmet C. Oz, author of You: An Owner's Manual

"Susan Allport’s account of the discovery of omega-3 fatty acids combines colorful science, intriguing personalities, and a well-digested biochemistry into a convincing recipe for a healthier diet. The Queen of Fats is a fascinating new detective story—with a solution that matters!"—Richard Wrangham, author of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence

"The Queens of Fats is a fascinating nutritional detective story delivering a big surprise: how one of the most important changes to the diet wrought by industrialization of food went unnoticed. But if Allport is right, the disappearance of omega-3s from the Western diet is the key to understanding why that diet is making us so sick."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

"Allport provides a fascinating 'whodunit' about the discovery of how fats work, what wonders omega-3s could perform in thwarting chronic disease, and a timely warning to the world about the imbalance of essential fats in the food supply. I reveled in the twists and turns of nutrition history as it unfolds and uncovers the ways food processing carries hefty health risks, as well as benefits."—Sharron Dalton, author of Our Overweight Children: What Parents, Schools, and Communities Can Do to Control the Fatness Epidemic
An Interview with Susan Allport

An award-winning writer for publications such as the New York Times and Gastronomica, Susan Allport has spent the past decade exploring how food shapes behavior and health. UC Press recently published her book The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them. Associate Director and Publisher Sheila Levine recently interviewed Allport

What motivated you to write The Queen of Fats?

I became intrigued with the role of omega-3s in healthy diets when I learned that the leaves of plants and the brains and eyes of animals, tissues that perform the fastest cellular activities (photosynthesis and nerve transmission), are full of this same family of fats. What makes omega-3s so special, I wanted to know, and why are they treated like dietary supplements when they are such important components of cell membranes? Is eating salmon really the best way to get these nutrients? Why would humans, who evolved on the savannahs of Africa, require the fats found in cold-water fish?

Are there any advantages in telling the omega-3 story from the point of view of a science writer rather than a scientist?

I didn’t think so at first, when I was struggling with all the chemistry I had to learn—or relearn. But by the time I finished the book, I realized there was a tremendous advantage. Scientists are most comfortable talking about those phenomena that they have directly observed. But omega-3s affect every cell in the body in a myriad of ways. It took an outsider, I think, to weave together all the different threads of the story and tease out the underlying message—that the fats of leaves (omega-3s) and the fats of seeds (omega-6s) compete for positions in the membranes of cells but affect cells in very different ways. And that the fats in plants help animals to prepare for the future: for periods of activity and reproduction, when the fats of leaves are available, and periods of hunkering down and survival, when the fats of seeds are more abundant.

Do you think the developing interest in the food we eat will have a positive effect on diet and health?

As Samuel Johnson once said, “He who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.” We should be interested in the foods we eat since eating is the most intimate way we interact with the environment and since good nutrition is the best way to prevent most diseases. The recent spate of interest in food stems, largely, from the fact that so many illnesses today are diet related, and one clear reason for this is that seeds and seed oils constitute such a large part of the American diet. If we come to an understanding of how important it is to have a healthy balance between the two families of essential fats, the omega-3s and omega-6s, we’ll be much better off. If we just tweak the diet, say to remove trans fats but to maintain the current imbalance, we could be in even worse shape.

Why is that? I thought everyone agreed that trans fats were responsible for heart disease.

Trans fats are formed when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated to make them more solid and stable, a process that eliminates all the omega-3s but leaves most of the omega-6s. The question is: are our health problems due to the presence of trans fats, or to excessive amounts of omega-6s and the absence of omega-3s? There is a great deal of experimental and epidemiological research to support the latter, and much less to implicate trans fats.

What do you hope your book’s impact will be?

Enormous, I hope. The Queen of Fats gives people a way of sorting through all the conflicting and confusing information that has been given out about fats over the years. What this dietary advice has been missing is the understanding that polyunsaturated fatty acids consist of two, competing families of fats, one of which speeds up the activities of cells and the other of which slows them down. By hearing the story of how scientists slowly came to comprehend this important biological truth, readers can see where we went wrong with the previous advice and how they can make the necessary changes in their diets to improve their health.

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