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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Use of Animal Fat as a Symbol of Health in Traditional societies Suggests Humans may be Well Adapted to its Consumption


Background and objectives: Recommendations to limit the dietary consumption of saturated fat have been adopted by public health organizations in most countries. However, recent scientific studies and reviews have questioned the alleged negative health claims regarding saturated fat.

This research aims to provide a historical, evolutionary point of view to the debate through a short review of evidence for animal fat consumption by Paleolithic and recent traditional societies, and the discernment of how recent traditional societies perceived animal fat in terms of health and other lifestyle aspects.

Methodology: Literature review of the importance of animal fat's dietary consumption in prehistoric and recent traditional societies and scanning of ethnographic records for symbolic use of animal fat in rituals, linguistics and mythology. The contexts of such cultural expressions provide us with the peoples' perception of the analogues quality that animal fat imparts in its use as a symbol.

Results: Collection of 200 cases from culturally and geographically diverse traditional societies, reveals that in all three expression forms, there appears to be a clear tendency to associate animal fat with extremely positive meanings like "fertility", "sacredness", "wealth", "health", and even " a source of creation" and life itself.

Conclusion: In line with evidence for the importance of dietary animal fat in prehistoric and traditional societies, the studied traditional societies perceived animal fat as a vital component of their diet and a profound source of health rather than an impediment to health as it is presented in many dietary recommendations today.

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