ELLSWORTH — Bar Harbor gardener and chef Jacob Wartell is on a mission to get you to eat more fat, specifically saturated fats.
That’s right, more butter, bacon and lard.
What’s that you say? You’re a vegetarian? No problem, use coconut oil.
“Saturated fats are so essential to so many of our biologic functions,” said Wartell, who has worked as a private chef. “Most people in contemporary America aren’t eating enough saturated fats.”
“Fat, especially saturated fat, is one of the best fuels for the majority of our cells,” said the 2012 College of the Atlantic graduate.
Earlier this month, Wartell gave a presentation to a group at the Beth C. Wright Cancer Resource Center about how to incorporate fats into the diet as well as how to prepare a few dishes, including ghee, a clarified butter, which is lower in lactose than regular butter.
Wartell said fat intake is vital for his lifestyle. During the growing season, he works as a gardener at Mount Desert Island’s Asticou Azalea Gardens, so he needs plenty of energy.
“I do a lot of physical labor; my main occupation is as a gardener,” he said.
The Portland native said he wants to be “healthy and energized and engaged” for work and for time off.
Wartell isn’t the only one preaching about fat.
Bon Appetit recently published an article about the joys — and health — of full-fat yogurts.
The writer cited a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found no link between higher fat dairy intake and mortality.
“But beyond that, other studies have established that whole-fat dairy is actually better for you than its skimpier brethren,” wrote Mari Uyehara. A study found that it lowered the risk of being overweight or obese by 8 percent.
If you’re trying to figure out what’s considered a saturated fat, just think of any fat that stays solid at room temperature. Many saturated fats are from animals but vegetarians can use coconut oil. Despite its name, coconut oil is solid.
Olive oil, for example, gets a bit “sludgy” when it’s cold, so that’s a monounsaturated fat.
Vitamins A, D and K are important for people but difficult to get from vegetable sources, Wartell. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in helping people to feel really good about using saturated fats,” Wartell said. “Not only are they not harmful but they are incredibly helpful.”
“Even changing nothing else — if you eat a saturated fat with a carbohydrate it’s going to slow down your insulin response,” he said. That helps control your blood sugar.
Increasing saturated fat intake can help people stick to a balanced diet.
“The more you transition to fats the easier it is to get away from a sugar, carbohydrate-heavy diet,” Wartell said.
Remember the low-fat diet craze of the early ’90s and the countless low-fat products that sprang up? Would anyone care for a Snackwell cookie?
“Low-fat diets with lots of dry vegetables — people can’t maintain that for very long so they binge on junk food and that’s not healthy either,” he said.
“The alternative is having plenty of fat, which is going to satisfy and nourish you. Fat is flavor.”
Flavor compounds are stored in fat.
“Fats coat the tongue so whatever is in the food stays on the tongue longer, he said.
Fat also helps a body absorb nutrients. That’s why dietitians advise eating a green salad with dressing.
So, how does one eat more saturated fats?
“Eat butter,” Wartell said. “I can’t recommend it highly enough. Grass-fed butter is going to give you plenty of saturated fat, vitamins A, D and K, and it’s delicious.”
Add full-fat yogurt and full-fat cheeses to your grocery list.
Wartell became interested in food at a young age. At around age 13, he began gardening and helping on a farm.
Wartell said he grew up around people who cooked a lot and enjoyed food.
“I’ve been blessed to be around people who enjoy cooking,” he said. “Those are people who know how to tap into a sense of pleasure.”
“I think more than anything I was given the freedom to cook,” he recalled. “My father was a terrific cook. He gave me a lot of space to cook whatever I needed in the kitchen.”
In addition to cooking and gardening, Wartell is a reiki practitioner at Sage Moon Apothecary on Main Street.