Published on September 10th, 2014 | by DrKaayla


The Pioneering Spirit of Dr. Mary G. Enig (1931-2014)

My mentor and friend Dr. Mary G. Enig, PhD, died yesterday at the age of 83. I want to honor her life today by talking about her pioneering research, and the profound impact it has had on the fields of nutrition and health.

Early in her career, Mary challenged the widely held assumption that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease and cancer. She established the connection between margarine and other hydrogenated fats and the development of heart disease, cancer and other ills.   Furthermore, she found cogent evidence that trans fatty acids contribute to such diseases by foiling the liver’s oxidase enzyme system so that it cannot properly metabolize drugs and pollutants.  By researching and publishing data on the trans fatty acid composition of more than 500 commonly eaten foods, Mary gave nutritionists and their clients a useful tool for knowing what foods to eliminate from their diets. This is vital information for anyone who desires optimum health and longevity. All of us who are eating butter today instead of margarine, should be grateful for the research — and bravery — of Dr. Mary G. Enig.

Mary furthermore pioneered research on coconut oil, a much maligned and misunderstood saturated fat that was vilified for years by establishment “health experts.” Thanks to Mary, it’s now widely known that coconut oil promotes optimum health.   Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, a health-promoting fatty acid with anti-microbial properties that has been proving its mettle in trials with AIDS patients and others suffering from compromised immune systems. Mary’s theories about “conditionally essential” saturated fats are already proving to be one of the missing links to the development of effective anti-aging therapies.

Mary inspired me every day with her courage and integrity.  Over the years, she was consistently ahead of mainstream scientists and nutritionists, pushing their envelopes, thinking outside the box, and threatening the status quo.   Not surprisingly, she was subjected to a great deal of criticism, not to mention bullying from powerful food industry interests.   Mary not only refused to kowtow to these pressures but boldly moved on to new and equally controversial causes, even as the world of health science caught up with, and belatedly recognized, her earlier findings.

Mary’s commitment to education led her to teach classes and workshops for college students and professionals. Even more importantly, she became active with the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation of San Diego, CA, and then served as a founding board member and Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, DC.  I was deeply honored to  succeed Mary as Vice President of WAPF when she retired to emeritus status in 2011. Our 15th annual Wise Traditions Conference (to be held November 7-10, 2014) will be dedicated to her memory.

By teaming up with Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of WAPF, Mary found a highly effective way to fight the diet dictocrats and ensure that her work would reach the public far sooner than the narrow and often entrenched world of academia would ever allow.    Their book Nourishing Traditions, first published in 1995, plus dozens of articles and Letters to the Editor written for Wise Traditions, Nexus, the Townsend Letter and other magazines and newspapers had an impact on tens of thousands of men, women and children.   The work of the “brazen duo”— as they were often called —invariably incited controversy, but helped people think for themselves regarding such issues as fat in the diet, the deficiencies of vegetarian diets, the dangers of commercial infant formulas and other important diet and health topics.

Finally, Sally and Mary helped blow the whistle on the food-industry sponsored myth of soy being the miracle food for the millennium. Their articles pulled no punches and drove me to begin research on the dangers of soy, a project that led, in turn, to my enrolling in a PhD program in nutritional sciences at the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. My 2004 Union dissertation became the 2005 book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Heath Food.   Mary graciously served on my doctoral committee at Union, and generously shared her expertise on fats and oils and their myriad roles in health and longevity.  She held me to high standards of academic excellence, took genuine pleasure in my successes and encouraged me to thank her by paying it forward. I am deeply blessed to have known this remarkable woman and role model.

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35 Responses to The Pioneering Spirit of Dr. Mary G. Enig (1931-2014)

  1. Sarah says:

    What a loss. Her legacy will remain.
    Do you know the cause of death?

  2. Max says:

    Sad passing of a great woman. So much great research. However, I would like to know how she died. Does anyone have any information?

  3. I sincerely appreciated learning more about your history with Mary and how she influenced and supported your own education. It is clear to me that you have followed in her footsteps as the Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and also as what I consider to be a brave voice.

  4. Thank you Kaayla for this simple summary of the contribution and achievements a brave and intelligent woman. Mary Enig has so quietly done so much to inform our understanding of and confidence in traditional nutrition and REAL food. I owe here a debt of gratitude for my own health and another for giving me the knowledge to help others.

  5. Dear Kaayla,
    My sympathies on losing a close friend and mentor. As an obesity specialist, I have followed Ms. Enig over the years and have been very interested in her writings on fats. One thing that concerns me is that we have not been told her cause of death. When nutritional experts fail to achieve significant old age, those of us in the nutritional community are interested in what occurred. Obviously there are many causes of illness that do not stem from nutrition, but we would certainly like to be informed if, for example, someone with a particular position on fats died of atherosclerosis. When Dr. Atkins died, we were left to guess. Nathan Pritikin’s cause of death, on the other hand, was made public including post mortem results which showed an absence of vascular disease. Do you know whether Ms. Enig’s family plans on commenting on her cause of death?
    Thanks… and again, my sympathies
    Barbara Berkeley, MD

    • TP says:

      I agree Dr. Berkeley. When someone spends a great part of their life in the public eye promoting nutritional/health ideas (especially ones that seem against mainstream thinking) it is not unreasonable to question their cause of death at all (assuming they lived as they preached). Mary lived to just about the average age in America (82.2 – Canada is slightly higher at 84). When you consider risk factors like smoking, drinking and drugs (which she presumably wasn’t doing) then one would hope to surpass the average. I find it funny that people become “touchy” to discuss this information when it is just more data to be viewed with an open mind.

      • DM says:

        I find these comments rather tasteless. I might overlook them and try to accept them in the ostensibly scientific spirit they are given if didn’t find them disingenuous as well. Dr. Pritikin died at 69 due to suicide which some speculate might be linked to the low-fat diet he popularized. I recall another prominent cardiologist who toed the party line and died in his 50s. Dr. Atkins’s death was turned into a circus. None of this is scientific.

        Their legacies including Enig’s will be tarnished or burnished based on the experience of others. With the acceptance of the low carb diet Atkins has already been vindicated. Enig’s legacy is already enviable too. Imagine defying the prescriptions of the medical establishment and being ultimately proven correct. She’s already confirmed to have done that once in relation to trans fats and she’s well on her way to being vindicated on saturated fats. It is gratifying to know she had the opportunity to see the tide turning before she died.

    • STG says:

      Do you think that diet is the only variable that impacts health and mortality? Every one dies! No one gets out alive-get real! Living a rich, productive life into the 80’s sounds good to me. My father died in his nineties and the last year was not ideal: he died from a broken hip in a semi-care facility. You appear insensitive and grandiose!

    • Renee Leavy says:

      Dr. Enig lived to be a healthy active 83 and died suddenly of a stroke.

      The life expectancy for a white female born in 1930 in the US is 63.1.

      If I fare as successfully as Dr. Enig and manage to live 20 years past my expected lifespan and then die suddenly by following her dietary advice, then I will be a still active, vibrant 94 year old!

      Sign me up!

  6. Mary died of a stroke at age 83. She lived a long, productive life, leaving behind a rich legacy to her family and to the world. Her husband had died, her children were grown and her work was done. I do not see Mary’s soul choice to leave us now as a “failure” to live into grand old age. She blessed us with her life and may she rest in peace.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you for the response. While it may be tasteless to ask, I can pretty much guarantee that everyone was wondering. Any time a health guru dies of anything besides old age, people wonder and it affects the believability of their teachings.

      • Casey says:

        I have to admit, any time anyone I’ve heard of or know of dies, I always wonder why they died. It is a part of processing the death of the person, understanding what took them. I don’t think it is tasteless to ask. It seems to just be a natural part of processing.

    • Vimi says:

      Dear Kaayla,

      I didn’t know that Mary had passed on until today when I read your beautiful article.

      It’s wonderful how you are carrying on, and, as a matter of fact, the reason I saw this article was that I was looking for your article on DHA from algae to send to Dr. Perlmutter of Grain Brain fame.

      Your answer to the questions and comments on this thread is elegant and perfect. What a relief that you brought soul choice into the discussion. It’s nice that the readers here are probably more advanced in their knowledge about nutrition, but spirituality was very present in Dr. Price’s research, and I hope the readers here will wake up to that perspective, too.

      On the other hand, maybe they’re just “trolls” trying to discredit Mary’s work!

  7. Lori says:

    So sorry to hear! I have read her books and articles and have enjoyed them a lot as I’ve learned so much from her. I am sorry for your loss as I know you knew her personally.

  8. Stacie says:

    I am sorry about the loss of your friend. Personally, I consider it impressive to have lived to the age of 83, not a failure.

  9. Caitlin says:

    She is such an inspiration to me as I am currently pursing my M.S. in Clinical Nutrition. I think about her work and it helps me to remain steadfast in the face of “conventional wisdom.” I was saddened to hear of her passing but clearly her spirit lives on through people like you.

  10. Cherie says:

    I wouldn’t mind passing like that at the ripe age of 83 as opposed to my grandmother who made it nearly that long after years in a nursing facility unable to care for herself because of Alzheimer’s. She made lots of delicious not so nutritious food out of white flour and Crisco and Betty Crocker cake mixes. God bless Mary for helping to get us all back on course.

  11. Liz says:

    No matter how “tasteless” the question may be, TP is spot on with what they said. “When someone spends a great part of their life in the public eye promoting nutritional/health ideas (especially ones that seem against mainstream thinking) it is not unreasonable to question their cause of death at all (assuming they lived as they preached).” The cause of death was the first thing I wondered after I heard about her death, which at the ripe old age of 83 I assume she lived an amazing life. She is a remarkable person and her legacy of traditional nutritional wisdom will live on through Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat Lose Fat. Those two books have inspired me to pursue a career in health and wellness. May her soul rest in peace. I thank God for blessing us with her energy.

  12. Anne says:

    I loved Nourishing Traditions: it changed my life. I now am a professional baker, and still bake using her methods. She actually made me wish I did pursue nutrition. Maybe there’s still time! Hey I’m only 53, so possibly 30 more years?!
    God bless her!

  13. John says:

    A great lady, with great integrity, whose singleminded determination changed the way we shop, cook, and eat.

    Though she has now parted from the world, her legacy will be everlasting, and many of us who now enjoy the fruits of her labors deeply appreciate all the sacrifices she made to make the world a better place than she found it.


  14. Craig Abernethie. says:

    I have just heard the sad news of Dr. Mary’s passing. To everyone who knew her, I offer my condolences. I first saw a piece of Dr. Mary and Sally’s work a few years ago in an article
    entitled “The truth about Saturated Fats”. It partially inspired me to learn about alternative
    health. To Mary’s family, I am so sad for you and can only hope you all make her legacy a
    great one. Thank you Dr. Mary.

  15. TJ says:

    For those of you who think she should have lived till 100 or more, you are not adding in all of the factors that determine this ability. Genetics accounts for 5% of all expression. Where it is expressed nobody knows. When she was a child, how was she raised. These familial issues plays a part in life expectancy. The question is did she have an increased quality of life up to her death or was she plagued with much morbidity. Give me a good healthy life up to my death please.

    Now to the reply of this absurd notion that all of our ancestry had shorter life expectancy than us. It’s the infant mortality that has given this false conclusion that your grandparents died at young ages. In the 1930’s infant mortality was high. When you have a higher percentage of children that die this brings down the average age. These days infant mortality is much less so the average age increases. The truth of the matter is that we will not live as long as our ancestors.

  16. Scott says:

    A wonderful legacy of research Mary Enig has bequeathed those who appreciate unalloyed truth.
    Dr. Price would certainly have been impressed. I first knew of Mary from the Tom Valentine publication
    Search for Health in the mid-nineties. These past twenty years have done nothing to diminish her
    writings. Remember the furor over Adele Davis’ passing of lung cancer? Did the media try to discredit every thing she wrote! Well, it turned out she was a 2-3 pack a day smoker and had been since a young girl. Did this negate her work? Not to me, although the propaganda may have gotten to those who hadn’t yet investigated for themselves. Remember Paavo Airola? Juice fasting & high carb, low fat diets?
    Passed away at 72. But is it wise to base your nutrition on the lifespan of the researcher? RIP Mary.

  17. Victoria says:

    If people are looking for Methuselahs, those days are long past.She died at the ripe of age of 83. That’s a long time on the earth. The average. In fact above the average. Most Americans of the current generations of people living most likely won’t make it to 70.

    May she rest in peace and I thank her for the great work she did.

  18. Roger Brenneise says:

    Her work was meaningful and important to me. Much love.

  19. Iva L says:

    Sorry to hear of Dr Mary Enig. We all have to go sometime and 83 is a good long life. Like machines, parts of our bodies wear out or we inherit certain health tendencies and yes, how we were fed as children and teens may have depend on others. I thank this lady for putting me on the road to knowledge about sat fats being good for you.

  20. Passerby says:

    So sad to hear of her death! I was a great fan of her work, one of the few doctors/scientists I could name off the top of my head. I can honestly say she had a positive impact on my life, even though I never met her.

    My condolences to her loved ones.

  21. Janice says:

    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to an amazing woman Kaayla! I only just read of Mary’s passing and feel blessed to have found her work through Nourishing Traditions. She was a true pioneer and very brave to go against the “dictocrats” as are Sally and you. Keep up the amazing work you do as there are many who appreciate it!

  22. Bill says:

    I did not know that Mary Enig had passed away. How sad to have lost such a great researcher. Not many are as honest as was she. She is one of those that obviously believed that theories that conflict with reality are wrong… period!

    I do believe (may be it’s hope too), that her legacy will live on. Unlike Dr. Price, many others have picked up “her torch” and are carrying on.

    Even in the “paleo world” it seems that many are shifting toward more saturated fats, careful selection of carbs, and more “free range” meats.

    RIP Mary and thanks so much for all that you have done for all of us!

  23. I had no idea Mary passed either. I have listened and spread her word via her & Sally Fallon’s works in their video “The Oiling of America.” offered by the Nutritional Therapy Association who advocates her work greatly. I’m about to graduate with my MS in Functional Medicine/Clinical Nutrition and teach my clients of her work as the main researcher of The 50 year Framingham Heart Study, maybe then the 40 year, and knew that after that long of research which I’m sure she took up in her twenties some time that she was probably up there…..had no idea of her death though.
    Thanks for the website and I love your nickname, the Naughty Nutritionist.
    Would love to pick your brain too!! Can we talk……channeling Joan Rivers..?? Love too!
    Thanks for your information and posting all the comments.

  24. Vanessa says:

    Condolences to everybody who knew Dr. Mary Enig and everybody who benefited from her tireless work and bravery in presenting nutritional truths to modern humans – which is everybody in the world not eating traditional diets. We are so enriched by her work and I was greatly saddened to hear of her passing. I hope there are more brave, honest, researchers out there who aren’t afraid to take up her scientific mantle! Her legacy remains and I think modern Americans can honestly say she saved all our lives. Rest in peace, Mary.

  25. As to Dr. Enig’s age, consider this:
    When I paid my annual visit to my internist several years ago I mentioned to him that in my clinical practice as a nutritionist I had observed that each decade makes a pronounced difference. To my surprise my respected friend paused and responded: “Oh yes! Half my patients die between 50 and 60, and the other half between 60 and 70.” He would have said Dr. Mary “died at a ripe old age.”
    In part due to my study of her works, I was nearing 80 years of age with no plans to retire.
    When writing my book, “Eatin’ After Eden” I quoted Dr.Enig at length and her studies as I found no better source for my readership for her area of expertise. And yes, Vanessa, this brave scientist “…saved all our lives.”

  26. Katie Enig says:

    I am Mary Enig’s granddaughter, Kathryn. Yes, she passed from a stroke. However it was not one caused by lack of healthy nutrition and the like. She had broken her leg, and was in a rehab for that. She then fell and broke her hip. Due to immobility, a blood clot formed and she tragically had a stroke. She was lucid and otherwise healthy, no issues other than having had a hip replacement. I google searched something pertaining to her research, and saw this article (among others). Very heartwarming to see everyone speak so highly of her. She was definitely an outstanding woman, and her passing was a great loss. Figured I would answer the inquiries about her death, even though it has been years since the post was made.

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