The Skinny on Fat
Many of you have probably seen all of the posts on social media about the recent “reveal” of dietary fat being healthy. If not, this blog post will address many of the questions you might have about dietary fat consumption.
Having grown up in the 1980s, I remember being misled that dietary fat would make you fat. My parents’ refrigerator was filled with low-fat milk and cheeses, fat-free yogurt, diet sodas and margarine. I now cringe at the thought of ingesting or even purchasing these processed products. (Not your fault, Mom!) What is even more concerning is that even the most knowledgeable researchers had it all wrong. During my time as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin studying dietetics in the early 2000s, we were trained that low-fat was the ideal approach to nutrition. Thus I practiced what I learned. I also weighed 35 pounds more than I do now.
POINT: Fat does not make you fat. Fat can actually help you lose and maintain a healthy weight.
Time magazine recently published an article[i] in June regarding the war on dietary fat. They claim that recent research is providing “new science” supporting fat as healthy. Well, this is not new science. In fact, it is merely lifting the veil to the misleading information of the late 20th century. This revelation also pertains to dietary cholesterol. Believe it or not, dietary cholesterol is good for you and is crucial for many bodily functions!
Dietary fat is not directly stored as fat in the body. In fact, it is an ideal food source of lasting energy. Carbohydrates are readily stored as fat and cholesterol, also known as triglycerides. Most cholesterol in the blood is actually produced in the liver. So when someone has high cholesterol, it would be my intention to support liver efficiency, not challenge the liver with more toxic medications (ie statins).
POINT: Yes, you can eat eggs (source of dietary cholesterol) and butter which is a good source of saturated fat. Just ensure that your eggs are free-range and organic and the butter is grass-fed organic.
We have extensive research to support the benefit of low-carbohydrate and high-fat and protein diets being beneficial for weight loss. This article[ii] in particular demonstrates that even with high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, the women who ate minimal carbohydrates (compared to those who cut calories and fat) not only lost the most weight, but they also sustained normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars, and insulin.
POINT: If you want to lose weight and decrease cholesterol, you can decrease carbohydrate intake and increase good fats.
WHAT ARE GOOD VS BAD FATS?
Of course not all fats are created equal. Think about the source of the food. Animal fat and protein is a great choice as long as the animal ate well itself. Vegetable fat can also be a good option as long as it is not synthetic. Just because a fat comes from a plant does not mean that it is healthy.
TERMINOLOGY AND TIPS:
Low-Fat or Fat-Free
Stay away from foods with these claims! Foods that are naturally rich in fat do not need to be stripped of their beneficial nutrients. When processing plants take fat out of food, they “enrich” it with sugar and harmful chemicals to help keep it shelf stable. Though it may appear that you are saving calories with fat-free products, you may not be getting vitamins and minerals that rely on fat intake for absorption (ie Vitamin D, magnesium, etc). Satiety, or the sensation of being full, is achieved much quicker and lasts longer when you eat fat. Thus, you consume less food, but with higher quality. When shopping for groceries, buy only the full-fat options.
Trans fats and Fractionated Oils
Trans fats refer to hydrogenated fats. Fractionated and Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils which are normally liquid at room temperature but are converted to solid with chemicals, high heat, and filtration. Partially hydrogenated oils such as margarine and shortening have trans fats and should be avoided completely. MARGARINE IS NOT A FOOD. These fake foods cause injury and inflammation to the arteries. Never eat trans fats. Go for real, organic, full-fat butter instead.
Vegetable oils oxidize very easily, especially when heated. Corn, canola, safflower and soy oils should be avoided completely not only due to risk of oxidation, but because they are most often genetically modified. Olive oil is a great oil but should not be used in cooking due to its low smoke point. Fats with a higher smoke point do not oxidize as easily. Safe to use in cooking: coconut oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, butter, and lard.
Not all saturated fats are bad. They are highly stable oils and do not usually go rancid, allowing for safe cooking. Ideal saturated fats include: butter, ghee, coconut oil, dairy and meats from organic, free-range, grass-fed animals.
Omega 3 fats
Fats found in seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados and many other plants are highly beneficial for heart health. Omega 3 fatty acids help to decrease inflammation in the body which in turn decreases cholesterol levels, preventing oxidation and cardiac events. Quality cold water fish oil supplementation is an efficient way of getting the medical dose needed for heart health. Eat as much of the above foods as you like!! Make sure your fish is wild-caught (not farmed).
As I hinted earlier, I not only have experience as a naturopathic physician in helping patients optimize cholesterol levels and lose weight, but I also have the personal experience. I have always been an athlete to some degree, so my activity level and attentiveness to nutrition are long-standing passions of mine. When I was in college, I studied, lived and breathed nutrition. Yet I was overweight, had digestive and hormonal issues, had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. How could that be when I was vegetarian, working out daily and walking an hour to class every day? Because the mainstay of my diet was carbohydrates. Because the American Dietetics Association emphasized that the diet needed to be 60% carbohydrate, 30% fat and 10% protein.[iii] This is insanity. Never in my training did anyone explain the necessity of dietary fat and protein on energy, hormone production, cognition, and overall health. Fat was bad and you were to only eat plants and sugar, and foods pumped with synthetic chemicals.
When I moved to the northwest for medical school at the National College of Natural Medicine, I entered into a whole new realistic world of nutrition. I started eating eggs, nuts and seeds. I started preparing all of my own food. Processed foods became a thing of the past. I immediately lost 25 pounds within 4 months. Then I reintroduced meat for the first time in 10 years, but it was grass-fed, organic, and free-range. Actually, it was wild elk that my brother-in-law had hunted with his bow and arrow (without sights or releases, mind you). Clean, organic meats and wild fish became a staple along with my passion for plant foods. I then lost another 10 pounds because I was fuller faster.
Weight loss is not rocket science. It’s simple. Eat vegetables. Eat clean fats and protein. Eat real food, nothing processed, nothing packaged. Drink water. And move your body.
[i] Walsh, Bryan. Ending the War on Fat. Time Magazine. Published June 12, 2014. Accessed http://time.com/2863227/ending-the-war-on-fat/ on June 28, 2014.
[ii] Bonnie J. Brehm, Randy J. Seeley, Stephen R. Daniels, and David A. D’Alessio. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. "A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women." Volume 88 Issue 4 - April 1, 2003. Accessed http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2002-021480 July 1, 2014.
[iii] Wardlaw, Gordon; Kessel, Margaret. Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2002. p. 46.
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Dr. Alicia McCubbins is a naturopathic physician who strives to educate, motivate and inspire. Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions so that we may collectively grow through knowledge.