The popularity of low fat diets has not made us healthier or thinner.
As obesity and heart disease in our nation began to rise in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the “low fat” diet made its way into popularity. The idea that “fat makes you fat” was widely accepted among health professionals and the average consumer. After over 30 years of Americans trying to lose weight by restricting their fat intake, and the countless number of “fat free” or “low fat” products now available, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in America. So what have we missed? Research is now proving that fat, even saturated fat, plays an important role in a healthy diet.
Why fat is not the health enemy we thought it was.
Dietary fat has been demonized as the cause of heart disease, high cholesterol, and obesity. As a result we have exchanged our butter for margarine, our real eggs for egg substitutes, our whole milk for fat free milk, and our coconut oil for canola oil. It is a belief that is deeply held in our society, and yet the idea that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol raise the risk heart disease has been proven a myth.
Studies About Fat Intake
- An article in Time magazine in June of 2014 by Bryan Walsh stated that “it is becoming clear that even the saturated fat found in a medium rare steak or a slab of butter… has a more complex and, in some cases, benign effect on the body than previously thought. Our demonization of fat may have backfired in ways we are just beginning to understand. “(1)
- In the Framingham Heart Study which followed 6,000 participants for 40 years, it was found that participants who ate the most cholesterol and saturated fat weighed the least and were the most physically active.(2)
- In another study performed in Brittan with several thousand male participants, half of the participants were asked to switch to margarine and polyunsaturated vegetable oils while the other half continued to eat saturated fat. The number of deaths in the first group was twice that of those in the saturated fat group!(3)
- Famous heart surgeon Michael DeBakey conducted a study of 1400 patients with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and found no correlation between their diagnosis and their level of cholesterol in the blood.(4)
- The Medical Research Council found that men eating real butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those eating margarine.(5)
- A meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at over 80 studies with a total of 350,000 participants, and found no significant evidence that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.(6)
You must eat fat in order to lose weight!
While fat intake is down, what has increased dramatically is the amount of refined flour, sugar, and processed foods in the typical American diet. It is very difficult to lose weight on a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Fat creates a feeling of satiety while carbohydrates create cravings. It is the over-consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates that spike our blood insulin. It also slows metabolism, encourages the body to store more fat, and causes body wide inflammation.
Scientists are now discovering that chronic inflammation, not cholesterol, is the primary cause of heart disease. Blood cholesterol is necessary and normal, but when the arteries are inflamed, it cannot pass through and creates a blockage. Inflammation is caused by the over consumption of processed polyunsaturated omega 6 oils… the very thing that has been recommended for decades as a way to prevent heart disease!
Dr. Dwight Lundell, who has performed over 5,000 open heart surgeries in 25 years of practice, stated that the one thing all his patients had in common was inflamed arteries. In his article published in 2012 he stated “forget the ‘science’ that has been drummed into your head for decades. The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent… the cholesterol theory led to the no-fat, low-fat recommendations that in turn created the very foods now causing an epidemic of inflammation. We now have an epidemic of arterial inflammation leading to heart disease.” (7)
How Healthy Fat Effects Our Body
Healthy fats are also essential to having beautiful skin and hair, fertility, balanced hormones, joint lubrication, body temperature regulation, immune system health, insulation for organs and nerves, and anti-aging properties. Dietary fat is needed in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin E is essential to heart health. Vitamin D is necessary in order to absorb calcium, which means that a low fat diet can contribute to poor bone health.
Fat is also necessary for your cell membranes to be able to absorb nutrients and expel toxins. Fat is also essential for growth and development, which is why babies and young children should never be put on a low fat diet.
What fats should I eat? Are there fats I should avoid?
Our bodies need healthy fats for optimal health. Healthy fats include avocados, coconut, coconut oil, organic butter from grass fed cows (8), ghee, flax seed oil, raw nuts and seeds, omega 3 oils from chia seeds and fatty fish, plain whole organic yogurt, olives, expeller pressed extra virgin olive oil, range-free eggs, and grass-fed beef. It is best to cook with coconut oil, since it can handle high heat. Use olive oil for salad dressings and other recipes that to not require cooking.
While we should be eating healthy fats, it is also important to avoid fats that can harm your health. Those fats are hydrogenated oils (trans fat), genetically modified and polyunsaturated omega 6 oils, such as, canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, margarine, and vegetable oil. Avoid products that claim “fat free” and “low fat.” Those products usually have the fat replaced with sugar or artificial ingredients.
Even though fat is a necessary and important part of a healthy diet, this does not mean you can eat French fries and milk shakes to your heart’s content!
The key is to focus on quality foods that are minimally processed. The more foods you can prepare in your own kitchen rather than buying in a box or ordering through a drive through window, the better.
1. Byran Walsh, Time Magazine, Eat Butter, June 23, 2014, 30-35.
3. Dee McCafferey, CDC, The Science of Skinny (Boston Massachusetts, 2012), 99.
5. Medical Research Council. Nutrition Week, 3/22/91, 21:12