Fat: known to most as the enemy and who is to blame? We are almost conditioned to associate the word with weight gain, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Corporations do an amazing marketing the ‘low-fat’ and ‘low-calorie’ diets when it comes to weight loss and avoiding heart attacks or strokes. Except none of it is scientifically true. In fact, the research behind this information is seriously flawed and based on outdated evidence.
I recently read Dr. Mark Hyman`s book: Eat Fat Get Thin and boy was I impressed. So impressed that I decided to dedicate this blog to his book. His research needs to be known!! Dr. Hyman (who is on the board of the Institute of Functional Medicine, which I am currently studying with), tackles this big, fat mess in an attempt to rid us of our fat-phobia, as it is essential to our health brain health, nutrient-absorption, and even in preventing heart disease. Yes, I said preventing.
In the majority of our diets, five to fifteen percent of our daily calories come from fat. However, it is the type of fat we consume that determines its benefits.
There are four Types of of fatty acids:
1.Saturated (SFA) – such as animal fats, dairy, coconut (most controversial)
2.Monounsaturated (MUFA) – such as olive oil, avocado, fish, nuts
3.Polyunsaturated (PUFA) – omega 3 and omega 6
4.Trans fats (TFA) – such as canola oil, vegetable oils, corn oils
Saturated fats have been demonized in the past because they were believed to cause high (LDL) cholesterol and atherosclerosis (lipid build up in the arteries) that eventually lead to a heart attack. For this reason, people were advised against consuming large amounts of saturated fats. However research recently has shown that this is not necessarily true. The saturated fats that are most likely to cause heart attacks and strokes are actually from an over consumption of refined sugars and carbs, and more recently discovered, from the over-consumption of trans fats. In fact, eating foods with saturated fats – like grass-fed meats and coconut oil – have been shown to have very little effect on your blood level of saturated fat, and as it turns out, are not related to cardiovascular disease.
So why is it that we have been told to replace our butter with margarine and our cream with skim milk in order to be healthier? Decades ago, fats such as vegetable oils were considered a ‘healthier’ alternative to the traditional full-fat foods. Delving deeper into trans fats, these bad guys are now the culprit for raised blood triglycerides, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
On the flip side, saturated fats are key to providing structure to our cell membranes and tissues, strengthening our immune system, help the production of hormones, are critical to your nervous system, help suppress inflammation, and help with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Convinced yet?
Next he takes on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These includes the nuts, seeds, olive oils, avocados and fish. The bottom line is these fats are essential and beneficial to you, however when it comes to omega 3s and omega 6s, balance is key, as both are needed but at the right ratios. Typically, a low omega 6-omega 3 ratio is recommended, as an imbalance between the two has shown to suppress immune system function, contribute to weight gain, and cause inflammation.
A few key points to take away :
1.Saturated fats (palmitic acid and stearic acid) in your blood that cause heart attacks come from eating sugar and carbs, not fat.
2.Saturated fats, (margaric acid) that come from dairy and butter show a reduced risk of heart attack.
3.Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils show no benefit and may increase risk of heart attack.
4.Omega-6 fats from poultry, eggs, and beef seem to be protective – contrary to popular belief.
5.Omega-3 fats from fish are shown to be the most protective.
Saturated fats are best consumed with a low-carb, high fibre, and omega 3 rich diet. Do a personal inventory and see what works for you; no two diets and dietary requirements are the same. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Some good sources include:
•Nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts
•Seeds – pumpkin, sesame, chia, hemp, flax
•Fatty fish – sardines, mackerel, herring, wild salmon
•Extra virgin olive oil
•Grass fed animal products
Best fats for cooking:
•Palm oil from a sustainable source
•Try to avoid olive oil, flax oil and hemp oil for cooking as they react with the heat. These oils are best used in salads.
The idea behind reducing cholesterol was the main reason why butter and eggs had become the enemy. However, research shows that there is no correlation between consuming cholesterol and your body’s cholesterol production. Instead, the liver gets triggered to produce fat and cholesterol in response to excess sugar and carbs. High-carb diets increase the production of triglycerides, lower the good (HDL) cholesterol, and increase the bad (LDL) cholesterol. This process is called lipogenesis, and may be the cause of atherosclerosis and cognitive decline. A diet low in fats may decline LDL, but not the bad kind! The bad LDL are the small particles that can build up in arteries, however there also exists bigger, fluffier LDL that is essential in many areas such as hormone production, cognition, and mood. Healthy fats actually promote the production of these large LDL particles, whereas sugar and carbs trigger the production of the small, more dangerous ones.
Therefore, the real concern is not the amount of cholesterol in your blood, but the types of fats and refined sugars and carbohydrates in your diet. It is not the cholesterol itself that is the issue, but rather the oxidation of the cholesterol. To have a healthy cholesterol, it is critical to keep track of the following numbers:
1.HDL vs LDL – HDL should ideally be greater than 60 mg/dl
2.Your triglycerides levels should ideally be less than 100 mg/dl
3.Your ratio of triglycerides to HDL should ideally be less than 1:1 or 2:1
4.Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL should ideally be less than 3:1
The use of statins has also shown to be indeed efficient at lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, but they don’t have any effect on lowering overall inflammation, and very poor results in actually lowering the risk for heart attack, and they come with an array of side effects.
As you can see, healthy fats are essential to our health and functioning and nothing to be afraid of. Despite the efforts of corporations to sell us on low-fat products, Dr. Mark Hyman does an excellent job at showing us the flip side of the fat debate and gets our gears turning on the topic. In light of this information, what habit would you change to incorporate more of the good fats in your diet, less refined sugars, more fibers and more Omega-3?