What’s the single best thing you can do for your health, weight and longevity? Eat more fat! Yep, you heard that correctly. If you’re confused about this message, it’s easy to understand why. For years, I recommended a low-fat diet to clients, and for decades, the advice from pretty much all doctors, scientists, the government, and the media spread a message to eat less fat to lose weight and prevent disease. Now we know, none of this advice is scientifically true – it’s actually doing us more harm because it turns out eating less fat results in more obesity and disease. Our fear of fat has actually created a big, fat health mess.
Myth: Eating any amount of fats will make you gain weight.
The reality is, the more fat you eat, the more fat you lose and the better your body functions. However, the ability to listen to your body’s fullness cues is really, really important. Fat works on the brain to cut your appetite so you eat less overall during the day. Fat will also keep you feeling satisfied and fuller for longer than carbohydrates and protein, so you won’t need to eat as much or as often. If you eat when you aren’t hungry, you will consume extra calories, which can lead to weight gain, but fat isn’t the cause.
A calorie is not a calorie, contradictory to what the conventional message has taught us. When you eat, foods have to go through your body and they have profoundly different effects on your hormones, brain chemistry, and metabolism. Fat calories burn differently than sugar calories do. Fat calories speed up your metabolism. Fats must be burned and are not easily stored because they don’t spike insulin – the fat-storage hormone. On the other hand, sugar and carbohydrate calories do exactly the opposite: they spike insulin, promote fat storage, and are quickly laid down as dangerous belly and organ fat. They slow your metabolism and increase hunger and cravings. Mounds of scientific research supports this perspective.
Myth: I don’t need fat in my diet.
False! Your body needs adequate amounts of dietary fat to support normal brain and body functions. Fat also support hormone production, cell signaling and body temperature regulation. They’re key for supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails, and are a must in order for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins you ingest (vitamins A, E, D and K). Here’s the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
Myth: Fat is bad for you.
There are high-quality fats and low-quality fats. It’s the low-quality fats that aren’t beneficial for your health. This includes trans fats, vegetable and soybean oils, and certain types of saturated fats such as those found in processed meats and processed foods. The big problem with these fats is they are inflammatory. Coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition. Preventing the development of atherosclerosis is important, but it's lesion disruption with thrombus formation that's the real killer. You're better off focusing on balancing blood sugar levels, combating insulin resistance, and decreasing insulin levels.
Good fats include monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, coconut, raw cacao butter, grass-fed butter and ghee, to name a few. Here’s an extensive list of foods with these good-for-you fats.
Myth: High-fat foods will raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease.
Here's the deal: The #1 way a person’s heart gets into trouble is inflammation, which is typically generated by a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. Not Saturated Fat! In all actuality, the brain is 30% cholesterol – it needs cholesterol to function. Lowering cholesterol levels via diet manipulation or statin drugs can potentially damage the brain.
You can have a lot of cholesterol circulating in your blood, but cholesterol can’t deposit in a blood vessel unless you have enough inflammation in that blood vessel to warrant it. The amount of circulating cholesterol in your blood (by itself) has nothing to do with heart disease.
Rather, the inflammation on the interior lining of the blood vessel is an injury, and once the vessel is injured due to inflammation, LDL cholesterol will go to the site of that injury to try and heal it. The LDL becomes like cement and begins accumulating in an unhealthy way. This is unhealthy for the heart, but as you can see, it’s inflammation that triggers this cascade of events (not cholesterol). What causes inflammation? Sugar, processed foods, white flour – not fat. Here’s more about this viewpoint related to the saturated fat in coconut.
Myth: Eating fat increases your risk of diabetes.
A high fat, low carbohydrate diet is ideal for supporting normal blood sugar levels, especially for those with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Restricting dietary carbs and increasing fat have the greatest impact on lowering blood sugar levels. People are much more likely to adhere to this type of diet because it reduces cravings and is more satisfying.
My favorite way to incorporate fat is using ghee on food or off the spoon and eating fat bombs. Here’s an easy fat bomb recipe.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods