Has fat gotten a bad rap?

For the past 30 years, the fats in our foods have been demonized as a leading cause of high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity.

Our fear of fats started with Ancel Keys, PhD. in the 1950s. Keys chose to report only certain data which he felt supported his own theory that fat consumption led to cardiovascular disease, and the media ran with his story in 1961. This resulted in the launch of the low/no-fat diet and the American Heart Association issued its first anti-fat guidelines.

Now we have new scientific research which has uncovered flaws in Keys’ early data – as it turns out, most of the fats in your diet are actually beneficial.

There are three types of fats:
  • Unsaturated fats are found in healthy foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, flaxseeds, soybeans, eggs, fish and chicken (white meat).
  • Saturated fats become solid at room temperature and include butter, coconut oil, palm oil, cheese and dark chocolate. These fats are better for cooking at high heat.
  • Trans fats are mostly artificially produced through partial hydrogenation (part of the process for converting liquid oil to solid) and are used to increase the shelf life of processed foods.

One study of more than 357,000 people found that eating saturated fats raises the good HDL levels in your blood and has no relationship to heart disease. Another study of Pacific Islanders, whose diet is derived largely from coconut oil, found remarkably few incidents of heart disease.

In his book, Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter compares our ancestors’ diet (75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs) with our diet today (60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat). Dr. Perlmutter explains that conditions like Alzheimer's, ADHD, depression and anxiety are linked to inflammation in the brain and body, which is triggered by eating too many carbohydrates – not fats.

Other studies conclude that our obesity epidemic, which has doubled in the last 50 years, is not due to eating too much fat, but is a result of our over-consumption of sugar and carbohydrates.

Turns out Julia Child had it right from the beginning - “Enjoy eating fats - they are good for you!"

The amazing benefits of eating fats

Fats occur naturally in food and they’re used to store energy in the body, insulate body tissues, cushion internal organs, and transport fat-soluble vitamins in the blood. Fats play in an important role in our food preparation by enhancing flavor and texture and conducting heat during cooking.

Trans fats have been shown to increase the risk factors for for coronary heart disease, but both saturated and unsaturated fats actually have many health benefits:

Fats help the brain by insulating the sheath that surrounds each nerve fiber. Our brains are made up of 60% fat, so a diet that’s too low in fat can actually deplete your brain of essential fatty acids. 

Eat a greater portion of your calories from fat and you can achieve a more optimal body composition by supporting your hormonal balance of androgens, such as testosterone and estrogen, especially during exercise. 

Eating fewer carbohydrates and more healthy fats can support and even improve your metabolism. Fatty acids (the building blocks of fat) like Omega-3 turn on the genes that burn fat and they support the thyroid function which helps body fat regulation.

Immune system
Fats help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, which can boost your immune system. Eating fewer carbohydrates and more good fats can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. Saturated fats like butter and coconut oil play a large role in your white blood cells, which help fight viruses and bacteria, which in turn boost your immune system.

An obvious sign of fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. Fat enhances healthy skin - the subcutaneous layer of fat just below our skin acts as our body’s own insulation and helps to regulate body temperature.

So - fear not! Enjoy the good fats in moderation and enjoy life in abundance.