Ever notice how there are certain things in life that always come back in style? Whether it’s in the fashion world, architecture, old-fashioned films or cars… some classics always make their way back into the spotlight a few generations later. Just hang on to those bellbottoms a little longer- you’ll see! Well, I’m here to talk about one such classic of the nutrition world that was thought to be “out of style” (not to everyone) for a while, but now is back in the spotlight. A diet essential that we now know should never have been removed in the first place… dietary fat. That’s right- fat is back, baby! and we will all be better off for it!
Every five years the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These established guidelines influence our food supply in numerous ways including school lunches, military food programs and recipes used in restaurants- it’s safe to say that they undoubtedly influence what you and your family eat on a regular basis. Thankfully, one major topic in this year’s revision was the role of dietary fat.
Since the late 1970’s, the Dietary Guidelines have recommended no more than 30% of calories to come from fat. This included all fats (not just saturated) because fat contains more calories (9) per gram than carbohydrates and protein (4), thus the proposal that low-fat diets would help prevent obesity. Seems simple enough, right? Well, if only nutrition were so cut and dry.
Soon enough low-fat foods made their way into every aisle of the grocery store and countless kitchens around the country. However, since this low-fat craze rates of Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer have only increased. How? This enigma can be answered a multitude of ways- I will do my best to explain the main culprits below…
The first problem with removing fat from our nation’s plates begins as a matter of calories. Now, if you are familiar with my view of nutrition or have visited me at Whole Health Houston you will know that I hate talking calories – counting, tracking, obsessing – it just doesn’t honor food (which if you haven’t heard is pretty darn essential to our survival therefore should be honored) and in the long run can harm or relationship with it… anyway, more on that below. According to research from Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, 28% more calories are consumed when we choose low-fat products because we think they can eat more of it than we should. So not only do we end up eating more overall calories in a day (remember, those extra calories are why fat is criticized in the first place) the majority of these calories are coming from processed carbohydrates! Think the low-fat yogurt, chips, cookies, candies and peanut butter you see dominating the grocery store isles (another reason to shop the perimeter of the grocery store). These products pack a processed carbohydrate, sugar and calorie bomb to our systems due to the dramatic shift they undergo when fat is removed to make them “low-fat” and therefore “healthier.”
This shift in macronutrient composition is due to the next problem with demonizing fat…flavor (or lack thereof). When the fat is removed from a food, so is the flavor. Low-fat foods taste bad – they just do – but food manufacturers have to sell their product so to make it palatable they add flavor enhancers, oxidized vegetable oils, iodized salt, colors, dyes and sugar. This swap of ingredients turns any food product that boasts the claim of low-fat to be synonymous with the label of high-carbohydrates. In addition to the abundance of highly processed carbohydrates, damaged vegetable oils replaced healthy saturated fats which become oxidized and lead to free radical accumulation and inflammation in the body. One can argue that it is too many of these processed, nutrient devoid, inflammation producing carbohydrates that is really at the root of our nation’s obesity epidemic.
This post is not one of doom and gloom, but of hope because major changes are on the horizon! In fact, this year’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans guidelines concluded that “reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk… dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total intake.” Furthermore, total fat was not recommended as a prevention for obesity, but instead LESS sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains are recommended! And the biggest relief of all – dietary cholesterol is no longer listed as a “nutrient of concern.” Meaning that research has proven that cholesterol isn’t the bad guy it has been made out to be! This change is parallel with recent scientific evidence that showing there is no relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.
Here at Whole Health Houston, we have been telling clients for a long time that health and nutrition is so much more than just a matter of balancing calories in vs. calories out. This claim can be justified by just one example: diet soda and water are not equals! If I told you and your family that all you have to do to be healthy is burn more calories than you eat, I could just tell you to drink all of the diet soda that you wanted because it has zero calories – just like water – so that means it is equally as healthy. You would probably call me crazy and leave my office because you know that water is essential to your survival whereas sodas are not. In fact, researchers have discovered that just one 12oz diet soda per week increases your risk of diabetes by 33%!
What’s more is that, “randomized trials confirm that diets higher in healthful fats, replacing carbohydrate or protein and exceeding the current 35% fat limit, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease!” This is where we see that good old classic, healthy dietary sources of fat, rising above the rest and reigning supreme above all of those man-made fat-imposters. You see, nature doesn’t make a bad fat. This includes sources like pastured butter, pastured eggs, nuts and seeds, heavy cream, raw cheese, olive oil, olives, coconut oil, coconut milk, avocados and fats from fresh-caught fish as well as organic, grass-fed meats. These are the original sources of essential nutrition that should never have been messed with in the beginning. These fats help to promote weight loss, lower triglycerides, decrease inflammation and the harmful kind of LDL cholesterol that causes oxidative damage in our bodies.
Just like a classic car lover might say nothing will ever be able to replicate the original model-T car, I say nothing will ever be able to replicate unprocessed saturated fats found in nature. Don’t be fooled by refined seed oils like canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and vegetable oils just because they tout the claim of being polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsatured fats don’t automatically mean healthy because they are not saturated. These industrial seed oils are heated to extract the oil from the seed which damages the fat and forms free radicals that mutate in the body. This process increases LDL particles (mostly bad guys) and decreases HDL particles (good guys), causes oxidation and a low-grade, systemic inflammation that is at the root of much of our nation’s health troubles today. Unlike polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats are not damaged when they are heated and therefore reduce inflammation in the body.
What’s more is the overuse of man-made (hydrogenated) and/or damaged fats that we are consuming in fried foods and baked goods. These are likely made from GMO-sources and are nearly impossible to avoid if you are eating outside of the home on a regular basis. In addition to harmful fats, there are many questionable ingredients used in restaurants that we simply would never cook with at home – making eating out more of a guessing game then you may realize. I encourage you to fill up with a balance of whole food carbohydrates, clean animal sources of protein and healthful fats prepared in the comfort of your own home as much as possible. I call it the MACRO-trio plan (look for more posts on this later or schedule an appointment with us to learn more). This way, when you do choose to enjoy a night out (let’s be honest, you wouldn’t want to avoid Tex-Mex in Houston forever, nor should you!) your body isn’t already at its breaking point and can handle some less than healthy choices! After all, life is about balance.
It may take some time to re-train our brains from the fat-phobia that has been instilled in us. However, I think these facts about fat will help with that process:
- Fat keeps us full. Fat contains more calories per gram than any other macronutrient (protein or carbohydrates), so if you are only focused on counting calories it may be the first place you look to cut back. Don’t do it! We will teach you that not all calories are created equal and that achieving your health goals is more than just about counting calories anyway. Flus, without fat our brain doesn’t get the signal that we are full and can stop eating. This leaves us with intense cravings for sugary foods and makes us feel deprived and hungry. That’s the exact opposite of what food should do for your body!
- Detox requires fat. The liver round up toxins from the entire body and collects them in bile which is stored in the gallbladder. When dietary fat is consumed, it triggers the release of bile to digest this fat and other foods we eat. This bile is then excreted in the feces. Without adequate dietary fat, this bile is not released and toxins build up in the gallbladder and liver. What’s more is this toxic load increases overtime and the body may reabsorb these stagnant toxins back into circulation.
- Fat aids in weight loss and weight management. Because weight loss is so much more than “calories in vs. calories out” fat actually encourages weight loss. Excess sugar in our body (carbohydrate), gets stored as fat which leads to undesirable weight gain. Protein and fat keep our blood sugars from spiking, and trigger the pancreas to secrete glucagon (the fat-burning hormone) instead of insulin (the fat-storing hormone). I am not encouraging you to cut out carbohydrates from your diet – carbohydrates are essential to your body too – we just need to choose the right kinds. Focus on fruits and vegetables as main carbohydrate sources, and consume every carbohydrate with a protein and a fat source.
- Vitamin activation. Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are critical to overall health. As recorded by nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, traditional diets of cultures from around the globe contained 10 times the amount of fat soluble vitamins than the modern diet. As one example, we can only obtain the active form of vitamin A from naturally fat-rich sources like cod liver oil, grass-fed dairy, liver, and egg yolks. Yep – only from these sources, not carrots! Not only are dietary fats a good source of these vitamins, they also activate vitamins found in other foods. For example, a plain bowl of steamed broccoli will actually be healthier for you with some good grass-fed butter on top of it!
- Falling and staying asleep. Did you know that enjoying a couple tablespoons of fat and about a half cup of carbohydrates (we teach you to visualize portions rather than count calories here) about 15 to 30 minutes before bed can you fall and stay asleep? Yes, technically there are carbohydrates and fat in a milkshake but this isn’t the kind of snack I am taking about! Try some guacamole and carrots, a delicious bowl of berries and heavy cream, celery slices or half a banana with almond butter or half of a sweet potato with coconut oil and cinnamon for your next bedtime snack and feel the difference in the AM!
- There is so much more… fat reduces inflammation, supports cholesterol balance, aids in proper brain function and is essential for hormone production (especially progesterone and testosterone)!