Fat has gotten a bad rap. For the last several decades, we’ve been bombarded with the notion that dietary fat is bad; hence the deluge of low-fat, nonfat, “no saturated fat” products on store shelves. We were told to replace butter with “heart healthy” canola oil, and vegetable oil, to swap whole milk dairy, yogurt, and cheese products for the nonfat or lowfat varieties. We’ve been told that saturated fat raises cholesterol, contributes to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. However, mounting evidence indicates that fat has been wrongly villainized and that it is actually necessary and vital to our health.
Why were we told saturated fat was bad?
The primary reason given for saturated fat being evil was that it raises cholesterol. Being told you have high cholesterol in the past has been a guarantee you’ll be told to stay away from high fat foods and/or to go on statin drugs, and failure to lower your cholesterol, so we’ve been told, will lead to heart disease.
Is cholesterol really the cause of heart disease?
No. Here’s the condensed version: Harvard researchers conducted an analysis of all previously published research that explored whether or not there was a link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease or stroke. They also investigated saturated fat and its effect or non-effect on disease. The researchers scrutinized 21 studies that followed 350,000 people over periods of five and twenty-three years.
What did the research conclude?
The amount of saturated fat consumed by participants indicated absolutely nothing about their risk for developing heart disease or stroke. Participants whose saturated fat intake was highest were statistically identically to those whose intake was lowest in terms of predicting cardiovascular disease or stroke.
Want more good news?
In light of the conclusions of the Harvard study, several other studies were conducted, including one published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study compared the effects of consuming a high-fat diet with a low-fat one. Researchers deduced that the high fat diet was more effective for weight loss and lowering cardiovascular disease risk.
What is the real cause of disease?
Inflammation. What causes inflammation? Two major culprits are sugar and processed food. I’ll address sugar another day, but let’s address processed foods and their link to inflammation. When the low-fat, no-fat recommendations were first disseminated, food manufacturers rushed to flood the market with “fatless food.” These foods were full of polyunsaturated fats, such as canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and other vegetable oils. The problem? These polyunsaturated oils are full of omega-6 oil, which are inflammatory by nature. Our bodies need the proper balance of omega-3’s to omega-6’s in order to regulate hormones and create anti-inflammatory compounds. The proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is generally 1:1. The processed food diet comprises omega-6 to omega-3 at about 16:1, meaning the standard American diet causes most people to have an incredible “overage” of omega-6’s, and therefore more inflammation. The problem with the old recommendations was that people began to replace saturated fat with these polyunsaturated, inflammatory fats.
Fat and Brain Health
Fat is vital to brain health. Our brains are comprised primarily of fats and cholesterol, specifically saturated fat. A deficit of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, in the brain, can lead to a host of brain dysfunctions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s memory loss, ADD, depression, and low IQ. Current research shows a link between cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and Alzheimer’s. The simple reason is that statins radically reduce cholesterol, and since the brain is approximately 60 percent fat, our brains MUST have cholesterol.
The Bottom Line:
High quality fats are vital for fueling the body. Your body MUST have fat. Fats provide energy, keep the brain healthy, aid in absorption of minerals, reduce inflammation, and act as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D,E, and K. Most people need more high-quality fats and less carbs.
What kind of fat should I eat?
Once we’ve wrapped our brains around the evidence that fat is NOT bad, we need to look at what kind of fats we should be eating. What do you think of when you think of eating “fattening” foods? You may think of hamburgers, eggs, sausage, butter, and oil. And guess what? Those are ALL healthful forms of fat IF they’re from the right source. High quality fat is the key term here. Here’s a brief list of high-quality fat foods:
- Grass-fed meats
- Butter from grass-fed sources, ideally raw butter
- Organic pastured eggs
- Cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna
- Coconut Oil
- Olive oil and olives
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Palm oil
- Pastured lard (leaf lard)
Why Whole Milk and not Skim or Reduced Fat?
A study reported in the European Journal of Nutrition revealed that those who ate high-fat dairy as opposed to low-fat had a lower risk of heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, cancer, and actually a lower risk for obesity. Women who ate at least one serving of high-fat dairy each day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine year period than those who ate low-fat or no dairy.
Why is “grass-fed” so important?
Cows, pigs, and chickens that are not raised in pastured settings, i.e. foraging on land and eating grasses, are grain-fed. They’re fed corn and soy, usually GMO corn and soy, and these foods are high in the wrong fat, which is omega-6. Meat, eggs, and milk from pasture-raised animals are vastly different than their non-pastured counterparts. Pastured products contain 300 to 500 percent more CLA, another omega-3 fatty acid, as well as more DHA. Here’s a comparison of omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in pastured foods versus CAFO foods. (CAFO stands for Confined Animal Feeding Operation – the large industrial-type feedlot facilities in which the animals are fed grains).
Breakfast: Omega-6 Omega-3 Ratio
2 CAFO eggs 1,150 mg 75 mg 15 to 1
4 oz. CAFO pork sausage 3,740 mg 150 mg 25 to 1
2 slices toast w/ 2 Tbsp. 1,230 mg 85 mg 14 to 1
6,120 mg 310 mg 18 to 1
2 omega-3 enriched eggs 1,320 mg 1,320 mg 1 to 1
4 oz. pastured pork sausage 2,945 mg 565 mg 5 to 1
2 slices toast w/ 2 Tbsp. 860 mg 350 mg 2.8 to 1
5,125 mg 2,235 mg 2.5 to 1
Remember, you want to have a more balanced ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s. Avoiding processed foods, eating an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, and choosing high-quality fats from wild, cold-water fish and pastured meat, dairy, and eggs are the best ways to ensure your food is providing your body with the proper balance of fats and nutrients.