The topic of fat consumption has been very convoluted and touchy in minds of many Americans. Should we be eating fat? Which fats are good, which are bad? Will eating fat make me fat? Will saturated fats increase my cholesterol? Years of demonizing fat has lead us down a slippery slope….a slope greased with hydrogenated vegetable oils, not butter.
Due to the mass confusion surrounding this subject, let me clarify some common claims about fat before delving into what we, as people seeking health, should be consuming.
Claim #1: Saturated fat will increase your cholesterol, threatening your heart.
If you ask your grandparents what they used to cook with, the answer will most likely be lard and butter. That is not typically the case today, thanks to an early study that sparked a severe change in the American diet, indicating a link between saturated fats and cholesterol levels. As with many studies of this kind, the results were too ambiguous to draw a solid conclusion, yet the idea took off. As a result, saturated fats (coconut oil and animal fats, including butter/ghee, and lard) were demonized and labeled as “heart unhealthy.” Enter the low fat era. During this time, low and nonfat products hit store shelves, while vegetable fats were touted as healthy alternatives to traditional animal fats. These included products like margarine (in place of butter) and Crisco (in place of lard). Healthy alternatives? I think not.
As studies have already discovered, using animal fat and healthy saturated fats like coconut oil are actually good at increasing good cholesterol levels. They don’t enter the body as a solid and immediately clog arteries as previously thought. Furthermore, countless studies have already uncovered the negative effects of hydrogenated vegetable oils, or “trans fats,” not just on cardiovascular health, but overall health. In a nut shell, vegetable fats are typically liquid at room temperature. After adding hydrogen atoms to their molecular structure, they become “hydrogenated” and solid or partiallysoild at room temp, causing them to have an appearance and melting point similar to butter. Altering the molecular structure of these onceliquid vegetable oils produces a product that causes agitation on the arterial walls, causing the heart to produce more cholesterol in response to the agitation. “Bad” cholesterol increases while “good” cholesterol decreases. Not only that, but the process of producing trans fats includes a metal catalyst, meaning metals such as nickel and platinum may be present when adding the hydrogen atoms to create a hydrogenated oil. This has been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Claim #2: Animal fats are bad for you.
Sure, it would be nice to believe such a broad statement like that, do away with all animal fats and be done with it, but this is science. Nothing is ever that simple.
For hundreds of years, people have been eating animal fat from wild animals and not suffering from the chronic diseases that people within the past 50 years have. If you don’t believe that people should be consuming animal fat, let me ask you this: why do mothers feed their infants a diet rich in fat? Within the first week after birth, mothers produce a substance called “colostrum,” which is very concentrated and high in fat. In fact, due to its content of growth factors, it actually causes fat loss by shifting the body’s use of fuel from carbs to fat tissue. As we will learn later, fat isn’t converted directly into fat by the body. On the contrary, it is used as fuel for the brain and other tissues. You might even say we need it for optimal health.
Other sources of animal fat, including butter and lard, are often demonized along with saturated fats like coconut oil. The truth is, when animals are fed a natural diet (natural being what they should traditionally be eating), their tissues are often rich in amino acids, vitamins and proteins that are essential to health. Some studies have indicated that meat from grassfed cows has an overall better nutrient profile than meat from grainfed cows. They have anticarcinogenic properties, elevated levels of fatsoluble vitamins that can only be found in animal fats (K2), as well as elevated glutathione levels, which is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body.
Due to a startling number of studies that like to generalize animal fat as just “fat” rather than distinguishing between, grass/grainfed animals, conflicting results have lead people to believe that all animal fats are dangerous for their health. Don’t let these studies fool you. There is an overwhelming number of credible studies out there supporting healthy grassfed animal fats. Conventional animal fats where the animals are given grains (often GMO corn), hormones and antibiotics are often lacking in nutrients and full of substances that compromise the health of the animal and anything consuming it.
Bottom line: we need fats. Some of the best sources are from healthy grassfed animals.
Claim #3: Vegetable oils are good for you.
Again, no statement that general can ever be relied on. Yes, some vegetable oils are good for you, but some are not. It depends on the form, source, and even how it’s used in cooking. For example, coldpressed olive oil is often touted as being healthy, but what many people don’t know is it’s highly unstable. When heated, this oil oxidizes and begins to denature, producing free radicals that can harm the body. When this happens, any health benefits the oil might’ve had are now quite negligible. Other oils are also highly unstable when heated, including walnut, flax, and fish oil, and should only be used at room temperature, never heated or cooked with.
Then we arrive at the unhealthy vegetable oils. Margarine/hydrogenated oils, we already discussed, but there are others that are harmful, including soy, safflower, sunflower and canola oil. These I advise against not just because they are almost always GMO, but they are high in omega6 fatty acids, which are often already out of balance with omega3’s in most people’s diet. In order to promote proper brain and body development, these fatty acids must be present in proper ratios. In the SAD (Standard American Diet), however, the omega6:3 ratio is typically out of whack. Fat derived from grassfed animals often possess adequate omega6:3 ratios than most vegetable oils. Fish oil is another example of healthy animal fat that provides proper omega3 fatty acids.
Claim #4: Eating fat will make you fat, therefore a lowfat diet is best.
This myth is rooted deep in our minds, as Americans. Ever since people were misinformed about saturated fat being the cause for cardiovascular disease, another idea was adopted: that eating fat would make you fat. Even without any research at all, most of us could conclude that this is not the case. Converting to a lowfat or nonfat diet has not solved the obesity issue in this country. You might argue that it has made it worse.
If you understand anything about the human body, understand this: nothing goes in without being metabolized or at least altered somehow. Knowing that, why would anyone think that eating fat would make them fat? Let’s look at another culprit that is prevalent in the SAD diet: glucose. Both fat and glucose play a role in supplying energy for the body, but fat provides fuel, nourishing the brain and organs, while glucose from sugar and carbs provides shortterm energy that is either used or stored in the muscles and organs as fat. Unlike healthy fats, glucose often causes spikes and drops in our blood sugar levels, causing adrenal fatigue, reducing insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), and ultimately making us fat by converting any unused glucose to adipose (fat) tissue.
Healthy fats, on the other hand, are broken down slowly, giving your body sustained energy. Our organs, (especially our brain) and muscles prefer fat as energy as opposed to glucose. And, contrary to popular belief, fat that isn’t utilized by the body is often excreted. Coconut oil, for example, is easily metabolized, and excess is excreted by the body, meaning it’s not stored. You body uses what it needs and ditches the rest. Fat from grassfed animals is often rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals, which also contribute to fuel for the body. Additionally, many vitamins like E, D3 and K2 are fatsoluble and require some fat to be absorbed.
Still not convinced? Consider the ketogenic diet, which consists of consuming high amounts of healthy fats, and low amounts of carbs and protein:
This study found that a lowcarb diet lead to greater success in weightloss and healthy cholesterol levels than that of a lowfat diet.
This study from 1998 and this study conducted ten years later, both found the ketogenic diet to be quite successful in preventing seizures in children with chronic epilepsy. (There are a plethora of studies like this, actually)
This study found that a highfat ketogenic diet enhanced the performance of mitochondria, which are the “powehouses” of cells, working to produce energy, fatty acid metabolism and limiting oxidative stress.
This study found that a ketogenic diet helped restrict glucose to tumors, thereby preventing further tumor growth. (Oh yeah, did I mention that cancer loves glucose?)
I could bore you with a mountain of studies supporting the health effects of the ketogenic diet, but I won’t.
The bottom line is, healthy fats are essential for proper brain and body function. Without fat, we are starving our bodies of nutrients and fuel. Lowfat, highcarb diets could be a main key to why so many people are feeling lackluster, fat, depressed, and acquiring a plethora of other health problems.
On similar note, I have a theory that lowfat diets could actually be leading to gallstones in many people. Without a regular intake of fat, the body has no reason to excrete bile, so it gets stored and continues collecting “sludge” and forming gallstones. It’s just a theory, but there are some credible naturopaths out there who agree.
Here is my Suggestion:
Try adding more healthy fats to your daily meals, and restricting carbs/glucose.
Healthy fats include:
Grassfed butter or ghee
Fat from Grassfed cows/lamb
Fish & Krill Oil (usually in supplement form)
Sardines & Salmon (sustainably caught)
Always store fatbased supplements in a cool, dark and dry space. Never heat oils that are liquid at room temperature, and when cooking with coconut oil, butter, or grassfed beef fat, always do so at a low mediumlow heat level with some water to protect the oils from getting too hot and oxidizing. Never boil of fry with fat. This causes the fats to become highly unstable and oxidize, which can be harmful if ingested.
Fats to Avoid
Canola/Other Vegetable Oils
While I’m at it, here’s a list of carbs to avoid, and those that are okay to include occasionally.
Carbs to have occasionally:
Carbs to avoid:
Corn, including corn syrup