I used to be fat-aphonic. For my whole life it seems, I was told that fats found in foods – notably eggs and meat would raise “bad” cholesterol and put me at risk for atherosclerosis – a building up of plaque in the arteries which contributes to heart disease, stroke and dementia. This is also what I learned in my medical program (during the paltry amount of time they spent teaching us about nutrition) and fat as the cause of disease is still being promulgated by healthcare practitioners everywhere.
The promotion of fat causing heart disease is thanks in part to three Harvard researchers who were paid off in the 1960’s by the sugar industry to play down the effects of sugar on heart disease and to play up saturated fats as the cause. Thanks to this “research” millions of people (including myself), as advised by their well-meaning healthcare professionals, the media, friends and family, to reduce consumption of fats which has led to an increase consumption of carbs. And, not just any carbs. Our consumption of refined grains, baked goods and sugar has exploded since that time. While we were all having the “eggs are good vs. eggs are bad argument,” we significantly increased our refined carbohydrate intake and reduced our fat intake. Meanwhile, study after study shows that higher carbohydrate diets, particularly those high on the glycemic index (more sugary, processed foods) contribute to both raised LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and lowered HDL (“good” or protective cholesterol). And…heart disease is STILL the number one killer in the US and obesity has gotten worse, way worse since the 60’s. So this low-fat/high carb diet we’ve been eating…NOT WORKING to decrease health risks.
Despite the recent research, we are still eating high-carb, low fat
Even though there has been a ton of buzz around the benefit of fats lately, many of us don’t realize how carb-rich and vegetable and fat-deficient our diets still are. I regularly take a food intake of all of my new clients I am amazed at how many grains and fruits they are all still eating and how little fat and veggies. Before I transitioned to a higher fat diet, I thought I was doing great because I was eating whole grain breads and non-refined carbohydrates like millet and oatmeal and lots and lots of fruit. Last May, I took the plunge and purged all non-vegetable carbs from my life for several months and increased my fats and vegetables. It wasn’t until I greatly reduced most carbs (yes, even whole grains, fruit and beans) from my diet and increased my vegetable and fat intake that the pounds really starting shifting.
How often should one consume fats and what kind?
I typically recommend that my clients consume some fat at every meal. Some foods already have fat in them like whole eggs, red meat, lamb and salmon. However, if you are consuming plain egg whites, white fish, chicken or turkey, I recommend adding some fats such as avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, ghee (clarified butter), avocado oil, olives and coconut oil. Nuts and nut butters (in limited amounts if you are trying to lose weight) are also wonderful sources of fat. I recommend cooking in a high-quality saturated fat like coconut oil or ghee. Save the olive oil for salad dressings.
What about red meat?
Even though we no longer have to “fear the fat,” leaner meats like chicken, fish and turkey might be a better choice because of the toxic load that is stored in fats (yes, the fat on your body too – another reason to have low body fat). Fat is a repository for many of the toxic chemicals in our environment such as pesticides. Therefore, consider limiting high fat foods (like beef) to once per week. Do not fry your foods and cook meats and fish in a grill that will allow most of the fat to drop off. Consider shifting more of your fat to vegetarian sources like nuts and avocados. Choose organic meats whenever possible. Grass fed beef would be a better choice if you can swing it.
How about dairy?
A dairy discussion truly deserves its own blog post and I will definitely take on this issue at a later date. On the whole, I recommend avoiding dairy. Dairy causes inflammation in many people and is a major cause of food sensitivity and has been linked to various diseases. I recommend getting your protein and fats elsewhere.
The Magic of Omega-3’s
Omega-3’s are a type of fat called an essential fatty acid (EFA). They are called essential because the body can’t produce them. Omega-3 fats are associated with reducing inflammation, helping our skin and hair stay healthy, preventing atherosclerosis, reducing heart disease and stroke, helping relieve symptoms of ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain, decreasing breast cancer risk and improving cognitive function and mental health and more. Besides in the supplement form, Omega-3 fatty acid sources include the “SMASH” fatty fishes (sardines, mackerel, salmon and herrings) and other types of fish as well as eggs. Note, certain eggs contain greater amounts of EFAs depending on their diets. EFAs are also found in vegan sources such as flaxseeds, hemp, edamame, walnuts, algae, chia seeds and other nuts and oils.