Do you think dietary fat is bad? Do you follow a low fat diet because you think a high fat diet is unhealthy? Have we all been duped?
In the seventies and eighties, there was this general recommendation to avoid fat, thinking that fat was causing disease. We hadn’t yet started to study the different types of fat and knew nothing about good fats. Even governmental guidelines recommended low-fat diets. The fear of fat was more than enough motivation for food processing companies to get to work. By creating “fat-free” versions of their foods, they raked in millions and made millions sicker. Little did we know that by replacing the fat in foods with heavily processed ingredients, like sugar, white flour or high-fructose corn syrup, we were right back to where we started. In 2014, The NY Time magazine published a controversial cover story. “Eat Butter” was what they irresponsibly promoted. By saying “butter is back”, they gained many fans, but most people had no clue that the study praising saturated fat that they were referring to was incredibly flawed.
After removing fat from popular and tasty foods, food scientists added sugar and white flour and many other engineered ingredients to make them even tastier, and removed fiber and nutrition to make them shelf stable, which increased the total amount of calories while making it less satiating. People were eating processed and calorie dense foods instead.
The studies that the NY Time was referring to were very misleading. They were designed to study diets containing saturated fat and comparing them to diets containing less fat, which made them higher in processed ingredients. They found that eating high amounts of saturated fat didn’t increase heart disease and so that’s what they published. What they failed to mention was that it didn’t increase heart disease when compared to a highly processed low fat diet. Just ends up that both diets are bad. Comparing two unhealthy diets and saying “butter is back” when it doesn’t kill more people than the other unhealthy option is not only misleading and irresponsible, it’s down right dangerous. Since then, it has been challenging to undo this misinformation campaign. Even more difficult after it has graced the cover of one of the biggest magazines in the world. The confusion still lingers on today. Butter isn’t back. It’s still as unhealthy now than it was back then and studies of hundreds of thousands of people have confirmed this. Butter is made of milk fat, and contains almost solely saturated fats. There are many studies showing that saturated fat intake is directly related to increased heart disease risk. In fact, so many studies have confirmed the link between saturated fat and heart disease that it’s almost impossible to refute.
Here’s my attempt at making fat simple. I’ll break down what good and bad fats are, and where you can find them.
The bad fats
There are good fats and bad fats. The good fats increase health and longevity while the bad ones decrease them.
Bad fats include saturated and trans fats.
Saturated fats are found in animal products, like meat, dairy, eggs, cheese and butter as well as tropical oils, like coconut oil or palm oil. They also exist in negligible amounts in various other plant foods. Saturated fats are bad. So many studies have reproduced this finding that this statement is almost impossible to refute. They raise LDL (the bad cholesterol) and are pro-inflammatory. They make our blood vessel lining more sticky so that the circulating cholesterol adheres to it and contributes to cholesterol plaques being formed, a process called atherosclerosis. Blockages in our blood vessels can then lead to heart attacks and stroke, some of our greatest killers.
Remember trans fats? When you think of trans fats, think of industrial fats, where hydrogen was pumped in a liquid oil to make it solid. This makes it easier to transport and integrate into recipes, but also makes it super unhealthy in the process. That’s why Canada banned trans fats to be added in food by food manufacturers in 2018. They still find their way in heavily processed foods and baking goods like cookies, pizzas, chips, shortening, margarine and many fried foods. Companies can make their serving size so small that legally they can round down the amount of trans fats to zero, a sneaky yet dangerous tactic. They can even post “zero grams of trans fats per serving” right on the packaging. If you remember seeing “partially hydrogenated oil” in your mom’s cupboards, that’s the exact process that creates trans fats, so stay away.
Many fats are awesome!
Not all fats are bad! We need fat to synthesize hormones and to absorb liposoluble vitamines A, D, E and K. We also need it to boost immunity, isolate and protect vital organs, and store energy. Some fats are anti-inflammatory and protect against heart disease. Experts recommend getting 15-30% of calories from fat. Eating good fats is the priority, as long as you‘re somewhere in that percentage range.
Unsaturated fats are the good guys! Omegas 3, 6 and 9 are all super healthy and to be included in your diet. You can find them in nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, soy, edamame, tofu, as well as sea plants like seaweed and algae. The issue we are having with these good fats is that for optimal health, the desired ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be somewhere from 1:1 to 1:3. That’s how we evolved before processed foods. With today’s refined foods, the ratio is closer to 1:15. Since these two fats compete for the same enzymes and receptors, the enormous amounts of omega-6 in our processed diets impede the omega-3 from getting absorbed and exerting its protective effects. Processed foods contain too many omega-6. So, although they are considered good fats, they need to be lower in order for the omega-3 to get properly absorbed. I’ve even seen my patients fall for a clever marketing scam by buying omega-6 supplements on sale because they knew they were “good”, but didn‘t understand they were probably already consuming too much. It’s more omega-3 you need.
The only essential fats we need to consume are polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The rest we can make ourselves, from other precursors we eat.
So make sure to add healthy fats by introducing a variety of nuts and seeds in your diet. Chia, hemp and flax seeds, and frozen avocados are easily integrated in meals or smoothies, and you can enjoy nuts anywhere, even on the go!
Fat isn’t the enemy. We need fat in our diets to be healthy. As a matter of fact, 15-30% of our calories should come from fat for optimal health. It’s the types of fat that are important more than the amount. I`m not suggesting anyone to eat 3 cups of nuts, or chug a full bottle of olive oil though. Fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient at 9 kcal per gram, when compared to 4 kcal per gram for protein and carbs. If you're trying to lose weight, cutting down on the amount of fat you eat will definitely have the biggest calorie bang for your buck, but make sure to pay attention to cutting back on bad fats first. Our modern processed diets do favor bad fats and added fats, and that’s partly where the problem lies. When corporations try to help us by creating low fat versions of foods, they replace the fat with unhealthy and processed carbs, which simply gives us an equally unhealthy low-fat version of that same food.
If you’d like to decrease the bad fats in your diet, try decreasing the amount of processed foods you eat, as well as dairy and animal products. By moving towards a more plant-predominant pattern of eating, you naturally increase the good and decrease the bad. This way, you get healthier while bypassing all the clever marketing tools that corporations use to get you to eat more calories per mouthful. So fat isn’t the enemy, saturated and trans fats are the enemies. Unsaturated fats, although calorically dense, are super healthy and should still make up 15-30% percent of daily calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, this percentage can be manipulated to fit your goals, but unsaturated fats should still be included in your diet, since they help in achieving optimal health! Not all fats are created equal!
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches! If you're looking for quick, easy and healthy plant-based recipes, check out plantbaseddrjules.com and download my free recipe eBook!
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