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One minute all the experts are saying margarine. Then it’s back to butter. And back to margarine again, or maybe even no fat. Then it’s healthy fats. But wasn’t that an oxymoron? Omega 3, omega 6, trans, poly, mono, eating more than 2 eggs a week will kill you, shun dark meat chicken but gobble fatty fish? It’s no wonder so many people are confused about fats. The experts seem to change their minds so often you start to wonder if they really have any idea what they are talking about before they opened their mouths and shout out the next piece of so-called advice. But have no fear; I really am an expert and here is your guide to not being confused about fats!
First let’s look at the history of the oft-maligned dietary fat, particularly the saturated variety. To make a long story short, researchers found that plaques in the arteries believed to cause heart attack and strokes were composed of saturated fats and cholesterol. These researchers, led by Ancel Keys, extrapolated from this finding that dietary consumption of those two molecules was to blame for heart disease, stroke, and basically whatever else ails us, and should therefore be minimized. Furthermore, having found that fat contains 9 calories per gram, i.e. more than twice the energy content by weight of either protein or carbohydrate, these men concluded that fat restriction should, if nothing else, at least cause us to lose weight.
Was this hypothesis correct? You might be forgiven for assuming so, since 60 years later, it is still being forced on us by the harbingers of politically correct nutrition. Yet what does the research say?
You might be surprised to find that the research says basically the opposite—saturated fats have a protective effect on the vascular system, among other benefits. Time and again, populations which have increased their consumption of animal foods rich in saturated fat, cholesterol, and also protein (is it a coincidence that these 3 tend to come together in nature?) have seen a reduction in lifestyle disease. You may have heard of the “French Paradox”—how those lucky frenchy bastards eat tons of fat, drink a yacht-load of wine, even smoke their god-forsaken coffin nails, and yet, still have a lower rate of heart disease than countries such as the US which have vigorously sought to cut out said decadences. But this same pattern is also being observed in Switzerland, Spain, Japan, and elsewhere. In fact, in Japan, scientists have for the past several decades recommended an increase in saturated fat consumption, which has been credited with great reductions in the stroke rate.
Ok, so you might be convinced that we shouldn’t cut out animal foods, but what if you still have that nagging voice of the food pyramid telling you plant foods are the healthiest and most natural for human nutrition? Well, it just so happens they’re not. I’m not saying don’t eat your vegetables; veggies are healthy and delicious. But when the feds recommend us plant foods, they mean that huge base of the food pyramid—6-12 servings of white flour! That, and plant oils, like soy, corn, the ambiguous “vegetable” oil, margarine, and whatever else is not a “bad” plant food, like coconut or palm oil. Confusing, but what you need to know is this. Most plant oils–soy, corn, yes, even canola, are first, processed at such a high temperature as to create “damaged” and trans fats, probably the worst culprits in the diet-disease link. If they weren’t damaged when you bought them (and basically any oil you buy in a supermarket these days will be) then for sure, cooking with them at home will do the trick. Now, what’s more, these oils are high in poly-unsaturated fats, the increased consumption of which has actually been linked to certain cancers!
So, there you have it, the fats you thought were the good for you are bad and vice versa. But what about weight loss, won’t all that heavy animal food bust your belt? Actually, no. Although the concept of a low fat diet is really an extremely recent innovation in human nutrition (contrary to what some “experts” would have you believe), some evidence has come in now that the recommendation has become widespread. And in case you are too lazy to finish the paragraph, I will tell you, the answer is a resounding No, low fat diets do not promote weight loss. Now for the evidence. The Women’ Health Initiative, a highly-publicized and well-respected trial conducted by the NIH, involved a whopping 49,000 women, split into two groups. One group was instructed to eat a low fat diet, and provided with an extensive nutritional and behavioral support and education program. The other group, given no dietary instruction, ate a diet consisting of approximately 35% fat. After twenty years, the lowfat group, which had been averaging 120 kcal/day less than the control group, had no significant weight loss, nor reduction in the incidence of heart disease, stroke, colon or breast cancer. Lowering fat and caloric intake did not decrease disease despite increased exercise, decreased smoking, decreased consumption of fast-food and the positive intervention effect of counseling! Yet the researchers conducting this study chose to continue recommending a lowfat diet for the prevention of arteriosclerosis and cancer!
If you still need more proof that avoided fat–especially of the saturated variety–can harm your health, look at the famed Nurses Health Study conducted at Harvard. According to the reports published by lead researcher and Harvard epidemiologist Walter Willet, after 15 years of observation, breast cancer risk decreased by 9% with every 5% increase in saturated fat calories versus carbohydrates. A recent Duke University Study showed that people whose diet consists of 20% calories from fat have no less risk of heart disease than those whose diet has double that amount.
That’s right. A study comparing the effects of post-workout whole milk vs. skim milk on nitrogen balance found that a cup of whole milk, containing 8g of protein, produced better nitrogen retention than a calorie-matched portion of skim milk containing 14.5 g of protein. Skimping on saturated fat and cholesterol hurts testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) : hormones that are essential for growth and anabolism. Cholesterol in fact is precursor of testosterone. Beef, which is often avoided because of its saturated fat and cholestrol content, is also an excellent source of creatine, B vitamins and zinc.
So there you have it, folks. Not only does the low fat fad not promote weight loss or decrease risk of “lifestyle diseases”, but it may actually increase risk! And incidentally, this study also casts wide suspicion over that fib that goes like, “Eat slightly less every day and you’ll lose weight. Eat 10 calories less per day and you will lose 10 lbs this year!” or it’s variation, “Americans are eating 100 kcal more per day then they were 100 years ago, and this is why 35% are obese!” So what is making Americans obese, and, more importantly, what can you do to lose weight that will actually work and improve how you look, make you healthier and more energetic? Find out next week in our controversial next installment!
One last thing. Has this article left you totally shell-shocked and confused about what fat to eat? Knowing that the last thing you want to do is avoid fat, we’ve compiled this handy-dandy list of what fats to use and what to avoid. If you have a question about anything that is not included, or why certain things are placed where, feel free to email, or ask in the forums.
Good: Butter, coconut oil, cream, fish oils, walnuts, avocado, grass-fed meat & dairy, omega-3 eggs, unsweetened chocolate, flax seeds
Probably wont hurt you: olive oil, grapeseed oil, all other nuts besides walnuts, regular eggs
Avoid: Corn, soy, canola, fried foods, margarines (even trans fat “free”) and “fake fats” (eg olestra), peanuts