Fats vs. Fiction

October 24, 2013

Let’s face it, fats have gotten a bad rap in the past forty or fifty years, thirty at the minimum. In Sugar: The Bitter Truth, Dr. Lustig argues that it is carbohydrates, not fats, that are causing people’s waistlines to expand. (I highly recommend watching the whole lecture.)

For those who don’t have the time to do so, the argument basically goes like this. Back in the Nixon era, politicians wanted to take food off the political campaign trail, so the president funded companies to research how to make food cheaper for Americans to buy–two studies were done, one on fats and one on carbohydrates (called Pure, White and Deadly). The fallacy of the former study was that the correlate study they mentioned–namely, that carbohydrates cause increased fat retention–was not conducted. This same study was the one government chose to found all of the nutrition campaigns that have since been launched across America (and even the world), including the Food Pyramid, My Plate, and even what was taught to doctors in medical school. (It’s interesting how now the scientific and medical communities are recognizing that carbohydrates, and the sheer volumes consumed by the average individual, is what’s causing increased rates of overweight and obesity, Type II Diabetes, heart disease, and even cancers.)

Interestingly, as I’ve been pondering this topic of fats and the benefits they give to our bodies, Dr. Oz did a segment (Monday, Oct. 21) on Alzheimer’s Disease and how grains might be poisoning the brain, leading to brain disease. He brought on neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, who argues that all carbohydrates are bad and that we should be consuming healthy whole fats (cut out low-, no-fat foods). Here is the start of this fascinating Oz episode. Incidentally, Oz admits himself that more and more heart doctors (and other medical professionals) are recognizing the truth in Perlmutter’s claims.

(Another book you might consider reading, one that’s on my to-read list, is Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. The authors spent a considerable amount of time looking at diet and how it affects health, and came to the same conclusion as Perlmutter. Fats are essential for long-term wellness.)

Great, you think. If I can’t have carbs, what can I eat? Perlmutter says “the dreaded fat,” the thing we’ve been warned against and have fought against for thirty-plus years. Not just any old fats, mind you. Heart healthy fats from plant and lean meat sources. (Sorry, bacon lovers.)

So, first of all, what is fat? You’ve heard of the terms “oil,” “fat,” and “lipid.” Technically speaking, the fat found in our bodies is a hydrophobic lipid. Oils are those fats which are liquids at room temperature while fats are those which are solids at room temperature. Lipids come in several forms, most of which are necessary for bodily functions: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats. The last of these is unhealthy and happens when polyunsaturated fats are changed through food processing, and can alter cell membranes so that they don’t function properly any longer and elevate low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol), among other problems.

The rest play important roles in the body:

  • Monounsaturated fats: contain one double-bond in the fatty acid chain, they lower LDL levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and help develop and maintain the body’s cells. Examples of healthy sources: olives and olive oil, nuts and nut oils (buy cold-pressed oils and organically, if possible)
  • Polyunsaturated fats: contain more than one double-bond in the fatty acid chain, they are better known to us as omega-3’s and omega-6’s, both necessary to the body. Omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory and, although necessary, are often over-consumed, leading to chronic illness. Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, lowering the risks of heart attack and other inflammatory diseases. (Omega-9’s are not considered essential to diet.) Examples of healthy sources: Omega-6’s: sunflower and safflower oils; omega-3’s: deep sea fishes, grass-fed meats, flax seed
  • Saturated fats: triglycerides that contain no double-bonds, these are essential for cell membrane health and construction, bone health and calcium absorption, enhancement of the immune system, function of the brain and organs (including the skin). Examples of healthy sources: meats that are free-range and grass-fed, avocados, coconut oil (virgin, cold-pressed, organic)

With that said, foods that Perlmutter believes are good for brain health include vegetables grown “above ground,” whole fats (including butter) found in lean meats, and vegetable oils like avocado, olive and coconut, and whole-grain rice. He also believes that we should limit fruit consumption, though does not strike out the food group altogether. However, he does recommend avoiding grains, processed foods, sugars, vegetables grown “below ground” and those that are starchy, fatty meats, and those foods labeled “low fat” or “no fat.”

My personal take? I currently live in a desert and have a history of skin problems that runs in my family, including eczema and psoriasis. I’ve found that including healthy fats–my favorites being coconut and olive oils–in my diet has not only moisturized my skin against the damaging effects of this perpetually sunny, dry terrain but also (to me) has improved how I feel physically and think. Additionally, since my daughter was born, I began taking coconut oil orally and have seen improvements in the dry condition of her skin too.

As with all information posted on this blog, I advise that you consult with your physicians–ask questions and do research independently. Perhaps even read Perlmutter’s book. I plan to. But most of all, remember to live life in moderation. Too much of anything, even those delicious satiating fats, leads to imbalances in the body, all of which lead to disease. Remember also that happiness doesn’t hinge on a Hollywood-perfect body but how well we feel, so as a final thought, practice gratitude for the day given and the blessings to be found in life.

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