There are plenty of nutrition and health-related topics out there shrouded in misinformation and confusion, but I would venture to say that the topic of fats easily tops the list.
How did Americans come to believe that fat was such a dietary evil-doer and responsible for not just obesity, but a laundry list of medical conditions? To understand this, we must take a look at the evolution (or devolution) of the switch to a low-fat/no-fat diet model…
Short History of Dietary Fats
Let’s begin in the early twentieth century, as this is when the problem largely started. A 2008 publication in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences describes that this is around the time when dieting became increasingly popular amongst the eating habits of Americans, particularly middle and upper class white women. The dieting model of choice was both low-fat and low-calorie.
Of all 3 micro-nutrient groups (fat, protein and carbohydrate), fat holds the most calories per serving (9 calories per gram), so was therefore assumed to be at the root of weight gain.
This was the beginning, but it was really in the 1940s and 50s when conventional medicine began widely promoting the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease, commonly known as the diet-heart hypothesis. In the 1980s, mainstream media took this hypothesis and ran, and the low-fat model became America’s dietary ideology.
While this fascinating history of the American low-fat ideology is long, for intents and purposes of this article, we will move on to how, in recent years, these myths have largely been debunked, and dive into the vast and vital benefits of including healthy fats in the diet.
Debunking the Myth
Fortunately, many studies have surfaced over recent years proving that the low-fat ideology so many American dieters have clung too has actually caused far more harm than good, both in terms of obesity and heart health.
Here are a just two examples of key studies:
- A study conducted by Cambridge University and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal focused on specifically debunking the myth between saturated fats and Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), and found no connection between an increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats and lowered risk of heart disease.
- A study conducted by the Oakland Research Institute, which involved 350,000 participants and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no connection between saturated fat and heart disease.
While this section could also make for an entire book, the important piece to note is that plenty of scientific studies have now established that dietary fats do not cause heart disease, and neither does high cholesterol (but that’s another article topic, altogether).
So, What is the Real Culprit?
Other studies have shown that, while Americans have remained obsessed with the fact that a diet high in fat would launch heart problems and increase bodyweight, we now know that, in fact, refined carbohydrates are what actually make the difference.
And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Let’s take the example of yogurt. When you strip a natural and nutritious food like plain, whole yogurt of its’ fatty acids, the replacements comes in the form of sugars, artificial flavors, and other chemicals. This traditional and once healthy fermented food source is now made up of sugar (or artificial sweeteners), and fake ingredients.
When naturally occurring and healthy fats are replaced with sugar and refined carbohydrates, we are working our way towards insulin resistance, which can cause a host of problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Why Are Fats Healthy?
- Our brain is made of up to 70% fat, and needs healthy dietary fats to survive and thrive. Therefore, good fats are necessary for optimal cognitive function.
- Fats protect our vital organs.
- Fats regulate our bodies’
- Fats are essential for proper hormonal balance, especially for women. In fact, insufficient dietary fat can be a cause of infertility.
- Without enough fat, we experience increased cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, as fat provides satiety (the feeling of fullness).
- Fats are necessary to absorb and assimilate fat-soluble vitamins A, E and D, along with other essential nutrients.
Which Fats are Good For Me?
This is where much confusion lies. It is becoming increasingly common knowledge that fats are not, in fact, the enemy, but still many questions exist around which fats are good, and which are not. Here is a list of healthy and nutritious fats which should be included regularly in the diet:
- High quality saturated fats include unrefined coconut oil, grass-fed or organic butter, ghee, organic whole milk (raw if possible), and naturally occurring fats in grass-fed meat, such as beef. The oils mentioned here are also best to cook with, as they will not oxidize when heated.
- High quality unsaturated fats include extra virgin olive oil, sesame and other nut oils, raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and flax oil. It is best not to heat these fats.
- Fats found in wild fish, especially Alaskan Wild Salmon.
Which Fats Should I Avoid?
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils such as margarine, Crisco and buttery-spreads such as Earth Balance.
- All trans-fats (another name for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated).
- Vegetable oils such as canola, corn and soybeat.
- Fats from commercially raised meat (non-organic or grass-fed). If organic meat isn’t available, opt for leaner meats such as fish and poultry without skin.
One Last Note on Fat and Weight Loss
Perhaps the most common question surrounding fats is whether or not it will lead to weight gain. If weight loss is the ultimate goal, it is a good idea to keep fats to a moderate level, as they are calorie-dense. However, sufficient dietary fat is also critical for effective weight management, as the body actually uses fat sources to regulate weight loss. And remember, fat is the macronutrient that most produces the feeling of fullness, so goes a long way in managing cravings.
Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, authors of the best-selling book Eat Fat Lose Fat, note that “using coconut oil in concert with other healthy fats can spark weight loss and heal serious illnesses.”
REMEMBER, don’t be afraid to include healthy fats in your daily diet. After years of the diet-heart ideology, it can be a hard pill to swallow, but rest assured that your body will be far healthier when reaping the many benefits that high quality fats provide, and avoiding the harmful effects of a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates.
-  Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, “How the Ideology of Low-Fat Conquered America.” Retrieved February 8th, 2016. https://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/139.full
-  Annals of Internal Medicine, “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Retrieved February 8th, 2016. https://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638#tab10Div
-  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” Retrieved February 7th, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648?dopt=AbstractPlus