Will Eating Fat Make Me Fat?: Myths Debunked and More (Part 1 of 3)?

Will Eating Fat Make Me Fat?: Myths Debunked and More (Part 1 of 3)?

There has been so much confusion about fats and oils and the content in our foods.  I hope to clear things up for you in this 3-part article.  Through this, you will see that the answer to the question, “will eating fat make me fat,” is no unless someone consumes unhealthy fats along with other unhealthy poor quality nutrition.  Fat has been vilified for decades, and I am here to speak on behalf of healthy fats and them being essential in a healthy dietary plan.

The 3-parts of this article will include content as follows:

  • Part 1: Elements that make a good fat, popular beliefs about fats debunked, types of fats, and health benefits of fat
  • Part 2: Understanding terminology used with fats and oils, using fats for best quality, specific healthy fats, and usage tips when using and consuming fats 
  • Part 3: Benefits, guidelines, and tips for specific healthy fats

What Makes a Good Fat?

A good, or healthy fat is one that nourishes the very core of your cells, since the cellular membrane designed to protect health and fight disease is comprised of fat.  This includes but is not limited to fatty acids such as omega-3s found in fatty fish, monounsaturated fats in avocados, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) in coconuts. All and some others too are good fats that nourish your body and health in many beneficial ways.

What Are Popular Beliefs About Fats?1-12

Let’s look at several pieces of information that have been promoted about fats (the old way) and what is actually correct so that you have an accurate perspective (the new way).

Promoted1-6:  Saturated fats cause cardiovascular disease, heart problems, and higher mortality rates.

Actual1-6:  Though never proved, American Dietary Guidelines have promoted for decades that saturated fat is bad for our health.  On the contrary, studies show that saturated fat does not contribute to cardiovascular disease, heart problems, a higher mortality rate, or other health problems.

Promoted7-9:  Low fat diets are better for heart health and weight loss.

Actual7-9,12:  After low fat diets were promoted in the US starting in the 1960’s, not only did heart disease rates not improve, our nation’s overweight and obesity problems rose.  It is evident that low fat is not the way to go, especially when it is replaced with carbohydrates.

Promoted10-11:  Seed and vegetable oils (e.g. Corn, Soybean, Cottonseed, Sunflower, Safflower, Rice Bran, Peanut, Canola, etc.) are better for your health, are considered “heart-healthy,” and you should replace saturated fats with these types of oils. 

Actual10-11:  These oils involve a harsh extraction process with harmful solvents and they are high in Omega-6 fatty acids.  It is true we need both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, yet the excess of Omega-6 contributes to inflammation, which is a cause of illness and disease.  Some of these oils also contain trans-fats, which have consistently, without debate, been accurately promoted as unhealthy and a cause of disease.

What Are Types of Fats?13-14

  • Unsaturated Fats – There are both healthy and unhealthy forms of unsaturated fat.
    It is easier to identify them when they are in oil form because they are liquid at room temperature.  Two types of unsaturated fats are:
    • Monounsaturated fats:  Healthy ones are found in foods such as: olives and olive oil; avocado and avocado oil; most nuts and seeds and their oils.  Unhealthy monounsaturated fats are canola and peanut oils.
    • Polyunsaturated fats:  Healthy ones are found in foods such as:  walnuts and flaxseed and their oils; and fish.  Unhealthy ones are found in corn, soybean, and canola oils.  A couple prominent polyunsaturated fatty acids are Omega-3 and Omega-6 though there are more.  They are all important yet we must have a healthy ratio especially between Omega-3 and Omega-6.  We tend not get enough omega-3 to offset our omega-6 consumption.  Omega fatty acids are essential and we must get from our nutrition.
      • Omega-3:  Fish is a very important source of omega-3’s.  There are plant sources such as walnuts and flaxseed; however, it is difficult to get efficient conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA (both found in fish).  Therefore, vegans or vegetarians who do not consume fish and only get their omega-3’s from plants should ensure they consume the appropriate supplement in this area.
      • Omega-6:  Seeds and nuts are especially high in omega-6.  
      • and more….
  • Saturated Fats:  There are both healthy and unhealthy forms of saturated fat.  Saturated fats can be identified by the fact that they are solid at room temperature.  Saturated fats are mainly found in animal based foods, but there are a few plant-based foods high in saturated fats such as coconut (any form) and palm oil.  The saturated fats that are unhealthy are those found in animal-based products where the animal is: not raised humanely; unable to consume their natural diet; fed non-organic feed; and those given antibiotics and/hormones.  This means the saturated fats from animal-based items such as grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, pasture-raised organic butter and ghee are healthy.
  • Trans Fats:  Some trans fats are found in very small amounts in beef and dairy fat.  However, unless you are consuming significant amounts of those items, it is not the real concern with trans fats.  It is the artificial ones that are terribly UNHealthy and namely found in processed foods.  They are usually made from unhealthy vegetable oils, whereby the processing itself is also unhealthy.  They are also referred to as hydrogenated oils, which are very unhealthy.

What Are Health Benefits of Fats?

Healthy fats must be consumed to build optimum health.  Though there are rare cases when someone should be consuming a low-fat dietary regimen, as it is not best for most.  That even goes for those who may no longer have a gallbladder or deal with fat malabsorption issues.  If that is the case, there are things you can do to mitigate that, enjoy healthy fats, and absorb essential fat-soluble nutrients.

Many degenerative diseases are due to eating habits based on fiction, not facts—or fats.  There are healthy fats; there are killing fats.  Here are just some examples of conditions where healthy fats are important.  This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of diseases that benefit from consumption of healthy fats as there are so many more:

  • Cancer

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Brain health

Cancer

  • Omega-3s in particular have been shown to reduce risk of developing certain cancers.
  • Found to cause a significant reduction in tumor growth in animal studies
  • Increase the rate at which tumor cells are killed
  • During cancer treatment with chemotherapy, EFAs have been shown to increase the effectiveness of those therapies
  • They inhibit a pro-inflammatory enzyme called cyclooxygenase 2 (COX 2), which promotes breast cancer
  • They increase the expression of BRCA1 and BRCA2, tumor suppressor genes that, when functioning normally, help repair damage to DNA, thus help to prevent cancer development.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

This is that can-of-worms.  We established much of the correlation, or lack of correlation between healthy fats and cardiovascular disease.

  • As long as foods are from unrefined, natural sources, and the diet contains plenty of fiber as well as the vitamins and phytochemicals available in fruits and vegetables, there should not be a fear of CVD
  • Sugar and refined carbs are higher implicators in CVD than fat
  • Trans fat consumption is a killer
  • Low anti-oxidants have also become more clearly implicated in heart disease
  • As Udo Arasmus of “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill” says: “For the last 30 years, doctors have measured our blood cholesterol levels as predictors of CVD. These measurements are turning out to be better for business than prediction.”
  • The myth surrounding statins—that statins will protect against disease by lowering LDL cholesterol—rests on the myth that LDL cholesterol plays a causal role in disease. That myth has been busted.
  • Low cholesterol levels are associated with increased cancer risk, as are cholesterol-lowering drugs. Researchers suggest that this may have to do with decreased delivery of vitamin E and carotene to our cells as the level of cholesterol decreases.

Diabetes 


  • Our bodies store excess glucose as fat, from times of feasting for use in future time
  • Diets rich in specific fats, like the MCFAs (medium-chain fatty acids) found in coconut oil, help to regulate blood sugar
  • Before the discovery of insulin, the treatment for diabetes was a diet consisting largely of fat
  • Trans fats interfere with insulin receptors in the cells; replacing trans fats with healthy fats is one of the great ways to reverse insulin resistance.
  • Low cholesterol levels are associated with increased cancer risk, as are cholesterol-lowering drugs. Researchers suggest that this may have to do with decreased delivery of vitamin E and carotene to our cells as the level of cholesterol decreases.

Brain Health 


  • 60% of the brain is made of fat
  • The brain is actually nourished by the consumption of good saturated fat; without it, your brain chemistry may be compromised
  • The key nutrients for brain development are the fat soluble vitamins, particularly A, D, & K— primarily found in cod liver oil, good quality butter, egg yolks, and grass-fed animals
  • Anxiety is often related to adrenal imbalance; the combination of coconut oil and Cod Liver Oil that is rich in vitamins A & D and cholesterol helps your body make the adrenal hormones needed to deal with stress
  • These same nutrients are important in combating depression; some studies have found that the fat soluble vitamins along with EFA are better at combating depression than the SSRIs
  • Julia Ross, of The Mood Cure, describes what she calls the “Good-Mood Foods” Number 2: Fat!
    • Omega-3s
    • The “satisfying fats” like good raw butter and cream that are loaded with the fat-soluble vitamins. Be cautious of dairy if you have an allergy or sensitivity. Ghee is dairy but a great alternative as it is least likely to cause a reaction.
  • Julia Ross says about cholesterol: “Low cholesterol is firmly associated with depression, anxiety, irritability, violence, suicide, and insomnia. Cholesterol in the brain is essential for natural anti-depressant serotonin production. . . . 25% of the brain is made of cholesterol. Cholesterol is (surprise!) an antioxidant that protects our tissues, including brain tissue, and is the base from which we make the stress and sex hormones that direct our brain’s whole mood show.”

• Omega-3s and the brain:

  • Omega-3 deficiencies are being clearly linked to many mood and mental health disorders from autism to Alzheimer’s.
  • They reduce inflammation—linked to many brain problems they balance blood sugar— key for regulating moods.
  • They increase the activity of a key molecule called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which acts like fertilizer for your brain, stimulating new cell growth.

Fat consumption is key in many other health conditions including arthritis, PMS, migraines, yeasts, constipation, and more. There’s alot to explore about how fat can better benefit you and your particular health concerns, but for the most part the rules are the same:

  • Avoid trans fats and unhealthy vegetable oils
  • Eat UNrefined, UNprocessed foods that contain fat
  • Consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Minimize seed oils that overwhelm our omega-6 levels

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.  We will discuss terminology used with fats and oils, how to use fats for best quality, specific healthy and unhealthy fats, usage guidelines for consuming healthy fats, and other tips about fats.

References

1.  Hite AH, Feinman RD, Wood RJ, et al.  In the face of contradictory evidence: Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee.  Nutrition..  2010;26(10):915-924.  doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2010.08.012.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20888548.

2.  Hooper L, Martin N, Abdelhamid A, Smith GD.  Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Systematic Review.  2015. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011737.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26068959.

3. de Souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A, et al.  Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.  BMJ.  2015.  doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3978.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26268692.
4.  Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB.  Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.  Am J Clin Nutr.  2009.  doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648.

5.   Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Di Angelantonio E, et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014.  doi:10.7326/M13-1788.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24723079.

6. Schwab ULauritzen LTholstrup T, et al.  Effect of the amount and type of dietary fat on cardiometabolic risk factors and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer: a systematic review.  Food Nutr Res.  2014.  doi:10.3402/fnr.v58.25145.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25045347.

7.  La Berge AF.  How the ideology of low fat conquered America. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences.  2008;63(2):139-177.  doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/jrn001.
https://academic.oup.com/jhmas/article/63/2/139/772615

8.  Howard BV, Van Horn L, Hsia J, et al.   Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: The Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled dietary modification trial.  JAMA.  2006. doi:10.1001/jama.295.6.655.
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/202339?wptouch_preview_theme=enabled.

9.  Yancy Jr WS, Olsen MK, Guyton JR, Bakst RP, Westman EC.  A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial.  Annals of Int Med.  2004.  http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/717451/low-carbohydrate-ketogenic-diet-versus-low-fat-diet-treat-obesity

10.  Evidence based studies and research references within this article.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad.

11.  Ascherio A, Willett WC.  Health effects of trans fatty acids.  Am J Clin Nutr.  1997;66(4):1006S-1010S.  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/66/4/1006S.short.

12.  Carnahan JC.  Groundbreaking news: low fat diets increase risk of death, study says.  https://www.functionalmedicineuniversity.com/public/1266.cfm.  Accessed February 11, 2018.

13.  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/.  Accessed October 29, 2018.

14.  Jacob A.  Balancing Act.  Today’s Dietician.  (2013);15(4):38.  https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/040113p38.shtml.

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