For more years than I care to admit, I bought into the lie that eating fat will make you fat. It made sense to me only because I didn’t understand how the body works and how it assimilates fats and other nutrients. I’m not going to give you a biology lesson here, I’m just going to show you why (the right kind of) fat is healthy.
For many years it was thought that consuming less fat would increase health and reduce weight, but the opposite has happened. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no state in the country has less than 20% obesity today. (1)
Why was fat assumed to be bad for us? After World War II, research came out that seemed to link saturated fats to coronary heart disease. Soon, the American Heart Association recommended that people reduce their fat intake. In 1976, the U.S. Senate held a series of committee meetings, “Diet Related to Killer Diseases.” Subsequent USDA food guidelines recommended eating less saturated fat and more carbohydrates. The war on fat had begun.
It is now known that the right kind of fat is good for you. Here is what you need to know about fat in your diet.
There is no evidence that saturated fat is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease, as was previously thought. (2) Before this became well known, many people stopped eating saturated fats and replaced them with hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (also called trans fats), which have now been shown to increase heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes, which are at near-epidemic proportions in the U.S. (3)
In the past, colorectal cancer was associated with diets high in saturated fats. However, there is no correlation. The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial studied postmenopausal women for more than 8 years and found that a low-fat diet did not reduce the risk for colorectal cancer. (4)
Benefits of eating saturated fats include improved cardiovascular risk factors, stronger bones, improved liver health, healthy lungs, healthy brain, proper nerve signaling, and a strong immune system. (5) Additionally, energy from medium-chain fatty acids helps to burn other fats in our system.
Avoid vegetable oils, including corn, peanut, soybean, and canola oil, and replace them with healthy oils, including coconut oil (a medium-chain fatty acid that is easily digested), ghee (clarified butter), sesame oil, grass-fed butter, and extra virgin olive oil.
The American Heart Association Strikes Again
Despite having been previously proved wrong about the relationship between healthy dietary fats and cardiovascular disease, in June 2017 the AHA declared, “We advise against the use of coconut oil.”
Hilda Bastian, who works at the National Institutes of Health making clinical effectiveness research accessible to the public as lead for the PubMed Health team, believes the AHA got it wrong on coconut oil for these reasons:
- Inadequate research and method of choosing studies
- Not being equally critical of all studies
- Incorrect representation of the results of the coconut oil review
- Making strong conclusions based on weak evidence
The AHA made their declaration about coconut oil despite their conclusion that
Finally, we note that a trial has never been conducted to test the effect on CHD (Coronary Heart Disease) outcomes of a low fat diet that increases intake of healthful nutrient dense carbohydrates and fibre-rich foods such as wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and legumes that are now recommended in dietary guidelines.
That’s right; the health guidelines the government has been promoting for the last 20-30 years have never been tested!
So, why is the AHA demonizing coconut oil? Let’s follow the money trail. Dr. Tania Dempsey, M.D., an expert in chronic disease, autoimmune disorders, and mast cell activation syndrome, writes that
Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Glaxo-Smith Kline, AstraZeneca, Amgen and many more are listed as providing research grants for the authors. It just so happens that these companies manufacture cholesterol-lowering medications, like statins and the new drug Repatha. Why would they want to know whether coconut oil is good or bad for patients? Or whether eating carbohydrates is better than eating saturated fat? Well, for one, they will be well-positioned to market their drugs to the people who keep changing their diet based on the latest “research.”
And it just so happens that the Canola Oil Council and the California Walnut Commission also helped fund the research—which apparently showed that canola oil and other mono and polyunsaturated fats lowered LDL. Never mind that canola oil is genetically modified and high in erucic acid, a very long-chain fatty acid that can disrupt our cell membranes and has been found to cause heart disease in animals.
Eggs and Cholesterol
There is no relationship between egg consumption and coronary heart disease. Further, egg consumption is unrelated to blood cholesterol levels. (6) A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that egg consumption does not influence the risk of cardiovascular disease in men, (7) while another study shows that dietary cholesterol is not related to coronary heart disease incidences or mortality. (8)
Some eggs are better for you than others. The way the chickens are raised and what they eat are contributing factors. Get eggs labeled “pastured” (not the same as pasteurized) or locally farmed eggs whenever possible. Pastured means the chickens are allowed to roam freely and eat naturally. Cage-free doesn’t mean the chickens are allowed to roam; it simply means they aren’t in cages. They are still cooped up (literally).
The color of the egg depends on the breed of chicken. It is not a reflection of the nutritional value of the egg.
Eggs are a remarkable food, packed with high-quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins A, B5, and B12, folate, phosphorus, and selenium.
The Best Healthy Fats
Did you know that avocado is a fruit? Botanically, it’s a large berry! Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which raise levels of good cholesterol while lowering levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. They also provide the benefits of vitamin E: preventing free radical damage, boosting immunity, and acting as an anti-aging nutrient for your skin.
Additionally, avocados are a healthy protein; in fact, they have more protein than any other fruit. For pregnant women, avocado is also one of the great folate foods; this vitamin can help reduce the risk of birth defects. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas and the fat in them can help you absorb more nutrients from other plant foods.
I recommend eating avocados every day.
Coconut oil is an amazing food. It is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy for your body to digest. They are not easily stored by the body as fat and provide almost instant energy to your cells.
These medium-chain fatty acids improve brain and memory function. Plus, the high amount of natural saturated fats in coconut oil means that it promotes heart health and increases good cholesterol. The antioxidants found in coconut oil make it an effective anti-inflammatory food.
Adding coconut oil to your diet is easy; simply use coconut oil in place of the vegetable oils you have been using. Because it has a high smoke point, it is much better to use in cooking than olive oil or butter. You can use it to add flavor to food after cooking instead of butter. I like putting it on vegetables and even cooked salmon.
Some people don’t like the taste of coconut oil and think it alters the taste of food it is cooked with. If you find this is the case, you can try experimenting with different brands, or simply use another type of oil, like sesame, olive, or avocado.
Butter and Ghee
Butter became a victim of the war on fat, but lately, it’s been experiencing a comeback as a healthy fat. The omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids found in butter help your brain function properly and improve skin health. (These two fatty acids are considered essential, meaning the body needs them but can’t produce them on its own; they must be derived from food sources.) Butter is rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A, B12, D, E, K2) and trace minerals (including selenium and iodine).
Unlike trans fats in processed foods, dairy trans fats are considered to be healthy. Butter is the richest dietary source of dairy trans fats. (9)
Ghee, or clarified butter, is an ideal choice for those, like me, who cannot digest the A-1 casein protein in most dairy products, including butter. Ghee is butter with the protein removed, leaving only the fat. It has butter’s naturally decadent flavor and a high smoke point, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. Ghee benefits include being loaded in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E.
If you suffer from lactose sensitivity or intolerance, ghee is a fantastic alternative to butter.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Because of its many benefits, olive oil should be included in every diet. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for heart health. A 2013 study found that when people supplemented a Mediterranean diet with EVOO, it reduced the incidence of heart attack or dying of heart disease, probably due to its high levels of monounsaturated fats. (10) EVOO has high amounts of antioxidants, meaning it protects your cells from free radical damage. It also helps improve memory/cognitive function and works as an anti-inflammatory. Since so much disease results from chronic inflammation, this is huge!
Unfortunately, buying EVOO isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. First, note that I recommend only extra virgin olive oil. This means no chemicals are involved when the oil is refined. Unfortunately, many common brands are diluted. (11) A 2011 study by UC Davis found that many top-selling brands failed the standards for extra virgin olive oil; many lawsuits against olive oil companies have been filed.
Some tips for recognizing real EVOO are to be wary of any brand that costs less than $10 a liter; look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council; check the harvesting date on the label; if it’s labeled as “light,” “pure,” or a “blend,” it isn’t virgin quality; and finally, opt for dark bottles, as they protect the oil from oxidation. I only use and recommend Bariani brand EVOO.
I don’t recommend EVOO for cooking at high temperatures because of its low smoke point, but it’s great for making salad dressings or drizzling over cooked foods.
These are just some of the reasons why (the right kind of) fat is good for you.
If you need help making good food choices, learn more in my new book, Be in Health: Bible-Based Health Restoration: Living in Harmony with God’s Ways Regarding Health. Available now.