There is a tremendous amount of food mythology that exists in modern society, and Peoples is on a mission to myth-bust. One of the most distressing things that we commonly hear in the stores, our delis and even around town is the overwhelming concern that consumers have for fat in their food and the shockingly strong misconception that if something is “fat-free” then it’s healthy.
This myth stops today. Although fat-free was a huge idea in medicine through parts of the ‘80s and ‘90s, research recently has shown overwhelmingly that not only is fat not the enemy, it’s one of the greatest tools we have against conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
I. Healthy Fats Help You Lose Weight!
Fats got a bad reputation for weight loss because they are calorie dense, and it’s easy to jump to the idea that eating fat adds fat to the saddlebags. Nothing could be further from the truth. The human body, except in rare situations of extreme excess, does not store fat from the diet as fat in your body. Fat is actually the preferred fuel source for your cells because it breaks down extremely slowly and so can fuel the body for a long time without any peaks or dips in energy.
In our modern world, however, there is always an overwhelming amount of sugar in the system, so the body tries to burn that first to get rid of it because it’s dangerous to have too much sugar in the bloodstream. The sugar and complex sugars (or starch) that can’t be burned short-term do get stored in the form of fat. So essentially, the fats in your diet help to maintain a steady metabolism, while the sugars, carbs and starches are actually stored as fat. Some fats, like the MCT, or medium chain triglycerides, in coconut oil have actually been shown to help boost metabolism and have been shown to enhance thermogenesis.(1) Thermogenesis is the process of boosting metabolism via heat production. MCTs can be found in raw form in whole coconut oil or in a purified form in MCT oil from NuMedica or from Crayhon Research.
II. Fats for Heart Health
Medium Chain Triglycerides, like those from coconut oil, have also been shown to be a huge boost to heart health for a number of reasons. One is a subtle anti-coagulative effect that helps to protect the blood vessels from micro-clots and have also been shown to lower cholesterol levels in animal studies.(2) Additionally, in human studies, MCTs have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the liver and other bodily tissues.(3,4) As if that wasn’t enough, medium chain triglycerides also have an anti-oxidant effect that protects the blood vessels from oxidative and inflammatory damage and to reduce the need for Vitamin E.(5)
There is no use stopping at MCTs however, as one of the most beneficial fats in the human diet is also the most maligned, and that is the fat from butter. That’s right, butter. A study using clarified butter, or ghee, which is the the fat with all of the dairy proteins filtered out, showed remarkable results for heart disease. Ghee, when researched at 10% of total calorie intake and above (that’s a lot of ghee), showed a dose-dependent effect in lowering total cholesterol, serum LDL, liver and organ cholesterol, phospholipids and cholesterol-esters.(6) In fact, higher ghee consumption is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in human studies.(6) Ghee is best used as a daily part of the diet and the Organic Ghee from Pure Indian Foods at Peoples Rx is delicious.
For those who don’t like the taste of butter, there are also Blue Ice Royal Butter Oil gel caps from Green Pasture. As if that wasn’t enough evidence of fats being heart-healthy, there is also the ridiculous wealth of information about fish oil for heart disease. There is a literal avalanche of information showing the cardio-protective effects of the omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil in humans. Fish oils lower cholesterol and more importantly, decrease inflammation in the blood vessels, which is the biggest factor in heart disease and atherosclerosis.(7) The beneficial effects of these oils has been demonstrated both from dietary sources of fatty fish as well as from nutritional supplements. In terms of supplements there are many to choose from, but some of the favorites at Peoples include Whole Mega from New Chapter, Omega-950 from NuMedica, and good old fashioned Cod Liver Oil from Carlson’s. For kiddos and those who can’t tolerate the thought of taking fish oil in a capsule, there is also the miraculous OmegaSwirl from Barlean’s that tastes just like dessert.
III. Fats to Help Diabetes, Pre-Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Many companies market “fat-free” products to diabetics with the subtle hint that it will help with the condition, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, since the “fat-free” movement diabetes has skyrocketed, it is now affecting almost a billion people worldwide. That is one out of every seven people on the planet. Part of the problem is that if you take the fat out of the diet, then what is typically left is carbohydrates, starches and sugars because certainly people weren’t substituting veggies for fats. Dietary carbohydrate intake soared and led, inevitably, to a diabetes epidemic. Sugar, starch and carbohydrates are the culprit here – the known, documented, unavoidable cause of diabetes. Fats actually help to protect against some of these negative effects of carbs. MCTs from coconut oil have been shown to have a slight blood-sugar lowering effect, but also, a diet higher in MCTs than other types of fats has been shown to increase lifespan in animal studies.(4)
IV. Other Beneficial Functions of Fats
In addition to helping with the biggest, most chronic epidemic diseases above, fats also have routine day-to-day functions in the human body that are important for maintaining optimal health. Those include:
- Cell membranes are made of fats and proper insulin response, neurotransmitter response and overall cellular function are entirely fat-dependent
- The brain is hardwired to watch for fats in food, which means fats have the strongest effect on your hunger hormones. Higher fat meals help your body to feel full more quickly, therefore reducing the total amount of food eaten.
- Higher fat diets support human growth hormone levels, as well as correct levels of the sex hormones which means that muscle growth and maintenance are supported on a diet rich in beneficial fats.
- Dietary fats are critical for reproductive health in both men and women and help to boost fertility – especially the fats found in butter and ghee.
- Healthy Fats in the diet lead to better brain function, improved mood and reduced risk of depression.(8)
- Monounsaturated fats such as those in olive oil actually help to protect against cancer progression and a diet high in saturated fats has been shown to help protect against pancreatic cancer. (9)
- Fat soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D, E and K all need dietary fats for absorption and are found only in foods with beneficial fats such as cod liver oil, liver, wheat germ and dark green leafy veggies.
The mythology that fat is unhealthy should end here. Choosing good sources of dietary fats such as coconut oil, organic butter or ghee, avocados, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and clean cooking oils such as olive helps to protect and boost health, mood, longevity and yes, even weight loss.
Baba, N., Bracco, E.F., Seylar, J., Hashim, S.A. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diets containing medium chain triglycerides. J Am Soc Clin Nutrition, 1981, 34: 624.
Stewart, J.W., Wiggers, K.D., Jacobsen, N.L., Berger, P.J. Effect of various triglycerides on blood and tissue cholesterol of calves, J Nutr, 1978, 108: 561-566.
Bach, A.C., and Babayan, V.K. Medium-chain triglycerides: An update. Am J Clin Nutr, 1982, 36: 950-962.
Kaunitz, H. Medium Chain Triglycerides in Aging and Atherosclerosis, in: Advances in Human Nutrition, Vol 3, by J. Kabara (ed), Chem-Orbital, POB 134, Park Forest, IL 60466.
Kaunitz, H., Slanetz, C.A., Johnson, R.E., Babayan, V.K., Garsky, G. Nutritional properties of the triglycerides of medium chain-length. J Am Oil Chem Soc, 1958, 35: 10-13.
Sharma, H., Zhang X., Dwivedi, C. The effect of ghee (clarified butter) on serum lipid levels and on microsomal lipid peroxidation. Ayurveda. 2010 Apr-Jun; 31(2): 134–140.
Weitz D M.D., Weintraub H M.D., Fisher E M.D., Schwartzbard A Z M.D., Fish oil for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Cardiol Rev. 2010 Sep-Oct; 18(5): 258–263.
Greenwood, C., Young, S. Dietary fat intake and the brain: a developing frontier in biological psychiatry. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 2001. 26(23), 182-184.
Ten Amazing Benefits of Eating Fat. The Poliquin Group.
by Amy Neuzil, ND* You can visit her blog for more wellness entries.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.