“Most of what we need to know about how to eat we already know, or once did until we allowed the nutrition experts and the advertisers to shake our confidence in common sense, tradition, the testimony of our senses, and the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers.” ~Michael Pollan
It’s no secret that the typical American diet is greatly swayed by food fads and ever-changing government recommendations. Many of us have lost touch of our innate knowledge about how to nourish our bodies. If you feel confused about what is “healthy” and how you should eat, trust me, you are not alone.
Over the years, Americans have been presented with many confusing “facts” and misinformation about food, and one very problematic piece of advice involves fat in our diet. We were taught that eating fat makes us fat, that high-fat foods can cause heart attacks and other chronic disease, and that fats should be consumed sparingly (as noted on the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid). You might be surprised to find out that this information is not the truth.
The low-fat campaign started gaining momentum in 1953 when Dr. Ancel Keys published a study that linked dietary fat intake with coronary heart disease (CHD). Later, it was discovered that he “cherry-picked” the data from only seven countries that proved his correlation between dietary fats and CHD, rather than including all available data from 22 countries. If all countries had been analyzed, there would be no correlation found at all. Further, in 1988, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office released a report on the dangers of dietary fat and its connection with coronary heart disease that triggered a cascade of changes in the American diet for many years to come. Unfortunately, this report was flawed and not based on sound science.
However, during the past 30-40 years, Americans have associated healthy eating with avoided dietary fat, and the food industry has taken full advantage by creating and marketing over 15,000 reduced-fat food products. This “fear of fat” has caused us to cut out nutritious fats and replace them with more processed grains, vegetable oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sugars. What has been the result? An unfortunate and drastic surge in diabetes and obesity, both of which increase heart disease risk.
It is time to shift our thinking about dietary fats and happily welcome them back onto our plates. Did you know that fats are crucial for every system in your body, especially the brain, which is over 60% fat? In addition, they provide the building blocks for cell membranes, help to regulate hormones, protect the immune system, and increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, and K). Eating the right types of fat can also promote weight loss and actually reduce risk of heart disease.
Let’s get clear, the type of fat truly matters because not all fats are the same. Good sources of healthy fat can include: coconuts and coconut oil, avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts (i.e., walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, and almonds), seeds (chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and hemp), grass-fed meats, organic eggs, and butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk. It is really important to avoid margarine, vegetable oil spreads, and oils of canola, soybean, safflower, vegetable, peanut, cottonseed, and corn- all of which are highly processed, can be genetically modified, and promote inflammation in the body.
It is not widely understood that some fats can withstand high temperatures better than others. To prevent damage or oxidation of oils when cooking, follow these simple tips. In general, saturated fats, like coconut oil, ghee, and organic butter are best under high heat, and avocado oil, known for its high smoke point, can also handle medium-high temperatures. Olive oil (mostly monounsaturated fats) keeps its integrity at medium-low temperatures but is ideally used raw on salads or veggies. Nut and seed oils (i.e., walnut or flaxseed) supply important essential fatty acids but should always be consumed raw, as they are very unstable when heated.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Please consider joining a free online summit hosted by New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mark Hyman. In The Fat Summit, Dr. Hyman will interview 30+ of the world’s top experts, as they reveal the truth about fat – and what it really takes to lose weight, feel great, and reverse chronic disease. This event airs for free online January 25-February 1, but you have to RSVP to save your spot. Find out more here: The Fat Summit
Mercola.com, “Heart Specialist Calls for Major Repositioning on Saturated Fat, as It’s NOT the Cause of Heart Disease”, November 2013
Gary Taubes, “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat”, Science, Vol. 291, No. 5513 (March 30, 2001), pp. 2536-2541, 2543-2545
Mercola.com, “The Cholesterol Myth That Is Harming Your Health”, August 2010
Leslie is the creator of Mindful Dine, a community dedicated to inspiring nutritious eating and healthy living. She is a self-taught cook, writer, marine scientist, ocean lover and wellness advocate. Leslie is passionate about wholesome, healing food and enjoys inspiring others to be active participants in their health. A native Texan, she now lives in Puerto Rico with her husband.