It is customary for celebrities, professional athletes, authors, and corporate figureheads to hire a publicist to oversee their public persona, and on some occasions to help weather a media storm in the wake of controversy or bad press.
Fat needs a publicist, too.
When we speak about fat, there is only one type of fat worthy of legitimate dialogue — natural, wholesome, good fats from plants and animals. Industrialized cooking oils like corn, vegetable and canola, and partially hydrogenated oil, like trans fat, which for so long was believed to be safer than other fat, do not have a place at the table.
Good fats must unionize in a campaign to shed disproven lies that linger decades after the negative and unjust publicity surrounding fat began. By understanding the origin of this public attack and by educating ourselves about modern nutrition research, we can restore fat’s tarnished image to that of a crucial macronutrient that supports cellular function, good health and longevity.
While the reputations of individual dietary fats such as omega-3 found in fatty fish, walnuts and eggs, and monounsaturated fat found in olive oil have improved over the years, public scrutiny for saturated fat from coconuts and beef remains high due to observational studies dating back to the 1950s that connected high consumption of this fat to cardiovascular disease.
Science has long shown that connection is not causation. Yet, we as a society retain an undeserved loyalty to the USDA’s Food Pyramid that guided how we prioritized our diet and macronutrients, and continue to see saturated fat with suspicion.
With so much information about health, food, and diet flying around at the speed of light, and our ever-growing consumption of that information, let’s separate health fact from health fiction. Especially as we close out Heart Health Month, we tackle the topic of fat and cardiovascular health.
Everyone is concerned about their cholesterol levels, and their triglycerides levels…and it seems to be with good reason, heart disease is the number one killer of women and men, and causes more deaths than cancer. A poor diet, specifically a high-fat diet, has been associated with increased risks of heart-related complications. But is it that simple?
There are three main types of fat: unsaturated, saturated, and trans. Each type is the same number of calories but differs in chemical shape and role within the body. We have been told that unsaturated fats should make up the bulk of fat sources while saturated fats should be responsible for less than 10% of the total fat calories and trans fats should be too negligible levels or as low as possible. Unsaturated and saturated fatty acids are essential nutrients, meaning they are foundational to optimal health and must be consumed through the diet. Unsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, plant sources, and some seafood. Saturated fats are found in most animal proteins, seafood, dairy, and some plant oils such as coconut or palm. Trans fats are chemically created and should never be consumed due to their detrimental effect on our health.
Saturated fat has been villainized as one of the leading culprits of major diseases plaguing the country. Association studies have repeatedly found levels of saturated fat in the diet directly proportional to heart disorders. Therefore, the higher the saturated fat in the diet, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, high-fat diets have been linked to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased body fat, and obesity-related disorders. But a deeper analysis of these studies reveals that there is no correlation between high-fat diets and cardiovascular disease.
It is the diets that are high in fat and also high in carbohydrates are most closely related to cardiovascular disease.
But, high-fat diets in the absence of carbohydrates, such as the high-fat keto diet, has repeatedly been found to lead to improvements in metabolic health and better weight management. In fact, some of these studies even increased saturated fat to more than six times the recommended amount and found that not only was weight easier to manage but that cholesterol and cardiometabolic health markers all uniformly improved. These studies have been replicated in several populations with similar results that a correctly designed high-fat diet has a positive impact on heart health.
Furthermore, increased levels of saturated fat may be protective against heart-related complications. Despite this compelling evidence, nutrition advice still focuses on decreasing dietary fat with the notion that it will benefit health, especially heart health. This information is outdated, misleading, and dangerous.
Below are examples of how cardiovascular health may improve while following the keto diet:
- Decreasing Triglycerides
- Improving insulin sensitivity
- Improving blood glucose management
- Improving cholesterol panel, including increasing HDL (“good” cholesterol)
- Reducing high blood pressure
- Reducing body weight while maintaining muscle mass
- May aid in improving vasculature (endothelial lining is improved – this sensitive part of the cardiovascular system is often damaged in heart disease, so preservation means reduced incidences of blockages)
Many studies suggest that retiring the myth is long overdue. There is one scientific review, in particular, that is notable because it is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on saturated fat and heart health. Conducted by Cochrane, an independent organization of 13,000 scientists and 50,000 supporters, the authors reviewed 15 recent studies and over 59,000 male and female participants.
It concluded that reducing the amount of saturated fat consumed did not increase the risk of stroke, heart attack or death. This conclusion was supported by another published study that also included type 2 diabetes in the risk assessment.
Many of you who have watched The Real Skinny On Fat docu-series have described not only a feeling of being duped but of getting to know dietary fat for the very first time. After all, fat—all fat—had been forbidden fruit for a lifetime.
Learning about the difference between good fat and bad fat is a liberating experience. Let us give good fats from natural sources a break. Together we can help rebuild the reputation of a building block of life that is both essential and delicious.