Low fat is bad news
Fortunately, the low fat dogma of the late 20th century and early 21st century is sloooowly being accepted as the awful nutrition advice it really is. As a matter of fact, Sweden recently became the first Western nation to adopt a low-carb, high-fat approach to nutrition. Way to go, Sweden!
When I explain the importance of dietary fat to my curious friends and clients, I prefer a simple explanation from a biological standpoint, which I share in this post. I find this is more effective than handing them a thick stack of the controlled studies showing that saturated fat consumption doesn’t cause heart disease. But if you want the studies, take a look at this huge meta-analysis from 2010 and this other gigantic one from 2014. They both show that saturated fat intake has no correlation with heart disease!
If you are currently paranoid about eating fat, this post will give you the knowledge and due sense of urgency to correct your diet. If you already consume a balanced-fat diet, this post will provide you with information to share with those who are curious or suspicious of your unconventional eating habits.
1. Healthy bile release requires fat
But what happens when we only have a few measly grams of fats in our meal? Bile release isn’t signaled, so bile sits in the gallbladder, turning thick and viscous. In a vicious cycle, it becomes more difficult for the gallbladder to release bile when bile is thick, so it just gets thicker in the gallbladder. Then, if we do eat a meal heavy in fat, the gallbladder can’t squeeze out the thick bile and the fat passes through our digestive tract undigested and unused for critical tasks in the body.
To make matters worse, the body becomes increasingly toxic because the bile stores toxins and hormones that need to leave the body. If we don’t get rid of that bile, those toxins and old hormones just sit there and can be recirculated.
2. Gallbladder health requires fat
When it comes to the gallbladder, the rule is “use it or lose it.” This makes sense, as we see soaring numbers of gallbladder removals from people who have consumed a low fat or poor fat diet in the past. What happens to the gallbladder after months or years on a low fat diet? After a short stint on a low fat diet, we can create serious gallbladder congestion due to that thick, sticky bile sitting in the gallbladder. Eventually, gallbladder attacks and gallstones occur.
If you currently experience gallbladder problems or have had your gallbladder removed, you should gradually increase your fat intake and take targeted supplements, including ox bile. I recommend working with a nutritional therapist or naturopath to address the problem.
3. Fat-soluble vitamins are found in fat
Vitamins A, D, E and K rare found in fatty foods, because they require lots of fat for absorption. As recorded by nutrition pioneer Weston Price, traditional diets of cultures from around the globe contained 10 times the amount of fat soluble vitamins than the modern diet. The nourishing animal foods considered sacred by traditional cultures, such as dairy products, fish roe, and organ meats, deliver the these vitamins along with the fat needed to absorb the vitamins.
As one example, we can only obtain vitamin A from naturally fat-rich sources like cod liver oil, grassfed dairy, liver, and egg yolks. That’s right, carrots and other vegetables will not provide you with vitamin A!
4. Cholesterol balance requires plenty of good fats
The roles of cholesterol in our body is catastrophically misunderstood thanks to a lot of propaganda by industries that prioritize profits over the the health of their consumers. As evidenced by the eating habits of traditional cultures from across the globe, good health relies on an adequate intake of cholesterol from animal fats.
Science tells us that cholesterol does not cause athersclerosis. As a healing agent in the body, levels of cholesterol rise during periods of stress or when inflammation is present. Providing cholesterol through good quality fats, such as pastured egg yolks and grassfed butter, allows the body to use cholesterol to help address the inflammation.
As a matter of fact, low blood cholesterol levels are associated with (but not proven to cause):
- A higher risk of mortality (1, 2. 3)
- A higher risk of depression (4, 5)
- A higher risk of committing violent crime and suicide (6, 7)
- A higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (8, 9)
One area of confusion is the labeling of LDL as “bad cholesterol” and HDL as “good cholesterol.” We know that high levels of HDL cholesterol is beneficial and we know there are subtypes of LDL cholesterol. The large, fluffy LDL particles are benign but the small, dense LDL is correlated to heart disease.
Sources of saturated fats (like butter, animal fats, and coconut oil) change the dense LDL to fluffy LDL and raise HDL cholesterol… both health protective factors! Processed grains (like cereal) and vegetable oils, however, turn the fluffy LDL into the dense LDL, increasing the risk of heart disease (Source).
For additional information on cholesterol, statin drugs, and cholesterol testing, I highly recommend signing up for Chris Kresser’s newsletter. You’ll get free, instant access to his ebook The Diet-Heart Myth, which clears up cholesterol confusion in plain english. Also, I recommend his book Your Personal Paleo Code to fine-tune your diet into a truly heart-healthy protocol.
5. Blood sugar balance requires fat
Whenever we eat a source of carbohydrate, it should be accompanied by a quality source of fat. Fat slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and prevents sugar highs and sugar crashes. This keeps us full longer so we can reach or maintain a healthy weight.
When food producers and healthy cookbook authors jumped on the low-fat bandwagon, they realized that reducing the fat in food eliminated moisture and flavor. So, they compensated by increasing the sugar content. Increased sugar and decreased fat means bad, bad news for blood sugar regulation. No wonder we are seeing skyrocketing numbers of diabetes!
6. Protein utilization requires fat
Adequate fat is necessary for the proper digestion and utilization of proteins. Frequent consumption of protein without fat depletes fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A. According to nutrition expert Sally Fallon:
Protein cannot be adequately utilized without dietary fats. That is why protein and fats occur together in eggs, milk, fish and meats. A high protein, low fat diet can cause many problems including too rapid growth and depletion of vitamin A and D reserves. Source and read more.
If we examine the eating habits of our parents and grandparents (and great grandparents, for those in my generation) , we see that lean protein is a thoroughly modern invention. Great-grandma would never serve egg white omelets, for goodness sakes! After all, the vitamins and fatty acids in the yolk are required to utilize the protein in the white.
7. Hormone balance requires fat
We must consume sources of cholesterol-rich saturated fats to provide the building blocks for sex hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Without enough dietary cholesterol, women often become very deficient in progesterone. For men, a low fat diet means low testosterone… and you know what that means, guys!
Low fat diets also undermine balanced hormones by preventing the detox of excess hormones, particularly estrogen. When there is excess estrogen in the body, it is packaged into the bile so it can be excreted with food waste. If bile is not being released, then old estrogen sits in the liver and gallbladder and can be recirculated in the body.
Modern lifestyles lead to estrogen dominance for many men and women, since stress and poor diet increases estrogen synthesis and reduces detox of old hormones. For women, estrogen dominance means PMS and menopausal symptoms. For men, this often manifests as erectile dysfunction or “man boobs.”
8. Detox requires fat
The liver acts like a toxin filter for our entire body. After collecting toxins, it packages them in bile. If things work correctly, the gallbladder releases bile when we digest our food and the toxins in the bile leave the body with the feces.
If we aren’t consuming adequate to signal bile release, however, then the toxins build up in both the liver and gallbladder. The toxic load increases overtime and the body can reabsorb these stagnant toxins.
You may not see a knob of butter as a detox-promoting food, but it actually is! By stimulating bile release, good sources of saturated fats like butter encourage detox, balanced hormones and weight loss.
What happens when you reach for a few rice cakes or a low-fat protein bar as an afternoon snack? You feel ravenous and desperately crave sugar in under an hour. When we take a calorie-for-calorie approach, 200 calories of coconut oil is going to keep you full for at least 2-3 hours, while those 200 calories of whole-grain cereal and skim milk will leave you starving an hour later.
Fat signals satiation because it digests slowly, providing long-burning energy. Also important, it makes food taste delicious so that we end a meal with thoroughly satisfied taste buds. Additionally, it supports detox – a key part of losing stubborn weight.
If you want to lose weight, adequate fat MUST be part of the picture! Not only will it leave you feeling full, it supports detox and liver health… two necessities for weight management.
10. Fat makes food taste good
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, fat makes food enjoyable. If you browse cookbooks from the 1800’s, you’ll find that every vegetable recipe contains copious amounts of butter, lard, egg yolks, pork, and/or cream. Plain steamed vegetables would be a completely foreign concept to home cooks of that era. Homemakers understood that plenty of whole food fats created delicious meals and, as a result, each family member eagerly finished off a serving of spinach… because it was swimming in fresh cream and dollops of butter.
Nourishing sources of fats makes healthy food taste delicious. It isn’t a shame that butter and egg yolks taste so good… it’s nature’s way of telling us that these foods are good for us!
How much fat is enough?
As a general rule of thumb, we should eat no less than 40% of our calories as fat. Many individuals thrive on a 50% fat diet and some people feel best on as much as 60% of calories as fat.
For a 2,000 calorie diet, obtaining 40% of calories from fat means eating about 90 grams of fat. Over the course of the day, if we are eating real foods prepared from scratch, an example looks roughly like:
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. coconut oil (coconut oil is extremely healthful but it will not stimulate bile production, according to my extremely knowledgeable mentor. Consume it in addition to animal fats)
- 2 whole eggs
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 serving fatty steak (grassfed, of course!)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup full-fat ice cream
As you can see, the fats in this example are primarily saturated fats from the coconut oil, dairy, eggs, and meat. The avocado provides healthy monounsaturated fats. Vegetable oils should be completely avoided, because the high ratio of polyunsaturated fats is unnatural and inflammatory. Nuts and seeds (with the exception of coconut) should be consumed only in small amounts to prevent an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3… but that discussion is a whole different blog post, and it is coming soon!
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