Does eating fat really make you fat? Is butter bad for you? Store shelves are still loaded with low-fat and-fat free products, so it seems that many people are on board with this notion. But recent evidence is showing that we’ve been told a big fat lie, and that eating fat does not cause weight gain or disease anymore than eating chicken can turn you into a bird.
Dr. Mark Hyman, the physician called in to help President Clinton recover from his bypass surgery, warns that it isn’t the fats, but rather processed carbohydrates that make us fat and sick. He points to a review of data from the British Journal of Medicine that shatters the myth that fat causes obesity and heart disease. Researchers found that while lowering saturated fat in the diet may lower total cholesterol, it’s actually lowering the good kind of LDL cholesterol, and not the bad kind.
The green light on eating fat given by Dr. Hyman even includes saturated fat. Another of the studies he notes refuted the idea that reducing dietary saturated fat improves cardiovascular health. Researchers summarized the evidence related to dietary saturated fat and risk of coronary heart disease, stoke, and cardiovascular disease. They found that there was no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease.
One of the characteristics of dietary fat is its ability to make people feel satiated and complete after eating a normal-sized meal. When there is less fat consumed, the tendency is to try to find the feeling of satiety by eating more starchy and sugary foods. But since these cannot match the feelings produced by fats, the outcome is to eat even more and more starches and sugars, which can lead to tremendous weight gain.
Interestingly, a study from the University of California found that most people who have a heart attack also have normal overall cholesterol levels. But Type 2 diabetes is prevalent in this cohort, probably the result of eating so many processed carbohydrates.
What fats does Dr. Hyman suggest we eat? Here’s his list:
Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pecans, but not peanuts
Seeds including pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp
Fatty fish including sardines, mackerel, herring, and wild salmon
Extra virgin olive oil
Grass-fed sustainably raised animal products
Saturated fats such as extra virgin coconut butter
“The American public became participants in the largest uncontrolled experiment in history,” says nutrition authority Kris Gunnars, referring to the fact that we have been advised for more than four decades to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, even though there was no evidence to support that advice.
Gunnars notes that the experiment has not turned out well, and we are still suffering the consequences in the form of the obesity epidemic, which began shortly after the low-fat guidelines were issued (followed by the diabetes epidemic). While these events are only correlational, it seems that low-fat eating has led to people dismissing such healthy whole foods as butter, meat and eggs, and replacing them with processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and low on the nutritional scale.
Several large studies in the past few years have found no advantage to the low-fat diet. “Despite miserable results from these studies, many nutritionists all over the world continue to recommend the low-fat diet,” says Gunnars.
Another doctor, Weston Price, knew all this as far back as the 1930’s. He was a dentist who searched for an answer to tooth decay in many parts of the globe by studying the diets of indigenous people. He found that butter and other saturated fats were staples in the diets of populations displaying supreme health. When butter and other saturated fats were a central ingredient in the diet, children grew to be robust, sturdy and free of tooth decay.
The dietary guidelines of The Weston Price Foundation were posted in the year 2000, before the natural health movement got underway, and they are echoed in many of today’s natural health articles.
The Weston Price Foundation’s guideline for fats is: Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller pressed sesame and flax oil, and the tropical oils — coconut and palm.