Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fat Does Not Make You Fat

The word FAT naturally makes people think of being overweight and all the associated health problems that brings. However, dietary fat is not the same as body fat. As discussed in my carbohydrates article, it is carbohydrates that cause the release of insulin and it is insulin that traps excess sugar in the body and stores it as body fat. Dietary fat is a vital food component that we need to eat daily.

Health benefits of dietary fat

The brain is made up of 60% fat and dietary fat is needed to help with:
protein absorption;
carbohydrate absorption;
breakdown of nutrients;
manufacture of hormones and much much more.

It is fat that triggers the brain to recognise that you are full, once you've eaten a certain amount of fat then it sets off a chain reaction that tells your body to stop eating. Carbs and protein do not have the same effect which is how you can easily overeat them, particularly carbs.

It is fat that stimulates the release of bile from your gall bladder. Bile is a vital part of the digestive process as it helps break down food so it can be absorbed and used by the body. Skimmed milk does not contain enough fat to trigger the release of bile, if no bile is released then the milk can't be broken down properly and the calcium in the milk can't then be absorbed. Low-fat milk has enough fat in it to trigger the gall bladder so it is a much better option than skimmed milk.

What happens if you don't eat enough fat?

A deficiency of fat in the diet can cause carbohydrate cravings (which then leads to putting on more weight), mood disorders, depression, infertility, insomnia and brittle nails / dry skin / thin hair.

Oestrogen is needed for various bodily functions and it also raises HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. A low-fat, high-carb diet depletes oestrogen levels and this can therefore lead to higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. See below for more about cholesterol.

Which fats are healthy?

All natural fats are good for you. Your diet should be 30% fat.

You will get enough fat in your diet if you eat olive oil on your salads, a moderate amount of butter (real butter - not margarine), eggs, red meat, poultry, fish, avocado, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds.

Omega 3 is a vital fat - plus it is highly anti-inflammatory as discussed in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet posting. It is found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. It also boosts metabolism, so you burn up the food you eat more efficiently.
Omega 6 is also important and is found in leafy greens, pulses and grains. As Monica Reinagel discovered, meat and factory farmed salmon have higher levels of Omega 6 than in the past due to the fact they are fed on a grain diet nowadays and too much Omega 6 leads to inflammation.

Oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado are very good fats and should be eaten regularly - they contain Omega 3 and essential fatty acids.

Butter, cheese, mayonnaise and meat/poultry are important fat sources so they should be eaten often but in moderation.

Excess meat fat, lard and heated cold-pressed oils (i.e. cooking with olive oil) should be eaten minimally because they contain bad fats.

Trans-fats, deep fried foods, margarine, buttermilk, non-dairy creamers and processed foods using hydrogenated / partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided. Why?
- Vegetable oils are extracted using heat and this changes their molecular structure to create poisonous trans-fatty acids. Trans-fats clog the arteries and can contribute to serious conditions including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
- Margarine is man-made and cannot be properly digested, plus most contain trans-fatty acids. Liquid oils are hydrogenated to make them solid but many are only partially hydrogenated (so they melt with heat) and it is these partially hydrogenated oils that contain high levels of trans fats.
- Olive oil is cold-pressed so it is safe to eat but even olive oil changes its molecular structure if you cook with it and this could contribute to health problems.

Cooking with a little butter is a much better option since this is a natural fat that the body can break down and digest properly.

According to wikipedia, the most health-damaging oils are those that contain high levels of poly-unsaturated fats (soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil) as they can lead to the formation of cancers. Oils high in mono-unsaturated oils (olive oil, canola / rapeseed oil, peanut oil) are much safer to eat. Palm oil and coconut oil have been found to be the most dangerous oils for your health. If you read this entry (click link above) then it will really put you off vegetable oils!

What about cholesterol?

Cholesterol is needed by the body to build hormones, membranes and other internal structures. The liver uses cholesterol to manufacture bile acids which are required to digest and absorb nutrients from food. Cholesterol also insulates the nerves and if this is lacking then nerve disorders can result. Cholesterol also protects against ageing of the brain and heart. A lack of cholesterol can lead to weaker cell membranes and a weak immune system which can increase the vulnerability of the cells to diseases such as cancer.

Judy Cole found in her patients that often when they had a virus, their cholesterol levels would rise as a protection mechanism. Once the virus had passed, the cholesterol went back down. In the case of long-term or chronic illness, she found that cholesterol levels stayed high as a protection for the body and that taking medication to reduce the cholesterol could then leave the body open to more damage from the virus.

There is bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL). LDL can accumulate along and clog your arteries, HDL takes LDL back to the liver to be excreted and so the HDL helps keep your arteries clear.

If you do not eat enough cholesterol then your body will release an enzyme which then begins to over-produce cholesterol - this is because your body cannot function without some cholesterol. It is believed that it is this self-made cholesterol that leads to artery plaque which results in heart attacks and strokes. As long as you eat enough cholesterol then this enzyme won't be activated / will switch off.

The best sources of cholesterol are: eggs, meat, avocado, shellfish and dairy products. Cole recommends that if you have high cholesterol then you need to shut off the dangerous enzyme that is over-producing cholesterol. The way to do this is to eat 2 eggs a day, 5-7 days per week (i.e. a total of 10-14 eggs a week). Cholesterol levels will rise initially but then the body will recognise that it's receiving enough cholesterol (after about 3 months) and it will shut off the enzyme. I have personally heard of one man who tried this and his doctor could not believe how much his cholesterol had fallen by.

In the last century people ate a diet much higher in saturated fat (high in cholesterol) such as butter but there was a much lower incidence of heart disease then than there is now. Saturated fats contain both LDL and HDL but trans fats (cooking oils, margarine) contain LDL and cause the lowering of HDL (good cholesterol) levels. It is widely accepted in the medical community that trans-fats contribute to heart disease. There are suggestions, not fully researched, that they also contribute to Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, obesity, infertility and liver disfunction. See wikipedia for more info.

Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that in the 1960s 13% of Americans were obese, today 34% of Americans are obese and Type II diabetes has risen from less than 1% of the population to 8%. This is despite people eating less saturated fat and choosing to eat vegetable fats instead. Their findings show that it is not the presence of cholesterol in your food that causes high cholesterol, it is the type of fats being eaten - trans fats in particular since they raise LDL and lower HDL. They also found that eating fat-free products often means eating more carbohydrates / sugar because manufacturers have to replace the fat content with something and so this leads to weight gain. Following a low fat diet means that good fats as well as bad fats are not eaten and this has negative consequences for your health, as seen above.

So the bottom line is - good fats are not just good for you they are vital to your health. As with everything though, moderation is the key!


  1. Hey Ruth,

    Did not read all your postings yet but I am very impressed about the scientific content of your discussions !
    Very well done, girl !
    I am proud of you !
    In a way, you're joining me:
    - you by learning, teaching, informing and eating (:-))
    - me by putting my scientific input (and also eating....)

    By seeing some of your pics, I must say that I feel like visiting you in Dubaï !!!!

    Hope this will happen soon :-)


  2. So is it better to cook with a bit of butter? This is all really interesting. I have been cooking with olive oil which clearly is a mistake. Yikes! I'd better make some changes.

  3. According to Judy Cole it is much better to cook with butter since heat doesn't change its molecular structure. Obviously not half a packet of butter though!! For stir fries butter doesn't get hot enough though, so for that you will need oil. From what I read, canola oil is better for you to cook with than olive oil and olive oil is much better on salads than any other oil.

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