If you follow the latest health trends at all, you may have noticed that recently – Fat (good healthy fat that is) has really made a strong comeback! Besides the fact that fat is a concentrated source of energy, is necessary for the absorption of certain Vitamins (A, D and E) and is a building block for hormones and cell membranes, 70% of our brain is composed of fat! So, in order to have optimal mental function (stable moods, sharp focus, deep sleep, avoid depression and dementia, etc.) we need adequate amounts and the right kind of this vital nutrient.If you are still a little skeptical and not quite ready to completely dismiss fat as the main felon responsible for our nation’s abominable health statistics, you might find it interesting to consider the fact that we now know many chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer are all rooted in a metabolic problem (referred to as insulin and leptin resistance) that stems not from fat—but rather from a sugar-laden diet that contains too many net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) and or protein. Having this metabolic scenario leads to the storage of fat (weight gain) inflammation and cellular damage and we now know sugar found in processed food and grains is the real villain.
Fat’s Fall from Grace
After the discovery in the 1920’s that a low carb, high fat (ketogenic) diet could help if not cure epileptic seizures, you’d think fat would have continued to be held in high regard. So how on earth were we all misled into thinking that foods rich in fat such as avocado, coconut oil, butter, nuts, seeds, etc. were making us fat when all along sugar, processed food, and sedentary lifestyles were to blame? The story of how we were led down the wrong fat path began with a researcher in the 1950s named Ancel Keys who popularized the theory that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat in one’s diet, and the incidence of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Holes in this theory began to emerge, however, when after we all cut down on fats like butter, eggs, beef, etc. and were told by our doctors to eat margarine, use only partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, etc., our country’s collective health statistics worsened.
According to Sally Fallon Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions and director of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “During the sixty-year period from 1910-1970 the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 lbs. per person per year to four. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable fat in the form of margarine, shortening, and refined oils increased about 400% and the consumption of sugar and processed food increased about 60%.”(1)
Before the 1920’s coronary heart disease and obesity were very rare. Back then, fewer than one in 100 Americans were obese and coronary heart disease was unknown. By the mid 50s heart disease became the leading cause of death in the US, and today it is responsible for 40% of all deaths in this country. Similarly, obesity has continued to rise from being obscure at the turn of the last century to 14% of the population during the 1970’s, 28% of the adult US population in 2010 and 36% of the adult population in 2016. Currently, the number one source of calories in the US diet is high fructose corn syrup mostly in soda and breads.
How Fat Made Its Comeback
In addition to Dr. Robert Atkins popularizing the theory that sugar and carbs rather than saturated fat were the true culprits in causing obesity and other health conditions in the 1990s, we also had some interesting commentary regarding the results of the infamous Framingham Study that contributed to the redemption of fats. The Framingham study began in 1948 (and is often cited as proof that the intake of saturated fat is directly linked to heart disease). However, the former director, Dr. William Castelli, reported the following interpretation of the results in 1992:
“In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. The opposite of what… Keys et al would predict…We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” The former director explains an interesting finding that, “weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet” meaning they found that people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”(2)
I know it sounds so contradictory to what we’ve all been learning all these years! And while I’m not recommending we start eating red meat at every meal or lather on the butter, I do think it may be time to give fat (or at least the good fats) a chance.
Now Fat is Back front and center (healthy fat diets have many different names and slight variations) including: Ketogenic, Bullet Proof, Paleo, Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet etc.
At the base of all these regimens is the idea that a diet which focuses on eating foods high in healthy fats while consuming moderate protein and low net carbs (carb minus fiber) induces a state of ketosis. Ketosis switches the body from burning glucose for fuel to burning fat for fuel. Removing carbs such as bread, fruit juice, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. (low starch vegetables are welcome) induces ketosis. This in turn—according to at least two of the top integrative MDs (Dr. Mercola and Dr. Mark Hyman)—helps us lose weight, increases mental clarity, controls seizures, treats and prevents cancer, reverses and or prevents type-2 Diabetes, etc. Another way to induce ketosis and have the body use fat as fuel instead of glucose is fasting. If you don’t eat for 12-16 hours (referred to as intermittent fasting) the body will naturally go into a fat burning mode.
Ketosis for weight loss: Fat is a more slow burning fuel than sugar and it allows you to feel more energy for longer periods of time. When the ketone level increases as a result of the above mentioned dietary changes, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) will reset itself. As the ketone level rises, the hormones that tell your body you’re satisfied CCK (cholecystokinin) is also activated. At that point hunger pangs and food cravings vanish. Ketones can be measured via a finger prick or urine strips.
Ketosis and Mental Clarity: Ketones are also the preferred fuel for the brain which is why this particular diet improves mental clarity. Although your body will produce ketones internally, it is becoming more and more popular to consume a source of external ketones in the form of Bulletproof Coffee. This is coffee free of mold toxins with added Brain Octane Oil (a more concentrated form of MCT oil) and grass fed butter.
Ketosis and cancer: Cancer cells thrive in high sugar environments because they use glycogen (sugar burned for energy) to survive. It has been suggested that if a host is in a ketogenic state the body’s own immune response may be able to more effectively fight the cancer. Additionally low-to-moderate protein intake (which is part of a ketogenic diet) tends to dampen the pathways that cause cell proliferation.
Tips to consider regarding Ketosis:
• Do some research and consult a nutritionally-oriented health practitioner before starting.
• This is not considered a good diet to do when breastfeeding or if you have Type-1 Diabetes.
• Dr. Mercola feels it is important if you are going to have your body efficiently burn fat as fuel, you need to cycle in and out of ketosis which he says mimics the ancestral pattern or going through periods of feast and famine.
• Another thing to consider is that some individuals who embark on this type of diet eat too much protein and or inferior quality protein (like pork rinds for instance), which only causes more inflammation. Limiting protein to just what the body needs suppresses something called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and when you suppress this pathway, you lower your risk of cancer. Just as with cycling in and out of ketosis, its also suggested you don’t constantly suppress the mTOR either.
Both Sides of the Fat Fence
On one side of the fat fence, we have the author of the China Study: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and brilliant physicians like Dean Ornish, MD and Joel Fuhrman, MD recommending that we not consume animal proteins, nor should any more than 10% of our calories come from fat. On the other side of this debate there are equally smart and respected individuals such as Mark Hyman, MD, Sally Fallon Morell, from the Weston A Price Foundation, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, popular nutritionist and author Ann Louise Gittleman, and others recommending we eat grass fed beef and butter, organ meats, eggs and consume other sources of healthy fats so that a much higher percentage (50-70%) of our calories be from fats.
These opposing views can be a major source of confusion and frustration. But rather than add to the confusion, let’s take from these studies, debates and discussions the gems that they offer.
1. I do think that there is enough good science and information on the important roles of good fats to include more of them in our diets. (Organic cold pressed olive oil, organic coconut oil, grass fed butter, organic eggs, raw organic nuts (soaked), avocados, organic grass fed beef (if you eat meat), bone broth, Omega 3’s from mercury-free fish or krill oil.)
2. When adding healthy fats, processed foods, sugar and foods that convert to sugar should be greatly reduced or eliminated.
3. Low-fat or fat-free diets, especially when those fats are replaced with processed carbs and sugar can result in disastrous health consequences including, ironically enough, obesity, depression, dementia, hormonal problems, anxiety, poor concentration and more.
4. There is also enough information on both sides of the fat debate to definitely remove all sources of trans fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils (found in fried foods, crackers, store bought muffins, chips and other processed food).
After much research and deliberation, I tend to agree with Dr. Mercola’s statement: “In a nutshell, eating fat and protein does not make you fat—carbohydrates do. I firmly believe the two primary keys for successful weight management and reducing your risk for diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related health problems are:
1. Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and …
2. Increasing healthy fat consumption.”
Maureen McDonnell has been a holistic, nutritionally-oriented RN for 40 years and is available for both private health consultation and group presentations. She has been the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine for 6 years and she is the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (SOKHOP.com). She is president of NutritionistsChoice.com, lives in Weaverville, has 9 grandchildren and is an Executive Area Manager with Arbonne, International.
1. Nourishing Traditions reference: US Dept of Agriculture Statistic and The Kellog Report, 1989 The Institute of Health Policy and Practice
2. Castelli, William,, Archives of Internal Medicine, 1992
3. Siri-Tarino, PW, Sun Q et al, Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.Am J. clin Nutr 2010 Mar:91(3):535-46 Epub 2010 Jan 13 4
4. SPatty W Siri Tarino, et all Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease, Am J Clin Nutrition Dece 3, 2009
Eat Fat, Get Thin Mark Hyman, MD
The BulletProof Plan: http://www.bulletproof.com/
The Omega 3 Connection: Andrew L. Stoll, M.D.
Nourishing Traditions: Sally Fallon Morell
Fat Flush Plan: Ann Louise Gittelman, M.S., C.N.S.
Mercola.com article on Ketosis