Years ago I attended a seminar that really changed the way I view exercise, nutrition, and healthy living. For the early part of my career as a San Diego fitness trainer, I would accept information that was given to me without really questioning it. What I realized is this. There is so much garbage out there being fed to the general public in regards to exercise and nutrition, and what it means to be truly healthy. It is with that mind-set that I created True Balance Fitness. To help shed light on what it means to truly live a healthy life in balance.
Today, I want to discuss the biggest farce ever created in regards to healthy eating. I still meet people that follow these recommendations, and are suffering from diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity because of it. I am hoping that I will be able to impact some people the way this seminar impacted me. I want people to question the why behind what they are told.
What am I talking about you ask? I’m talking about the popular low-fat, complex carbohydrate craze that has turned out to be a highly profitable lie for sectors of our medical and pharmaceutical establishment at the expense of the health of the American population. Let me give you a short background on how this idea came to fruition. Then we will discuss what types of fat there are, where to find it and how much you should be consuming to be eating the healthy way.
In the 1950’s a biochemist by the name of Ancel Keys submitted a paper for publication titled, “The Seven Countries Study.” In this paper there appeared to be a statistical relationship between the amount of fat consumed in a given country and the incidence of heart attacks. However, what he neglected to share in his paper are the stats from the other 15 countries in which some countries had low fat consumption and high cardiovascular disease (CVD) and high fat consumption and low CVD. If the study was analyzed in its entirety the conclusion would have been there is no relationship between fat intake and CVD. Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened. Keys recommended people to follow a diet rich in vegetable oils (corn and soy) and grains to theoretically mimic a Mediterranean diet. These three crops also are the easiest to mass produce and harvest in the US. Coincidence, I think not. Italy and Greece had better overall health than North America; however, those of you who may have visited these countries know this isn’t really representative of how these cultures eat.
This “idea” drew interest from the population, and seemed to make sense to most people. Fat creates fat right? You look at the calories in a gram of fat (9 calories/gram) compared to carbohydrates and protein (4 calories/gram), and according to the rule of thermodynamics, if one consumes more calories than they burn, than they gain weight. So if you eat fewer calories per gram of food then you can lose weight. Not exactly. It’s more important the type of food you eat more than the overall calories. Carbohydrates for example, release insulin in the body which can drive hunger and fat storage. Fat and protein consumption reduce the total calorie intake over the course of the day due to the increase in satiety.
In every clinical trial performed, low carbohydrate diets provide more weight loss and better CVD prevention than high-carb, low fat alternatives. Now, I could write on and on about this, but I am going to let you read the following books that will give even further background on this topic, Protein Power or Good Calories, Bad Calories.
What’s what with fats?
I will briefly touch on the three main types of fat found in a common diet: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The main difference between these three is the amount of saturation of hydrogen around carbon atoms. This has a large impact on how the fat affects your health after ingested.
Saturated fats have long been blamed for being the cause of CVD. The reality is that saturated fats are relatively benign and actually pretty helpful. There are three types of saturated fatty acids: lauric, almitic, and stearic.
Lauric acid is found in palm, coconut, and breast milk. It has properties that help heal gut irritation, and help with reversing autoimmune diseases. It can impact overall LDL cholesterol levels but have been found to be harmless, unless paired with a high carb diet.
Palmitic acid is found in palm oil, animal products such as eggs, beef, poultry, and seafood. Palmitic acid is vital for cognitive function especially when it comes to forming new memories and accessing old memories.
Stearic acid found in eggs, meat, and chocolate has been shown to increase HDL levels.
A high intake of these saturated fats becomes an issue when it is in conjunction with a high intake of carbohydrates. In short, a high intake of carbohydrates elevates insulin levels which when combined with LDL particles it creates small, dense, and easily oxidized particles that lead to atherosclerosis over time, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. However, by not eating an overabundance of carbohydrates, this has not been a problem for other cultures, like the Kitavins.
Monounsaturated fats have one variety that is found more predominately which is oleic acid. It can be found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and even grain-fed meat. They have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, prevent oxidative damage from aging and decrease cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats that if you do not get enough or in the right ratios you will have big problems. These can be broken down into omega 3s and 6s.
You have Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). ALA found in flax, hemp, and other plant sources is sub-par to EPA and DHA when it comes to performance, health, and longevity. EPA and DHA are only found in animal sources like wild fish, game, and grass-fed meat. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA but it is a painfully inefficient process. It will keep you alive, but not help you thrive (sorry vegans of the world). EPA is a potent anti-inflammatory and an aid in prevention of cancer. DHA also has anti-inflammatory properties in addition to aiding in normal cognitive functions.
There are four types of omega 6 fatty acids. For simplicity sake let’s focus on the two most commonly found: Linoleic acid (LA) and Arachidonic acid (AA). LA is found in vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, and soy and has been shown to have pro-inflammatory properties. It can also block the anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA. AA is found predominately in animal products and plays a large role in metabolic pathways controlling inflammation.
This is the Frankenstein of fats that was created only fifty years ago by chemists looking to make polyunsaturated fats like corn and soybean resemble saturated fats at room temperature. They were created by exposing the oil to heat, hydrogen gas and a catalyst. These fats ruin liver function, and destroy insulin sensitivity. If you want to board an express train to diabetes and heart disease, this is your ticket.
Putting 2 and 2 Together
Are you still awake? I didn’t mean to bore you with the details, but I feel that it is important that you have a clear understanding of all the types of fats out there and what they can do to your body. At this point I am sure you are wondering how you lose weight and at the same time improve health, reverse chronic disease, and prolong your life.
I have compiled a list of the five main takeaways from this article:
- Minimize your carbohydrate consumption. The average person’s body does not need more than 2 servings of carbohydrates a day. The exception to this would be endurance athletes.
- Eat saturated fats. There are some populations that 40% of their food intake is saturated fat and do not show any incidence of CVD. The key is to keep carbohydrate consumption low.
- Have a healthy balance of omega3s to 6s in your diet. Consume wild caught fish, grass-fed meat, vegetarian chickens and their eggs. Avoid processed foods that are laced heavily with Omega 6s. Supplement with a daily fish oil supplement.
- Avoid trans-fats like the plague.
- Research for yourself what is indeed healthy. Do not think for a second that food manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and the government have your best interest in mind. Always research and question what you are told about what is healthy for you. I encourage you to read more on this if you are skeptical.
Sorry again for the long winded article. I hope that this helps change the way some people view fats in their diet, and hopefully will prevent weight gain, CVD, and diabetes in their future. Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in learning more about my San Diego nutrition coaching programs.