In the 1950’s and 1960’s the waistlines of people in the Western world were slowly expanding, and the incidence of heart disease and diabetes was also slowly on the increase so health researchers around the world were trying to figure out why. There were a lot of theories and studies and the two main arguments to explain the increase in weight were too many sugars and refined carbohydrates, while the second argument was the increase in body fat was caused by and increase in fat consumption. The second argument won the debate, on flawed evidence!
An influential researcher by the name of Ancel Keys was convinced that the health problems were caused by an increase in fat and he released a study called “the 7 countries study” to prove his theory. This study quite clearly showed that countries with the highest fat consumption had the highest incidence of heart disease, but what the study did not show was that Ancel Keys actually studied 22 countries but he only included the ones that supported his theory, so he left out countries with high fat consumption but low heart disease.
The theory sounds good, it seems logical that eating fat makes you fat. In the 1970’s governments around the world adopted a low fat dietary policy on the basis of this flawed study (influenced by the agriculture industry) and the consumption of fat decreased around the world. At the same time a “healthy” low fat food industry boomed with lots of convenient low fat food products to keep us healthy.
While consumption of fats went down, the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and chronic health problems quickly went up (so too did the profits of drug companies and multinational food companies). At the same time more and more research has been published clearly showing that it is a high carbohydrate diet that is causing these problems and when people switch to a high fat / low carbohydrate diet most of these metabolic problems go away.
Good quality fats are important for brain function, your nervous system and hormonal system. The nervous system and hormonal systems of your body regulate how your body functions and if they do not get the right “fuel” things start to go wrong. Traditional diet have been high in fat and low in simple carbohydrates and people have thrived for thousands of years like this with low levels of chronic disease, and suddenly over the past 40 years we have switched to a high carbohydrate / low fat diet.
I will give you some specific fats that promote good health and what fats that you should avoid but a simple rule of thumb is to ask yourself these three questions to decide if a fat is healthy or not.
1/ Is it a fat that your great great grandmother would have eaten? The answer to this question will exclude canola oil, vegetable oil, rice bran oil, soy bean oil and all the other oils that the agriculture industry has decided are healthy for us.
2/ How much processing has occurred to produce this oil? Once again the same oils I mentioned in number 1 will be excluded and you should check out the video below to see why
3/ How does it taste? Give me butter over margarine any day! I love the flavour of a good olive oil but I would never add canola oil or rice bran oil to a dish to enhance the flavour.
There are 3 different types of fats
1/ Mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado’s and the oils found in nuts these fats are excellent in moderation and if they are not damaged by temperature. That’s why cold pressed olive oil is good and why you should not buy roasted nuts that may have been roasted months earlier, you are better off roasting your own and eating them fresh.
2/ Polyunsaturated Fats which can be divided again into omega 3 fats like flax and fish oil and omega 6 fats that are found in seeds and seed oils. These fats are highly unstable and can go rancid easily when heat treated or exposed to light which will turn them from a healthy fat to a an unhealthy fat. It’s important to have the right balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils, the ideal balance is around 1:1-3 but with the amount of processed foods, and lower levels of omega 3 in the diet many people have a ratio of 1:20-30 which creates inflammation.Most processed foods contain seed oils which have been heat treated to make them more stable (but this increases trans fats) and this creates an imbalance of the omega 3:6 ratio creating long term inflammation which is the driver behind chronic disease.
3/ Saturated fats which are found in animal products and coconut oil. Saturated fats are healthy to eat providing they come from grass fed animals which will contain omega 3 fats as well, and not grain fed animals which produces fat with a much higher omega 6 content. If you can’t get grass fed meats then I recommend only eating the lean cuts of meat and topping up your saturated fats with coconut oil or butter.
My favourite fats for cooking are macadamia oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee and animal fats like duck fat. Good fats for salads are olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil and flaxseed oil providing they are good quality cold pressed oils.
My favourite fats for eating come from grass fed animals, free range eggs, seafood, good quality nuts, avocado’s and olives.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen