The “F-word” in Nutrition... Fats

I know, I know, it’s a bad word in a lot of peoples’ books. There are many patients who cringe when I suggest increasing it in their diet.  But the truth is, it shouldn’t be a bad word.  Dietary fats have been given a really bad rap for a long time but they actually don’t deserve it.  Scientific research is showing the BENEFITS of many type of fat and the down sides of having too little and, thankfully, public opinion is starting to shift too.

Let’s look at some misconceptions:

All fats are bad for you.  There are many kinds of fat in the diet and their effects on the body range significantly.  Trans fats, found in deep fried foods, processed foods and commercial baked goods are really bad.  They dramatically increase inflammation and our risk of heart disease. However, omega 3 fats, found in fish, flax, walnuts and hemp, and omega 9 fats, found in olive oil and avocados, decrease inflammation and risk of heart disease.  Less well-know is the fact that omega 6 fats (found in all the other plant oils) also increase inflammation.  The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in the historic human diet was about 1 to 1 but the current North American diet contains a 1 to 15 ratio favouring the pro-inflammatory fat. The effects of all this inflammation are showing up in a range of chronic diseases that plague our modern civilization.  Bottom line: the type of fat really makes a big difference!

Eating fat makes you fat. Fats got this reputation because they contain more calories per gram.  That means that a gram of olive oil has more calories than a gram of white sugar.  However, it has been demonstrated that eating low-fat does not decrease calorie intake – likely because low-fat foods are less filling and people end up eating larger quantities. A low fat diet tends to be higher in carbohydrates which have a number of effects on weight management. When we eat a meal high in sugar it triggers a huge cascade of reactions in the body.  We release larger amounts of the hormone insulin, resulting in more belly fat, increased inflammation, increased cholesterol and blood pressure.  It also affects the appetite-control hormone leptin which helps the body tell you that you’re full.

A huge number of my patient report that eating more carbohydrates causes them to crave more and eating less causes them to crave less.  On the other hand, fats are satisfying and tell the body that it’s had enough.  A study of children given whole milk or fat-free milk found that those drinking the fat-free variety were MORE LIKELY to be overweight at the end of the study! 

Adding more of the right kind of fat to your diet can be tremendously helpful for helping you reach your goals.  The brain is 60% fat and nerves depend of proper fats to function properly - there are connections between low levels of certain fats and mood disorders.  Fats serve as precursors to all kinds of hormones and signalling molecules in the body.  They are necessary for healthy skin and hair.  I could keep going but I think you get the point! Fats have many benefits, if you choose the right ones, and avoiding them can cause harm. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about making sure your dietary fats are in balance and supporting you in achieving your optimal health.