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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Fat is Not the Enemy

Oct 31, 2012 01:59PM ● By Sylvia Haskvitz

Nutritionist Linda Prout, MS, founder of the Claremont Resort & Spa nutrition program and the author of Live in the Balance—The Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program, has extensively researched information about various types and effects of fats and here are some of her findings.

Does our body really need fat?

We do have a need for fats. If you have dry skin, dry hair, dandruff, depression, cravings, eat large portions, want sugar or have earwax buildup, these are all signs you may need more fat—most likely more omega-3-rich fats. Each of us is different in our need for fat, with some needing as much as 65 percent of calories from fat and others requiring as little as 30 percent. Those that have the symptoms mentioned may need a greater percentage. Still, it seems logical that if you eat too much fat you are going to get fat, but the body doesn’t necessarily store the fat you eat. To be stored, fat needs glycerol-3-phosphate, which comes from carbohydrate metabolism.

Why is there such a popular emphasis on low- and no-fat products?

One of the biggest mistakes my clients make is to eat low-fat diets, which are associated with weight gain and disease. Consider that 30 years ago, the National Institutes of Health declared fat the single unhealthiest component of the American diet and launched a sweeping campaign for change. The result is that Americans did what they were told and reduced their dietary fat intake by nearly 25 percent, while also increasing consumption of vegetable oil. Obesity and diabetes rates tripled. Increases have also been seen in cancer, asthma, allergies, arthritis, autism and Alzheimer’s disease since the 1970s. The U.S. overweight population has soared to more than 60 percent and there has been no change in heart disease rates. 

Low-calorie, low-fat diets often result in weight gain. One of the first diet studies showing this was conducted in 1944. Famous fat researcher Ancel Keys put a group of 36 men on a 1,500-calorie, low-fat diet. Not only did the participants’ metabolic rates drop by half, their appetites spiked. They ultimately gained weight, ending up with 50 percent more body fat. These men became fatigued, cold, depressed and started focusing on food and recipes. The research is summarized in The Great Starvation Experiment, by Todd Tucker. 

How is a low-fat diet linked to heart disease and coronary vascular disease?

The Women’s Health Initiative, a study of 49,000 women, reported in 2006 that low-fat diets do nothing for weight loss nor do they prevent heart attacks, stroke or breast and colon cancers. Instead, women with heart disease that switched to low-fat diets experienced a 26 percent increase in heart disease deaths.

Research confirms that beneficial fats with fat-soluble nutrients orchestrate virtually every function in the body, from brain chemistry for mood and memory to hormone and immune factor production and mucous membrane and eye health. Naturally fat-rich foods enable us to not just avert disease, but to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally.

What are the benefits of omega-3 fats?

Research shows they block inflammation, preventing Alzheimer’s disease and heart attacks, yet most Americans are deficient in omega-3. These fats are needed for a healthy nervous system because they feed the brain—reducing violent tendencies, relieving depression and balancing moods.

The brain is 60 percent fat, mostly DHA, an omega-3 fat. We need this essential fat in our diet for cognitive function, memory and balanced mood. Omega-3 fats enable the brain to produce serotonin and thus prevent depression, as well as associated cravings for carbohydrates and sweets. Omega-3 fats also stimulate chemicals that tell us to stop eating when we are physically full. Foods low in fat often leave us unsatisfied, as though something is missing. This leads to snacking, overeating or the regular need for dessert.

Which fats do you recommend eating?

I recommend traditional fats, including grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined lard and duck fat. Other foods rich in healing fats include avocados, egg yolks, nuts and seeds. Cod liver oil is one way to increase missing omega-3 fats. Wild-caught fish are rich in omega-3 fats, but farm-raised fish are not. Other food sources of fat that are important include avocados, eggs from pastured hens, fresh nuts and seeds. Ghee (clarified butter) is especially good for those allergic to dairy, while macadamia nut oil and olive oil, although not rich in omega-3 fats themselves, can help us absorb the omega-3 goodness. Sesame oil is high in omega-6 and is good in small amounts as flavoring.

What are the problems associated with commercially available oils?

High-quality olive oil is not so easy to find. Those marketed today are often a blend of olive oil and other, cheaper oils, like safflower or corn. If you find a quart of olive oil for under $10, either it is not real olive oil or it has been overprocessed. Once we started to realize that all the vegetable oils like corn, safflower and sunflower were causing more harm than good, scientists started figuring out that they are high in omega-6.

So, along came canola oil. The industry looked at rapeseed oil, used for hundreds of years. It had a horrible smell and contained high levels of a fatty acid that can cause damage to heart tissue. Plant breeders went to work and changed the genes using hybridization techniques. They got rid of the smell and lowered the levels of the toxin, but some of it is still in there.

There are three problems with canola oil. It is new to the scene, so we don’t know its long-term effects and there are many allergies associated with it; roughly 90 percent of canola is genetically modified; and it requires lots of processing, including high levels of heat and chemicals that oxidize the oil, making it toxic.

Consumers should not be coerced into a fear of fat, but instead choose more higher quality traditional fats, while reducing refined vegetable oils.

Sylvia Haskvitz, MA, RD, holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics and a master’s degree in speech and communication studies, with a focus on interpersonal and intercultural communication. She is a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication and the author of Eat By Choice, Not By Habit (EatByChoice. net) and contributing author to Healing Our Planet, Healing Ourselves. 

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