Drowning in junk foodIs Animal Fat your Friend?

Have you read that eating lots of fat – especially animal fat – is good for you? That it’s only sugar or refined carbohydrates that put on weight and fat is your friend? Some bloggers and ‘gurus’ consider the term ‘low-fat’ as an anathema; totally wrong. It’s low-fat, high-sugar foods, they say, that really make us fat and sick. Some online marketers not only claim that fat doesn’t make us fat, but neither does overeating! I think it’s high time these and other big fat lies were called out…

10 Big Lies About Fat

1.      Bad, refined carbs are full of sugar, not fat! Truth: foods such as cakes, doughnuts, cookies, etc. are typically not only full of refined flour and sugar, but fat – and often animal fat as well, such as butter, eggs, and dairy. No one is saying that highly refined, high-fat high-sugar foods such as these are good for you, or that they have any place in a healthy diet. But don’t focus solely on the sugar without acknowledging the fat content.

2.      Fat Fills You Up! Truth: if the ‘fat fills you up’ concept were true, then most people would only want half a Big Mac, or a small fries instead of a large serve. In fact, the opposite is true. Fatty, salty (and sweet) foods are addictive, and people who like them tend to eat way too many calories at a sitting. Have you ever seen a ‘low-fat’ burger or pizza joint? Or a bunch of skinny people loading up on McDonalds, Pizza Hut or KFC? Fats are calorie dense but without fibre, which does help fill you up without adding extra unwanted calories.

3.      People are eating less fat and more carbs, but still getting fat! Truth: In Australia, for example, Bureau of Statistics data shows Australians are eating less fruit and vegetables than ever before, with teenagers the most likely group of people ditching fruit ‘n’ veg for fast (fatty) food. Also in Australia, people are eating 30 percent less grains than they did 3 or 4 years ago, despite increasing obesity rates. Rather than eat less fat, people are eating more fatty fast food than ever before.

According to the Australian Cancer Council, “Fast food consumption in Australia has increased dramatically in recent years, with the average household spending 28% of its food budget on fast food and eating out.

The Dietitians Association of Australia notes that fast or take away food is high in saturated fat, salt and energy (calories), and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. They advise that “frequent consumption of foods that are high in energy, salt and saturated fat can put you at higher risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure”

Australians are consuming between 36-41% of their energy from discretionary foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, sodium and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. This is NOT a low-fat diet. This is a recipe for a dietary disaster!

4.      You need cholesterol and saturated animal fat in your diet! Truth: You don’t need saturated fat, cholesterol or trans-fat in your diet – period! Contrary to what some bloggers, marketers and self-styled ‘gurus’ might tell you, there is no dietary requirement for these weight-gaining, heart-clogging fats – not even the vegetable oils which, although a healthier option, do have some saturated fat in their composition. The most common sources of these nasty fats are animal products and commercially baked goods. Avoid these fats, as I do, and you’ll be much better off.

5.      Eating more fat actually helps you lose fat! Truth: There are far more calories, or energy in fats, as there are in carbohydrates or protein. One gram of fat gives you nine calories of energy, which is over twice that (four calories) provided by carbohydrates or protein. Currently 34 per cent of Americans are obese, and another 34 per cent are overweight. In Australia, 3 in 5 people (63%) are overweight or obese, and the numbers are growing along with our bellies. Excess weight, especially obesity, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. When advising on the type of diet to avoid weight gain and reduce risk of heart disease and cancer, nutrition experts such as T. Colin Campbell  and Dr Dean Ornish recommend a dietary fat intake no greater than 10-15%. Fat is calorie-dense, and all too easy to consume in the form of butter/margarine, fried foods, oils, lard, and the fat inherent in meat, eggs and dairy products. If you want to immediately reduce your calorie load to help you lose weight, lose the fat!

“In a strictly controlled metabolic study by Hall, et al. researchers showed that cutting calories from fat may help with weight loss more than cutting calories from carbohydrates. Even keeping all calories equal, the group with less fat intake lost more body fat.” – Thomas Campbell, MD.

6.      Health nuts want to get rid of all fats! Truth: Your body needs some fats. Fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals like carotenoids. Fat is also a major source of energy, like carbohydrates and protein. The only fats you need are omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which cannot be made by your body, and so they must be supplied through your diet (source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine).  Omega-6 fats are derived from linoleic acid and are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). You should eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids every day. Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids may take more planning to obtain than omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are used in the formation of cell walls and assist in improving circulation and oxygen uptake. For adequate omega-3 intake the recommended daily amounts are 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men over the age of 14. The principal omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in many vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fruits. This is then converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) by the body. This makes ALA the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, and the best source of ALA is ground flaxseeds. Fish oil, while a source of EPA and DHA omega-3s, can include unstable molecules that may oxidise and unleash dangerous free radicals.

7.      Eskimos ate loads of animal fat from fish, and they were healthier than us! Truth: According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, diets high in fish do not promote a healthy heart, and may increase risk of heart disease. The diets and health of Eskimos and Inuits in Greenland and North America were analysed by researchers in a review of ten different studies. Researchers found that Eskimos in Greenland have similar rates of heart disease, an overall mortality rate twice as high, and a life expectancy 10 years shorter, compared with non-Eskimos. Compared with non-native populations, North American Inuits have similar if not higher rates of heart disease. The authors conclusion was that an “Eskimo diet” has previously been wrongly identified as heart healthy and that such a high-fat diet is better labelled dangerous.

8.      You need fish oil for Omega 3 Fats! Truth: Flaxseed (flax) is the richest source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) containing 50 – 60% omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans (powerful anti-oxidants), that researchers have found helpful in preventing heart disease, protecting against inflammatory disorders and certain cancers, and lowering your cholesterol. Flaxseeds add a mild, nutty flavour to a variety of foods and are an excellent source of fibre, high quality protein and potassium. Did you know that the omega 3 fatty acids obtained from fish that humans eat originally comes from the algae the fish eat? Extracting DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids from algae means you’re getting it straight from the source – clean and green.

There are several benefits by taking omega-3 supplements from a plant (algae) source, including:

  • You get all the benefits of fish oil omega-3, without concerns about impurities, contaminants, or of course diminishing fish stocks – this is a fully sustainable source of omega-3, and much more environmentally friendly.
  • It’s better for everyone, including vegans, vegetarians, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Research indicates that pure algae-sourced omega-3 is more effectively absorbed by the body than fish oil.
  • The balance of DHA and EPA fatty acids is at least as good, if not better than fish oil in terms of health benefits, and superior to Flaxseed Oil.

9.       Cholesterol in foods like eggs don’t raise your blood cholesterol! Truth: As Dr Michael Greger from Nutrition Facts explains, despite dodgy research and false claims from the egg industry, the fact is cholesterol in eggs DOES increase both ‘bad’ LDL and ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Furthermore, according to Dr Greger, “choline from eggs appears to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death,” and that “..consumption of eggs increases the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidation.”- another major risk factor for heart disease.

On his website Dr Greger has also explored carcinogenic chemicals and viruses in eggs, industrial pollutants, and salmonella. Eggs ARE the perfect food…for growing chicken fetuses.

10. Animal fats like ‘grass-fed butter’ are health foods! Truth: First of all, it’s nonsensical to say that refined, processed animal fats like butter can be fed grass – only living, breathing herbivores can! Grass-fed or not, saturated animal fats are not health foods – quite the opposite. Saturated fat, predominantly found in animal products, causes the liver to produce more cholesterol. Unsaturated fats do not have this effect.

“Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood.  High levels of blood cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Be aware, too, that many foods high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol – which raises your blood cholesterol even higher.” – The American Heart Association

Good News on Fat

healthy plant foodsWhole plant foods are ideal for health and weight loss, according to Julieanna Hever, the Plant-Based dietitian, in her book ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition’. As Julieanna explains, whole plant foods are high in fibre and water content, which help to make you full without adding extra calories. They are also naturally nutrient-dense, including vitamins, minerals, complex carbs, protein, phytochemicals and antioxidants, yet low in energy density, or calories. The clear message is, if you want to eat foods to maximise your health and minimise your fat and calorie intake, choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes.

The truth is, fat is one of the macro-nutrients, and you do need some fat in your diet. It is the source of the fat, and the quantity that determines whether it supports good health or not. I recommend consuming (sparingly) whole plant food sources of fats, rather than refined fats and animal fats. This can be as easy as having avocado with tomato on whole wheat toast, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds on oatmeal porridge, or a handful of raw walnuts sprinkled on a green salad.

Tom Perry