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Fat: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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It seems most areas of nutritional science are surrounded by controversy… Well, at least until you’re able to actually look at the evidence.  Fat is no exception!  This post will share some important, research-based information on the good, bad, and ugly of fat.  

Yes, there is good fat… Not all fat is bad or ugly.

Quality vs Quantity:

Before we broach the concerns of too much verses not enough fat, it’s important to make the distinction between healthy fat and poor quality/dangerous/toxic fat.  There is a marked difference between an avocado or raw walnuts and a piece of fried chicken or a donut.  Although the proper amount of fat is indeed important, the proper source can make all the difference and is actually of greater importance than the amount of fat.

Fats from animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs have more saturated fat, which is associated with heart disease.  There is no biological need in the body for saturated fat.  

Plant fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds are have more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and are actually associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Unlike animal fats, plant fats also contain fiber, which is an important factor for a healthy gut microbiome, good elimination, and overall optimal health.

How much fat do we need?

The question of how much fat a person needs is a bit tricky as it can vary somewhat from person to person and at different ages.  The condition of one’s health is also important as fat recommendations also vary somewhat based on your health goals.  

The RDA for adults ranges between 20-35% of the diet coming from fat.  However, the American Heart Association recommends a slightly lower amount of no more than 30% (instead of 35%).  The World Health Organization also recognizes the benefits of a lower-fat diet and uses 15% as the lower limit (instead of 20%).  I tend to agree with the lower end for most people, although nutritional individuality does exist and needs to be taken into consideration.

A diet that is too low in fat (below 15%) can be dangerous as fats play an important role in every cell of the body.  They make up the cell membrane and are especially important to the brain and nervous system.  That said, a body lacking in fat could have issues with depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dermatitis.

A diet that is too high in fat (over 30%), which is more common, the poor-quality fats especially put a person at risk for many more ill-health effects.  It’s significant to note that many high-fat diets are by nature also lower carbohydrate as well, which can make it difficult to say if the issues that ensue are due to the high fat intake or the lower carbohydrate intake (or perhaps the combination of the two).  A high-fat diet can be used for weight loss; however, in the long term, the weight loss benefit can be outweighed by other side effects in the kidney, cardiovascular chain, and liver.  A high-fat diet is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is one of the top causes of death in the United States.

Practical perspective:

Although there are exceptions, for the sake of simplicity when working with clients, a standard American diet (SAD) rich in animal products and processed foods would typically be a higher fat diet.  A plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes is more commonly a lower-fat diet.  Whole food sources are best when compared with processed foods.6  And again, the type of fat is deemed more important to health than the amount.5  However this doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat 5 avocados/day. (Except on vacation … then the bowl of guacamole doesn’t count… Not really, but wouldn’t that be great?!)

It’s also worth noting that each person is unique and ultimately the diet must be customized for that person’s pre-existing health conditions, activity level, and long-term goals.  Most research looks at 1 specific condition and for a limited amount of time.  

So, for example, a study showing that a high-fat diet is good for weight loss over a 12-week period leaves lots of questions:  What would happen after 3 years of that same diet?  What types of fats were used? (Avocados? Oils? Processed fats?  Animal fats such as bacon or steak or ice cream?  Nuts only?  Seeds only?  Raw versus roasted nuts? Etc.)  Perhaps it was good for weight loss, but did it also cause issues with the liver, kidneys, or other organs or glands?  

That said, looking at the big picture and keeping long term optimal health in mind as the goal is always the way to go.  That always leads you to a whole food, organic plant-based diet!  Eat the rainbow.

If you are confused, stuck, or just not sure what to do with your current symptoms, stop trying to go it alone.  We are here to help.  Call the clinic today! 269-204-6525

You’re amazing and have lots of love to give… To do your best, you need to be the most well-nourished and powerful version of yourself!

 

Resource List:

  1. Evert AB, Boucher JL, Cypress M, et al. Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2014. doi:10.2337/dc14-S120
  2. Forouhi NG, Krauss RM, Taubes G, Willett W. Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: Evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance. BMJ. 2018. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2139
  3. Lichtenstein AH, Van Horn L. Very low fat diets. Circulation. 1998. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.98.9.935
  4. Coulston AM. The role of dietary fats in plant-based diets. In: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ; 1999. doi:10.1093/ajcn/70.3.512s
  5. Alabdulkarim B, Bakeet ZAN, Arzoo S. Role of some functional lipids in preventing diseases and promoting health. J King Saud Univ – Sci. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.jksus.2012.03.001
  6. Hayes J, Benson G. What the latest evidence tells us about fat and cardiovascular health. Diabetes Spectr. 2016. doi:10.2337/diaspect.29.3.171
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