What You Really Need To Know About Fat
If dietary fat had a theme song it would start out, “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…” Just like the Fresh Prince, dietary fat had an incident of getting into trouble with “a couple of guys (saturated fat and cholesterol) who were up to no good” leading to an over-reaction that impacted dietary fat’s reputation for the past 40 years. Notably, we never heard the story about what caused those “couple of guys” to be causing trouble in the first place. They were just labeled trouble and that was that. Well, “I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you” the real story about dietary fat, those two “trouble-makers”, and the systems that got us here.
Saturated Fat Gets Into Trouble
The story with dietary fat started out with admirable intentions: to promote health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Around 1977, the Dietary Goals began recommending limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of total daily calories. While a lot has changed since that time, including an increasingly rigorous process for determining the guidelines, that 10% recommendation has remained unchanged.
By the 1980’s, physicians, researchers, the food industry, federal programs, and the media all joined together in supporting this fight against saturated fat in the name of promoting healthy hearts. With everyone joining together, the impact was immense.
The U.S. Dietary Guideline recommendations have a huge influence on the food that’s most readily available to you and the entire country. They impact federal nutrition and policies (including school lunch programs), guide health initiatives at the local to national level, and influence the products that food and beverage companies produce. This information even impacts what you probably consider general knowledge when it comes to food and health.
What Started The Fight Against Saturated Fat?
The recommendation was based on the premise that high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol were linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This concept was based on studies like the Seven Countries Study that suggested this link by looking for common trends among different populations.
The Seven Countries Study was innovative for its time, but has received a lot of criticism throughout the years. For example, some feel that the countries were selected to help support the researcher’s hypothesis. Another notable detail: the research only surveyed men. Women were never included. Regardless, one major pattern that was identified was that populations with higher fat diets and higher cholesterol also had the highest rates of cardiovascular disease.
Before we continue, here’s a super important thing to remember: Correlation does not mean causation. Finding correlations like this is a really great place to start, but it’s a huge leap to say that one directly causes the other. For example, imagine that places with the highest rates of ice cream consumption also have the highest sunburn rates. Does consuming ice cream cause sunburns? No! It's more likely that those places have warmer temperatures so that people are more in the mood for ice cream and also spending more time outside.
How Dietary Fat Got Caught Up In The Fight
Just like the Fresh Prince got into trouble with “those couple of guys”, dietary fat did, too. Dietary fat was trying to mind its own business, but it was in the same neighborhood as saturated fat, so it got in trouble, too.
When the <10% saturated fat recommendation was established in 1977, the total dietary fat limit was decreased from <40% to <30% of calories, too. In 2005, the recommendation was adjusted to be 20-35%. This was largely because of two beliefs:
- By lowering total dietary fat, the consumption of saturated fat would naturally decrease.
- Replacing fat with less energy dense protein and carbs would lead to less calories consumed. (Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram while fat has 9 calories).
Sounds great, but there are a lot of holes in those two assumptions:
1. You need dietary fat to thrive.
Fat is an essential macronutrient. It’s an amazing source of energy and does really important things in your body. Here’s what’s on its resume:
- Fat is critical for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and carotenoids. Carotenoids are pigments that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants are like little ninjas protecting your cells against free radicals that cause harm to your cells resulting in aging and diseases like cancer and heart disease. Keep this in mind with fat-free salad dressings. That’s all I used to use, because I thought it was “healthy”. In reality, I wasn’t allowing my body to absorb all of the amazing benefits from the salads I ate.
- It helps to maintain cell membranes. Is that statement meaningless to you? Let’s elaborate…. Cell membranes are insanely important - your cells can’t function without one. It’s the outer layer of the cell that serves as a barrier to protect your cell from all of the craziness of the outside world. The cell membrane acts like a team of really busy bouncers allowing in important nutrients and kicking out things that don’t belong. It’s also how cells communicate with each other. Cool, right?
- Fat is essential for the production and maintenance of hormones. Hormones impact everything including metabolism, mood and stress, sexual function, and even body temperature. If you want to feel good, you want your hormones to be cooperating.
- Fat is necessary for normal growth and development.
- It provides cushioning for your organs.
Remember the food pyramid from the 1990’s with bread, cereal, and pasta on the bottom and dietary fat all the way at the tippy top along with sweets? Not cool. Dietary fat is doing all of these uber important things while sweets do absolutely nothing essential for your body. Yet, they were lumped into the same shunned category? That’s just rude. Thankfully, that food pyramid was replaced, but the overall thought that dietary fat will make you fat, cause disease, and should be limited has prevailed.
2. Eating less fat doesn’t mean you’ll consume fewer calories.
Speaking of the assumption that eating fat makes you fat… Take one moment to think about what happens when there’s a bread basket in front of you. Do you eat one slice and think, “Well that was just what I needed to tide me over! I feel totally satisfied until the rest of my meal comes out”. Or, do you eat one slice and then stare at the basket debating and justifying in your head whether it would be okay to maybe just have one more slice...or, ya know, maybe just two. How much bread do you end up consuming before your actual meal arrives?
What about after the meal when you’re absolutely stuffed, but they bring out the dessert menu and suddenly your second stomach shows up ready for something sweet? Carbohydrates may be less energy dense, but they’re also super easy to over consume - especially when they’re refined and lacking (healthy) fat, fiber, or protein to balance them out.
Fat promotes satiety and contributes to balanced meals for stable blood sugar. When you feel satisfied and your energy levels are stable, it’s much easier to feel in control of your decisions for sustainable health. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet is essential if you want to feel good physically and mentally without relying on shear willpower.
Things are progressing rapidly, aren’t they? Reminder: it wasn’t proven that saturated fat caused heart disease; there was just a correlation (in men). And yet, sweeping recommendations took over and changed everything.
Initially, low levels of saturated fat were only intended to be for those already at high risk of heart disease. However, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines lumped everyone together (healthy and at risk) with these overarching recommendations. By decreasing total fat intake, consumption of really healthy fats also decreased. That’s detrimental. Leaving dietary fat alone could have had a really positive impact on the health of our country.
We Created A Monster
You know when your phone has a software update that’s supposed to be better, but it actually makes your battery drain faster and apps crash? That’s a little like what happened with the low fat software update. Food companies responded by suddenly creating fat-free and low-fat versions of everything.
Remember SnackWells? Fat was replaced with carbohydrates (mainly in the form of sugar and refined starches) and additives to ensure they still tasted good. The majority of those swaps were not nourishing swaps. Replacing healthy fats with highly processed ingredients also replaced the food's ability to provide stable energy. The result: your own battery drains faster fueling cravings as your body attempts to get an energy boost.
Vilifying one entire macronutrient eliminated the opportunity for balance. Instead, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and another macronutrient took over. Since the 1980’s, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Nearly 3 out of every 4 American adults are overweight, and 42% are obese. It's clear we're not winning the battle when it comes to our health. When one fire gets put out but another one spreads, it’s time to ask what’s starting all these fires in the first place. We’re missing the big picture.
The link between saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease is less clear than previously thought
Fat is slowly starting to make a come-back. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee stated that dietary cholesterol was no longer a “nutrient of concern”. They based these recommendations on evidence showing no link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. In other words, eating foods high in cholesterol doesn’t cause your blood cholesterol to increase. See how one of those “bad guys up to no good” was wrongly labeled as “trouble” in the first place? Poor guy.
Cholesterol wasn’t the only bad guy set free. They also removed the limit on total dietary fat. Did you read that? Dietary fat was no-longer black listed! This change wasn’t really advertised; it just quietly disappeared from the recommendations. However, saturated fat did remain a “nutrient of concern”.
Does this mean saturated fat really is up to no good?
The quick answer is: Maybe, maybe not. It depends.
This is where I wish more effort had been made to get to know and understand saturated fat before labeling it as trouble for the last 50+ years. It’s good to have concrete (or at least causal) evidence before pointing the blame and immediately taking action. Finally, people are starting to look closer at saturated fat. Better late than never!
This is a complicated topic with a lot of heated debate from both sides. The more you look at the latest evidence linking saturated fat to heart disease, the more things get as clear as mud.
There’s mounting emerging evidence that saturated fat doesn’t seem to be correlated to heart disease, after all. Some meta-analyses have shown no correlation while others have shown a very mild increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The fact that even the correlation is weak suggests that we’re clearly missing something. The link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease isn’t a slam dunk. The results are wishy-washy. We need to acknowledge that we might not be looking at all the pieces of the puzzle.
So where can you find reputable health and nutrition advice?
If you’re feeling really confused about where to turn for sound nutrition advice based on quality research, you’re not alone. It’s one thing for headlines in a magazine or an article on Facebook to be gimmicky or not tell the whole story, but even if you’re making an effort to do thorough research, seemingly reputable sources can be very misleading.
Wherever you find your information, even if that’s from a well-respected scientific journal or seemingly reputable organization (or even our dietary guidelines), be aware of potential biases. Conflicts of interest run alarmingly deep in nutrition science.
If you want to do your own research, I strongly recommend making an effort to be aware of ties that researchers and members of committees and organizations have to Big Food, Big Pharma, and other influential establishments. Try to identify where funding comes from when looking at the big picture. This is easier said than done.
Many journals now require that authors disclose potential conflicts of interests. For example, an article on the fatty acid profile of commercial milk versus grass-fed was funded by a company that sells grass-fed milk. That conflict of interest doesn’t mean the findings are inaccurate. However, it's important for you to be aware of so that you can factor in how those ties may have influenced the analysis of the data and conclusions of the studies. While disclosing conflicts of interest seems straight forward, there’s a lot of gray area about what qualifies as “conflicts of interest”. They’re not always disclosed, are incomplete, or aren’t readily apparent.
What Concerns Me The Most About The Health and Nutrition Advice We Get
When initially doing research, you will find many seemingly trustworthy, non-profit organizations with encouraging missions, impressive qualifications, and an emphasis on transparency and an unbiased science and evidence-based approach to health and nutrition. However, if you dig deeper you’ll uncover that almost all of them have ties and funding from Big Food and Beverage companies or other organizations with interests and motives that extend beyond your health and well-being.
Reputable-sounding groups like the “International Life Sciences Group (ILSI)”, “Nutrition Coalition” and “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine” all have members with ties and funding from big food companies and other organizations with interests and motives that may extend beyond the wellbeing of citizens.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’re up against. The ILSI website states,
“ILSI is a nonprofit, global organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health, well-being and safeguards the environment. For more than 40 years, ILSI has specialized in convening scientists from academia, as well as the public and private sectors, to collaborate in a neutral forum on scientific topics of mutual interest.”
Sounds great, right?
Here’s more of the story… The ILSI was founded by Dr. Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola executive. Just this year, Coca Cola finally cut ties with ILSI in response to pressure from the left-leaning Corporate Accountability organization after their publication “Partnership For An Unhealthy Planet” (worth a read). The Corporate Accountability organization and other organizations, like the U.S. Right To Know, point out that ILSI receives funding from the food industry. This is concerning since ILSI states that they have “published in peer-reviewed journals, endorsed by Federal agencies and professional nutrition and food science societies, and cited broadly throughout the scientific community”. Note: one of those peer-reviewed journals is Nutrition Review, which ILSI publishes.
ILSI is a worldwide organization with major influence, as they point out. When the producers of high sugar, ultra-processed products are funding health and nutrition research, is their mission truly to, “provide science that improves human health, well-being and safeguards the environment”?
Being funded by and tied with Big Food and Beverage companies means that all of those published peer-reviewed articles could be diluting less-biased studies. Companies, like U.S. Right To Know, argue that ILSI is purposefully muddying the water, similar to the tactics used by Big Tobacco companies. Note how if this is true, ILSI (and other organizations) has a good strategy to make it much harder to recognize potential conflicts of interest with research. If you see that a study was funded by ILSI, an organization that claims to be unbiased and non-profit, it seems much more reputable than seeing funding directly from a company like Coca-Cola!
To be fair, you’ll find opposition to this argument. For example, the Genetic Literacy Project highlights that U.S. Right To Know was started with the help of funding from the Organic Consumers Association (creating their own biases against Big Food companies). However, the Genetic Literacy Project was previously funded by Monsato, a company that produces GMO seeds and the herbicide Roundup (obviously anti-organic). See how impossibly biased and polarized everything is?
Even more unsettling, since 2007, the ILSI has been involved in shaping the guidelines on scientific integrity principles and conflicts of interest.
Nutrition recommendations should not be influenced by Big Food and Beverage companies. This is messed up. All we need to do is look around at the overall health and wellbeing of our citizens to see that these recommendations and systems aren’t working.
I’m not here to tell you what to believe or which groups to trust. I want to empower you to make informed decisions about what you choose to put into your body. If you see a health claim, new research study, or fad diet that’s appealing, I encourage you to seek out opinions on both sides. What are the arguments for it and against it? Where is the recommendation coming from? And then, most importantly, be mindful of what feels right for your body.
So, is there anything that we actually know?
Thankfully, yes! Here’s what we do know…
You Can’t Single Out Saturated Fat
You can’t make blanket health statements about super broad categories. Saying, “all calories are created equal” or “all saturated fat is bad” is like pretending dogs and cats are the same, because they’re both household pets. There’s a huge amount of variation within these categories, and we can’t pretend they all behave the same way.
You can't go to a grocery store and find saturated fat sitting all by itself on a shelf. Just like calories are never just calories. Saturated fat and calories come with LOTS of other components and those other parts of the food can’t be ignored. Any time you consume saturated fat, there are other types of fats in that food, as well. Some of those fats may be very beneficial and even essential.
One thing I really appreciated with the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines is their “Make Every Bite Count” which emphasizes nutrient-dense foods. This is absolutely a step in the right direction! Paying attention to the overall quality and nutrients in food is a fantastic place to start. When you focus on high quality, nutrient-dense (real) food, there’s a very high chance that the positive effects of that food will outweigh the negative.
There are different types of saturated fat
We now know that there are different types of saturated fats. We don’t need to go into the details, just know that they vary in length and their overall structure. The type and amount of saturated fat depends on the source and differs between meat, dairy, and plant-based sources.
Should all of the types of saturated fat be lumped into one Big Bad Saturated Fat category? That’s the question! Thankfully, studies are beginning to evaluate the impact of individual saturated fatty acid consumption on the incidence of cardiovascular disease. So far, the results vary widely between studies. Once again, this suggests that we’re not asking the right questions and the link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease isn’t a slam-dunk.
There are different types of LDL
Are you sensing a theme? Yep, here we go again. Remember, consuming higher amounts of saturated fat increases LDL. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol linked to cardiovascular disease. However, there are different sizes of LDL particles ranging from really small to large. Are all of them harmful? That does not appear to be the case.
Small dense LDL seem to be the major contributor of cardiovascular disease compared to the large buoyant LDL. Doesn’t large buoyant LDL just sound friendlier? Small dense LDL are more capable of squeezing into blood vessel walls and causing harm. Think of small dense LDL like bullets and large buoyant LDL like beach balls. The small dense bullets can penetrate right into a wall and cause damage while a large buoyant beach ball would just bounce right off.
There's mounting evidence that saturated fat consumption increases the larger buoyant LDL and potentially decreases the problematic small dense LDL. If it turns out that saturated fat only increases the larger buoyant LDL, it may not be as harmful as we thought. We also need to ask: Do all types of saturated fat have the same effect on LDL? What happens when studies are controlled for the overall quality of the diet (nutrient-dense foods versus highly processed) and other contributing lifestyle factors?
The real trouble seems to occur when bullet-like small dense LDL gets together with inflammation. Inflammation may be the major player we really need to pay attention to…
Inflammation is a major component of cardiovascular disease
Six in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have at least two. That is alarmingly high! We need to be focusing on the root cause of chronic diseases. The common denominator is chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is helpful and important in the short term. For example, if you get a paper cut, you’ll notice that it becomes red, swollen, warm, and painful. That’s your immune system kicking into gear! It increases blood flow to the area to bring in important cells to protect you from invaders like bacteria and to help your body heal.
With chronic inflammation, the inflammation doesn’t go away. Instead, your body constantly thinks it’s under attack and white blood cells start to cause damage to your own body and organs. Swelling and pain is appropriate for a paper cut, but you don’t want that feeling long-term throughout your body.
Instead of just paying attention to saturated fat, pay attention to where it’s coming from and the overall quality. Is it from a nutrient-dense, real food source with inflammation-fighting antioxidants? Or, is it ultra-processed and packaged up with other ingredients like added sugar and refined carbs devoid of nutrients and likely to increase inflammation in your body?
What if instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t be eating, you focus on the amazing and delicious foods that fight inflammation? The more you eat nutrient-dense real food, the more amazing you'll feel as unnecessary inflammation in your body subsides.
Okay, so are carbs the bad guy? Does this mean I should go keto? Was Atkins right?!
No. No more demonizing food. You don’t need to subscribe to a diet to achieve health. In fact, the key to optimal health is to ditch the diet mentality in general.
Within each macronutrient category, there are foods that will help you to thrive and foods that will leave you feeling like crap. Unless you have epilepsy and have been specifically prescribed a strict ketogenic diet from your doctor, it’s unnecessary (and potentially detrimental).
Remember, the goal is to stop swinging from one extreme to the other. It’s okay to be at peace with all of the macronutrients. When you work to find the balance that works for your individual body, you’re going to find that everything else starts to feel more balanced, too. Balance = sustainable. That’s what you’re ultimately after, right?
You can achieve results that feel amazing and that can easily be maintained long-term when you love what you’re doing, the way you’re feeling, and the way it fits into your lifestyle. That’s why I use the Life Boost (LB) approach. Your default baseline can and should be to feel really damn good.
So, what the heck am I supposed to eat?
Be kind to your body, listen to and respect it, and nourish it with food that makes you feel good. It really is that simple. The best way to avoid misinformation and to achieve true sustainable wellness is to go back to basics.
Food and health don’t have to be so complicated. Here are some some basic principles to follow:
1. Tune out the confusing and contradictory information and tune into you.
It doesn’t matter how amazingly beneficial a food is if it’s not working for you. Studying you, your food and lifestyle choices, and the way you feel is the only “experiment” that truly matters when it comes to optimizing your health.
To make sure you’re setting your experiment up for optimal success, make sure that you’re utilizing all of the tools available to you. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data for maximum success.
Get Your Baseline:
Establishing a baseline when making healthy changes is really important so that you know what’s working and what isn’t.
How do you feel? Don’t just focus on your weight (quantitative data). Pay attention to qualitative data like your energy levels, how your clothes fit, your strength, mood, stress, sleep, and any signs of discomfort in your body (headaches, GI signs, skin issues, brain fog, etc).
I highly recommend establishing a baseline by, at the minimum, having routine annual physical exams and blood work performed with your primary care provider. Things like high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids, or high blood sugar can sneak up without you realizing it. This is helpful quantitative data to have!
Pay Attention To How You Feel:
The most powerful and life changing thing you can start to do for optimal health is to pay attention to your food and lifestyle factors and the way they’re making you feel. The more you become aware of the impact different foods have on your energy levels, mental clarity, GI comfort, and mood, the more you’ll be able to trust your food decisions and focus less on all the confusing, contradictory advice out there.
I used to have random crippling stomachaches that made me want to curl into a ball. Eventually, I found that peanuts were contributing to this delayed reaction. There are no tests that would have uncovered this. The only way I got relief was by finally learning how to pay attention to my body in a specific way to look for patterns.
Note: Peanuts are a perfectly healthy option, but they weren’t for me. Lifestyle factors like constant high-stress, never taking a break, and antibiotics for frequent sinus infections likely caused a “leaky gut” causing a food sensitivity. I needed to take a break from peanuts and to heal my body before I could incorporate them back into a healthy meal.
Another example: Costco has a really great, minimally processed, real-food ingredient, turkey bacon. The label looks great, but when I eat it? I feel kind of gross. I no longer eat it. Just because it looks healthy, doesn’t mean it’s right for my body.
Get To Know Your Body:
Knowledge is power when it comes to you and your body. Your lifestyle habits, genetics, metabolism, gut microbiome, preferences, and health are unique to you. Two individuals can eat the same exact food, for example a sweet potato, and experience a very different impact on their blood sugar and body. This is where it’s helpful to gather as much information as you can.
I love continuous glucose monitors for my clients, because it removes some of the guesswork. The real-time data empowers you to see exactly which foods and meals leave your blood sugar stable and which foods cause a spike.
If you feel crappy despite “normal” blood work, it doesn’t mean you’re making things up or “fine”, it means you’re not looking in the right place. Blood work is an amazing baseline, but as a veterinarian/doctor I can tell you that it doesn’t always show the full picture. It’s also important to note that the “normal” reference range for blood work is determined based on average values among a population of “healthy” individuals. “Normal” doesn’t mean optimal. Routine blood work is designed to identify diseases, not to help you thrive. You need to ask the right questions (and run the right tests) to get the right answers.
Example: If you’re dealing with low energy and weight gain and initial blood work comes back normal, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy or need more discipline. It means you need to take a step back to look at the big picture and then look at each piece of the puzzle like possible nutrient deficiencies, your gut health, additional hormone testing, stress or trauma, sleep, your mindset and mood, and your food choices.
When it comes to health, our current systems are based on a siloed approach. One doctor looks at your skin, another at your GI tract, and another at your heart. Virtually no one has time to ask you about your lifestyle and details about your nutrition, because appointments are way too short. Even my gastroenterologist never once asked me about my diet. This is a flawed system.
You can’t solve a puzzle if you don’t have all the pieces. Our bodies are not made up of tiny machines all operating separately. They work together. A whole body approach is how you get a whole lot of results. This is why my Life Boost Approach uses the 3B’s (Belly, Brain, and Blood sugar) to put the pieces together for one customized and cohesive plan.
If you want to know if saturated fat works for your body, look at how much saturated fat you’re consuming currently. Establish your baseline with quantitative and qualitative data. Adjust the amount of saturated fat you’re consuming. Then, monitor the data to see how your body responds.
2. Nourish your body with a variety of delicious, real, whole food.
Things get simpler when we move away from the siloed approach of medicine and food. Whole body, whole foods, whole picture. There is not one perfect diet that works for every person. Your lifestyle, genetics, environment, metabolism, and gut health are all unique.
As we discussed, you need fat in your diet in order for your body to function appropriately. We know that there are really nourishing fats that have beneficial effects on your body. This is not the case for added sugar and refined carbs. If it is ultra-processed in a lab, there’s a good chance your body doesn’t need it to survive. Pay attention to how ultra-processed or high sugar diets make you feel. If you don’t feel good physically or mentally when you eat them, minimize them.
By focusing on eating less of those foods and more nutrient-dense, real, amazing food, you’ll naturally crowd out potentially harmful saturated fats and decrease inflammation in your body. Ultimately, we shouldn’t be focused just on saturated fat or heart health. We should be focused on whole body health and nourishing your body with the amazing real food that makes you feel your best.
These days, the Standard American Diet creates a messed up juxtaposition: Americans are overweight, yet malnourished. When your body is starving for the nutrients it needs, it will continue to crave more food even if you've consumed a surplus of calories. Calories in, calories out is not the whole equation. Cutting out a macronutrient or cutting calories while still eating the same nutrient-poor food isn't the answer (unless you're focused on short-term results and okay with relying on discipline and willpower). Your body will tell you what it needs if you learn to listen and understand what it's asking for. Health becomes so much more enriching, satisfying, and enjoyable when you focus on nourishing your body by adding a variety of colorful, delicious, nutrient-dense food to help it thrive.
What I’d like to see in the future
Our knowledge of health and science is always changing. There are amazing advancements happening all of the time. That makes it exciting, but it may also make things seem super confusing to you. This is what I’d love to see in the future:
A clearer understanding of blood lipids, specifically LDL, and their role in cardiovascular disease
We need to make sure we’re looking at the right parameters to detect early signs of heart disease. We also need this knowledge in order to truly evaluate which foods negatively impact it.
More studies paying attention to the quality of foods high in saturated fat instead of categorizing them all under one giant “high in saturated fat” label
Here are a couple of examples of research I would love to see:
- A comparison between a diet high in whole food (minimally processed, real food) sources of saturated fats versus a low fat whole food diet when both are controlled for optimal fiber and plant diversity (for gut health) and protein.
- A comparison between the fat profiles from different quality meat, egg, and dairy sources (conventional vs grass fed, humanely-raised) and the rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Grass-fed sources typically contain higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids resulting in omega 3:6 ratios that may decrease inflammation instead of increase it. Remember that chronic inflammation is a major contributor to chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease. Is the overall impact of these fat sources beneficial, neutral, or detrimental?
A change in the U.S. Dietary Recommendation to use vegetable oil in place of saturated fat
I’ll be writing another post on the topic of vegetable oil, but this is once again a potentially detrimental blanket statement. Not all vegetable oils are created equal and increasing the amount of highly processed vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, soybean, and even canola oil can lead to inflammation in the body. We need to make sure this recommendation isn't contributing to inflammation and chronic diseases.
An evaluation of how gut health factors into the equation of cardiovascular disease
Our knowledge of the gut microbiome and the importance of gut health has been sky-rocketing over the past 15 years. My gut is telling me that higher saturated fat diets are often higher in processed food and lower in plants and fiber, which are detrimental to GI health. I would love to see studies that factor in the impact of gut health when evaluating rates of chronic diseases. Do the people consuming high fat diets who develop heart disease also have signs of an unhealthy gut? Once again, this ties back to inflammation as a root cause.
A greater focus on optimizing health in individuals instead of broad, general recommendations
Our current health system is not focused on prevention or optimal health, because they’re drowning trying to take care of sickness and disease. We need to change the message around health away from restriction and towards nourishment and enjoyment. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines are slowly starting to move in this direction. I love that they’re starting to talk about individual eating patterns. In the latest guidelines, they recommend finding the nutrient-dense food that works for your preferences, culture, and budget. They also put an emphasis on long-term lifestyle changes versus quick fixes. If you’re familiar with my L’s, you know I’m all about that!
A non-biased, conflict of interest-free space to turn to for information on health and nutrition
Understanding how to take care of your body should not be complicated. Health and nutrition advice should not be influenced by Big Food and Beverage companies who are creating products that are making us sick and addicted to their food. There needs to be a place you can go to gather information, hear both sides, and to decide what’s right for you. The more people become aware of the influence Big Food and Beverage companies are having on our health, the more we can demand changes in our systems. I'm determined to start sparking conversations across industries and from diverse backgrounds so that we can ask hard questions about what has led us here and collaborate together to problem-solve to simplify health.
Where to go from here
I’m not here to tell you what to do; I’m here to empower you. I want you to understand the roadblocks that have been getting in the way to achieving a healthy lifestyle that you love. You should feel in control and excited when it comes to your health, happiness, and success. While the messages and stories around health may lead you astray, your body and mind will tell you what works and what doesn’t. The real story you want to pay attention to is your own. What led you to this point, where do you want to be, and what are your body and mind telling you it needs to thrive?
If you’re confused about where to start or how to start listening to your body and mind, schedule a complimentary 1 hour call with me! We can talk about where you're feeling stuck, what you've tried, and how to move forward in a way that feels totally doable.
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