10. Fats have a bad rap.
We should discuss this dietary concept briefly, but suffice it to say, the outdated science of the 1950’s to the 1990’s vilified fats and recommended high carbohydrate, low fat diets to the detriment of all who followed their advice. The science was flawed at its core thanks to the shady work of Dr. Ansel Keys who used hand picked data (a scientific no-no) to propagate incorrect conclusions and then bullied anyone who disagreed (a blog post about this is coming soon).
I’ve heard doctors tell people about how long distance athletes survive on mainly complex carbohydrates and look how lean and fit they are. There are three problems with this argument. First, they are fit and lean because they run or swim 25 miles per day, and meanwhile I don’t even take the two flights of stairs to my binge eaters anonymous meetings (which I later found out is not a place where one can anonymously binge eat). Second, a recent study of triathletes showed that a third of them were overweight or obese. Third, there are many endurance athletes (including one of the leaders of the ketogenic movement Dr. Timothy Noakes) who have found that despite being more active than virtually any other human on earth, decades of consuming carbohydrate rich diets have made them pre-diabetic with depressed immune systems and high levels of inflammatory markers. To work that hard at being healthy and get such terrible results seems ridiculously unfair, like how clothing designers only make silky frilly underwear for women. Umm, excuse me if I want to feel sexy under my clothes and I can also grow a beard. Don’t believe the hype, fats are good for you.
9. Omega 3’s. Literally, the best thing you can put in your mouth.
Omega 3 fatty acids are the type of fat that is usually found in the bodies of animals that feasted on leafy greens and grass all of their lives. Humans can’t digest foods like grass, which is a pity, because grass is full of omega 3’s. Eating the animals that eat the grass, is the next best thing. Foods that are high in omega 3’s are things like wild salmon, sardines, grass fed beef, crab, krill (found in krill oil), butter (from grass fed cows), and herring. Most oily fish are high in omega 3’s but you want to select the younger ones that are lower in the food chain to avoid loading up on mercury. Also, certain farmed fish are getting fed omega 3’s and therefore some are an acceptable alternative to wild, but check with your fish guy before purchasing. Omega 3’s will make you live longer and healthier because of their anti-inflammatory properties and benefits with regards to cardiovascular health. They are good for your brain, heart, and even your aching joints. Also, most of the fats available at the supermarket are omega 6 fats, which aren’t nearly as good. As the ratio of our dietary fats gets higher in omega 6 fats, we become more inflammatory and therefore less healthy. So eat more of the omega 3’s to offset some of those omega 6’s. Does that make sense?
8. Fats increase your testosterone (and other sexy and important hormones).
Fats make up the majority of all hormones because hormones must be literally coated in fats in order to get into the places in the body they need to get to. The most important hormone to most men is testosterone. Men with low testosterone are shown to be at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and being picked last in gym class. Testosterone increases muscle mass, libido, energy stores, and decreases your body fat. It’s no wonder the professional wrestlers from the 80’s were so awesome. It wasn’t just their mullets, beautiful girls, and hyper-orange tans. Those guys were strong, lean, and sexual because they were injecting oodles of the stuff, and it got a bit out of hand. Some of their testosterone was derived from horses, bulls, and sasquatch, the latter being the most potent and expensive for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, there is a downside to taking ridiculous doses of testosterone. One danger is that someone can become medically speaking “too sexy.” More real risks include extra breast tissue in males, body acne, deadly cancers, and worst of all, testicular shrinkage. So, it is far better for your body to make its own testosterone, and high amounts of fats in your diet along with some weight lifting can help you get there. The mullet is totally optional, and by that I mean mandatory.
7. Fats fill you up, and then you eat less.
Since I’ve started eating more fats I’ve noticed something. I’m not hungry very much. Therefore, I eat a lot less. This is obviously helpful if you are trying to maintain a healthy weight. I will explain the science behind this. If this sort of thing bores you, just take my word for it and skip to number 6.
In medical school, we learned that eating fats will trigger a hormone called CCK to be released. CCK slows the rate that the stomach releases food into the small intestine. This slows the absorption of carbohydrates which decreases blood glucose levels and therefore helps keep your insulin levels low. This is similar to how drinking on an empty stomach will get you drunk a lot faster than if you have food in your tummy. The food slows the alcohol absorption the same way fat triggers a slowing of the absorption of carbs. Slowing gastric emptying time also makes you feel fuller for longer because it takes longer to clear out room for the next meal. When you eat carbs, they are quickly processed through the stomach and into the small intestine, leaving you hungry with an empty stomach and ready to strap on that old feed bag before you have made it to your car in the Olive Garden parking lot. Have you ever heard people say that they feel hungry shortly after eating Chinese food? Of course you have, it’s a tired cliché. This is due to the large amounts of carbs and the relatively low fat content of the food. Eating a lot of fat, essentially has the opposite effect. Many world class athletes, elite special forces operators, and forward thinking sports nutritionists are converting to the ketogenic movement because using fats as fuel allows for longer periods of sustained energy without getting hungry and eating. Trying to find a Power bar in the middle of a 12 or 24 hour mission can be problematic and there is a tactical advantage to not having to stop and eat every 2-3 hours in order to achieve peak performance.
6. Fats are an anti-cancer weapon.
As we have previously discussed, the body can use glucose or ketones for fuel. One of the new ways researchers are combatting cancer is to exploit the way cancers use energy. To better understand this, we will need to have a brief discussion about cancer.
Cancer cells are essentially regular cells that have undergone a mutational change which is to say, they made a mistake when they were reproducing, this has caused them to start multiplying at an unhealthy rate and often spread to surrounding parts of the body. So a cancer is not born of millions of years of evolution, the way our healthy cells are, but instead are randomly created in our bodies through a mistake in replication (copying) or transcription (think coconut telegraph). As such, these cancers are not efficient utilizers of energy, nor are they complex enough to be able to switch back and forth from different energy sources, and generally can only use glucose for their growth and not ketones. When doctors try to find cancer in the body, one of the tools they use is called a PET scan (see picture below). The patient is given some specially marked glucose molecules and the areas in the body that are using the most glucose show up as hot spots on the scan, generally representing the area of cancer. The cancer’s inefficiency means that it uses up a tremendous amount of energy (calories) in the form of glucose in the process of spreading and growing. This is why diabetics or people with high glucose levels have higher cancer risk. They are literally feeding the cancer what it wants. This is also why unplanned weight loss is a sign of cancer. The patient with the cancer has something in their body that is using up a lot of energy, but only in the form of glucose, so they naturally lose weight, and rather quickly.
So, what about a person who’s lion share of energy comes from ketones (fat)? Scientists have show how this can essentially cause the cancer to starve, and slow or even stop its rapid growth. The body can continue to function on the ketones, but without a steady supply of glucose, the cancer is lost in the desert without a Cinnabon in sight. Meanwhile, the body has a host of natural immune system fighters that are designed to kill cancer, that can gain a foothold over the cancer. Furthermore, if the cancer isn’t spreading, the survival rate after surgery is many times more likely. When the cancer is being fed a normal diet of glucose, these defenses are often overwhelmed by rapid growth and spread, and surgery can be ineffective if the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. Despite many different scientific research papers showing promise with this approach, this strategy is not in widespread use at this time. The use of the drug metformin, which is a diabetes med that lowers blood glucose levels, is becoming used more frequently by oncologists. I am not advocating for you or a loved one to go against doctor’s wishes, if god forbid, they are being treated for cancer. What I am saying, is that if I had cancer, this is one of the many approaches I would take, as part of a coordinated battle against this horrible disease.
5. Fats don’t cause weight gain.
Contrary to their unfortunate name, fats can actually be a powerful tool of weight loss. If fats, had just been given a different name, this stigma would be easier to shake, but they’re stuck with that name. There are mountains of data (see evidence section) that shows that high fat diets do not cause weight gain and obesity, but instead refined carbohydrates and especially those found in processed foods are the primary cause of America’s obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, like most things in the nutritional world the data is complex and easily manipulated. One of the confounders that sometime lead to this misperception (aside from fat’s name) is that bad diets, like what you order from a drive thru window or get from a warmer at a truck stop, are high in fat. So, often dieticians will blame the fat in those meals for the negative effects experienced by the consumer. A closer look will reveal that these meals are almost completely devoid of nutrients and are very high in refined carbohydrates and are processed to the nth degree. Another confounder is that fats are calorically dense. Fat has approximately 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram. If you believe in the calories in, calories out model of weight gain, then the simplest and most effective way to cut calories is to reduce the fat in your food. The problem with this approach is that a diet low in fat and high in carbs makes people hungrier, so they eat more and also drives up insulin which are the two most important mechanisms of weight gain.
This simplistic view of fat was one of the driving forces of the low-fat food craze of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Food manufacturers reduced the fat in their products because nutritionists at the time said that fat and cholesterol were causing heart disease rates to increase, but the result wasn’t what nutritionists expected. Americans started getting fatter on a larger scale than ever before (no pun intended). A closer look at the dietary habits of Americans reveals that the actual amount of dietary fat that was consumed on average didn’t decrease because of the low-fat movement but a significant amount of low-fat and fat free foods were essentially heaped onto the diet they were already eating. Obviously, this was not a good thing, unless you owned the company that made those fat free cookies or one of the pharmaceutical companies specializing in diabetic medications and supplies. In retrospect, the lowfat/fat free craze was an unmitigated disaster for Americans health and wellness. It was also bad for the American consumer in terms of the flavor of food. Instead of delicious cheesecake, we got fat free snackwell cookies, and instead of ice cream, we got fat free froyo, and worst of all instead of butter we got margarine. What a crock. Now the pendulum is starting to swing all the way to the other direction. In the future, when we have even more data further implicating carbohydrates as the primary culprit of weight gain, maybe fat will be considered an ironic nick name like when a big guy is named “Tiny” or when a hooker is named “Chastity”.
This revelation that fats don’t make you fat also explains the previous mystery known as the French Paradox. Essentially for 50 years, the dieticians in America couldn’t wrap their heads around the enormous amounts of butter (10X the American rate) consumed by the French and their extremely low rates of heart disease and their obesity rate of less than 3%. How can this be? They are all very thin, eat butter by the tub, they don’t even have a word for “gym” in French. Does being rude and having a false sense of superiority burn calories? In America, we shun butter, we sweat to the oldies, we jazzercise and over half of us are obese or overweight. When scientists observe something that doesn’t fit into their way of thinking, they call it a paradox, when in reality their theory is incorrect in the first place and they are too close minded to admit it. I personally eat a stick of butter per day, and my cholesterol numbers and weight continue to get better every year.
4. Fats don’t make your cholesterol higher.
Before we start on this concept, let’s take a quick look at cholesterol and how it works in our bodies. How cholesterol works. Or why it’s OK to eat eggs every day.
3. Mental clarity, ketosis, neurotransmitters, blood glucose swings, avoiding mental fog etc.
One of the many negative side effects of a high carb and low fat diet are the aggressive swings in your blood glucose. You brain is pound for pound the biggest consumer of glucose in your body and is very much affected by these swings. Just imagine force feeding a gorilla bananas at very different but extreme rates. At no point will the gorilla be happy. This is what is going on with your brain when you are having big swings of your blood glucose. Also please ignore the cruel and overtly sexual nature of this analogy. As we discussed in the ketogenic diet section, your brain can also run on ketones and many of the disciples of the ketogenic diet proclaim that the brain functions much better running on ketones (fats) as opposed to glucose. There aren’t a great deal of high quality studies that show a definitive advantage, but there is proof that the swings in your blood glucose, both high and low swings (show blood glucose swings graph here) are bad for your overall cognition, concentration, and executive functioning. This isn’t a trivial couple points of IQ but real, functional differences. The deficits you experience with these swings can be as debilitating as sleep deprivation, alcohol, repeated blows to the head, or whatever drug Charlie Sheen is on currently. Fats lower the Glycemic index and Glycemic load of any meal and thus blunt these swings and help keep your blood sugar in a stable range for longer periods of time. This helps your brain by keeping it fed at a constant rate, even if you never reach the magical state of ketosis. I am occasionally in ketosis and I feel instant energy and mental clarity with even a little mild euphoria, along with the nice fruity breath sensation.
We have previously mentioned that a large percentage of our brain is made up of fat to include the nerve cells, their fatty coat (myelin sheath), and the neurotransmitters that help regulate much of our thinking. Providing the body with an ample supply of healthy fats to not only fuel the brain but also keep the brain stocked with a supply of quality spare parts (fat) likely helps keep the brain in good repair. The high fat Mediterranean diet has been shown to help cognition as we age, and decrease the rates of dementia. Neurologists tell us that in general, foods and activities that are good for the heart are almost always also good for the brain and this is definitely been proven to be true in the case of the Mediterranean Diet and exercise. The ketogenic diet has successfully been used for decades to treat childhood epilepsy (a brain disorder) that is not responsive to medications and preliminary studies have shown paleo and keto diets to be helpful in ADHD and autism. So, if you need help getting through your workday or the New York Times Monday crossword puzzle, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and pile the sardines on those greens and you might just get that promotion and/or remove your “trainee” nametag, or perhaps you’ll figure out that elusive three letter word for an amazing and much maligned macronutrient, first letter is an F.
2. Fat will shrink your stomach, and that is a good thing.
When people get gastric bypass or “stomach stapling” procedure, their stomachs are surgically altered to be about the size of a child’s fist. The procedure works great initially and people lose weight. The problem is that a large percentage of folks gain the weight back. How can you possibly gain weight when your stomach is so freaking small? The stomach can grow with repeated stretching from over-eating and it eventually becomes too large and allows for over eating, even after being surgically reduced in size. Eating a high fat diet does the opposite. When I eat some butter, bacon, and Brussel sprouts, my stomach sends signals to my brain that I am full after a small volume of food because the fats are rich and filling, so I stop eating. After many meals where my stomach is not completely filled or stretched, my stomach gradually shrinks to a smaller size. At a later, less healthy meal, when I am consuming pizza or corndogs or something, my smaller stomach fills up with less food and quickly signals my brain that I am full and I step away from the buffet. This sets me up for less episodes of over-eating with less hunger. In a way, eating fat is training your body to be skinny. Mind blown.
1. Fats are delicious, and are a flavor enhancer for all foods.
The culinary fact that fats are tasty is probably obvious, as the three keys to French cooking are butter, butter, and butter. For Italians, Spanish, and Greeks it’s the olive oil. For Thai and Indians it’s the Ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil. For Americans, it’s Velveeta, mayonnaise, and the grease that accumulates on hot dogs when they’re cooked, you know, the hotdog sweat. Sheesh, we may need to work on that as a country. At any rate, fats make food taste butter, I mean better. It’s rare in the diet world when research puts a delicious and previously “unhealthy” food back on the “healthy” list, but the latest research has done just that. This is pretty exciting news for all of us amateur cooks out there because it opens a world of possibilities, mostly butter, and bacon, also cheese. I’m pretty excited. After this research came to light, I went through a phase where I was adding bacon to almost everything, it got a little weird. I was even cooking my bacon in bacon grease. Since then, I’ve backed off a bit and am using more butter, olive oil, and a lot more coconut oil, but when the mood strikes and the dish calls for it, I will still break out my bacon press and my Spiderman Underoos and start frying the most smoky of breakfast meats. Inevitably, I’ll later be treating the grease splatter burns on my torso and working to get the grease stains out of my underpants.