There is probably more misinformation about fats than any other aspect of the American diet. Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not make you fat any more than eating meat (which is muscle) makes you more muscular. The our body’s metabolic system doesn’t work that way.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that people are confused when it comes to what constitutes a healthy diet because there is so much conflicting information. Is it low carb or high carb. Is it low fat or not. About the only thing most people can agree on is that protein is good. But then again, how much and what kind of protein? I hope to clear up some of the questions regarding “fat” in this post.
The Confusion Begins
I’ve spent more time researching the topic of fats than any other topic because it has been extremely confusing. It seems like our current thinking on fats started with a study by Ancel Keys, Ph.D. Dr. Keys was an advisor to the Department of Defense during World War II. You’ve probably heard of K-rations that our soldiers ate. Well, the “K” is named for Dr. Keys.Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not make you fat. #health Click To Tweet
However, he is better known for a study he conducted in the 1950’s relating to fat intake and deaths from heart disease known as the Seven Countries Study. The study demonized saturated fats and glorified polyunsaturated fats which has led us down the wrong path replacing fat calories with calories from processed carbohydrates resulting in an obesity and diabetes epidemic.
In summary, the results showed a correlation between fat intake and heart disease. Because of this study, more than a half century ago, many experts continue to promote a low fat diet based of this research. However, when we dig deeper into the data we find many flaw with the methodology as well as the conclusions.
As a matter of fact, shortly after the research was published, other researchers claimed Keys “cherry picked” the data because he only used 7 countries when he had data from 22 countries. The fact is he did “cherry pick”; however, if he would have used all 22 countries, the correlation was still there just to a lesser degree.
The Untold Story
But there is more to the story. The same data also showed that deaths from all other causes decreased for those countries that consumed more fat. That story was never told. Also, countries in the 1950’s, especially less developed countries, classified deaths differently further skewing the results. So, what one country may count as a death due to heart disease, another country may have classified differently. Not a good scenario for a study of this significance.
And there is more. The diet data used in the study was from “food balance sheets” of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations which is the food available for consumption not the food that was actually consumed. This doesn’t mean the data is bogus, but it does mean that the fat and caloric calculations for wealthier nations is overestimated (probably by a lot) since there is a strong correlation between abundance and the amount of food that is wasted or not consumed.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is correlation isn’t causation, yet this study got a lot of traction and demonized saturated fats. For a more detailed analysis of the study click here. There are many other studies on both sides of the fence on the issue of fats, most are observational epidemiological studies that only make assumptions based on correlations, not direct cause and effect studies.
A Scientific Study
So let’s look at a recent (2014) controlled diet study by Dr. Jeff Volek of Ohio State University: Doubling Saturated Fat in the Diet Does Not Increase Saturated Fat in Blood. Here are some excerpts from the results:
“There is widespread misunderstanding about saturated fat. In population studies, there’s clearly no association of dietary saturated fat and heart disease, yet dietary guidelines continue to advocate restriction of saturated fat. That’s not scientific and not smart,” Volek said. “But studies measuring saturated fat in the blood and risk for heart disease show there is an association. Having a lot of saturated fat in your body is not a good thing. The question is, what causes people to store more saturated fat in their blood, or membranes, or tissues?
“People believe you are what you eat; but in reality, you are what you save from what you eat,” he said. “The point is you don’t necessarily save the saturated fat that you eat. And the primary regulator of what you save in terms of fat is the carbohydrate in your diet. Since more than half of Americans show some signs of carb intolerance, it makes more sense to focus on carb restriction than fat restriction.”
Watch this video by Dr. Jeff Volek.
There are good fats and bad fats which will be the topic of a future post. And yes, fat has nine calories per gram compared to four calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein. Calories do matter; however, fats are a great energy source and satisfy hunger for longer periods. And, fats like all foods, must be consumed in a healthy balanced manner with other nutrients.
My Personal Experiment
I did my own personal experiment. For the last three months I have adjusted my marco-nutrient ratios and 40% to 55% of my daily caloric intake comes from fat. This is well above what many experts recommend. My goal is to have about 20% of my calories come from carbohydrates, 30% from proteins, and 50% from fats. The results has been very positive with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, my blood pressure is lower than it was when I was in college, I have reduced my weight by 13 pounds. I am eating less and my energy level remains high all day.
Conventional wisdom has falsely promoted a correlation between high levels of fat in the diet and high levels of fat in the blood (high triglycerides). High triglycerides are proven to be unhealthy; however, they are associated with excess carbohydrate intake, not fat intake.
I understand this is contrary to what you’ve been told in the past. I encourage you to do your own research, think critically, and LIVE HEALTHY! ?