By Mark Hyman, MD
Even doctors and other health experts are often completely confused about fat, clinging to myths and misconceptions that prevent them from understanding the latest science on losing weight and achieving optimal health.
False Myths About Fat Make Us Miss Out
On Many Important Health Benefits
You are, of course, familiar with many of these myths: Fat makes you fat, fat contributes to heart disease, and fat leads to obesity. Saturated fat is bad, vegetable oils are good.
Simply put, these and other fat myths are big fat lies. Thankfully, the importance of fat is finally starting to catch on.
I’d like to think that I played a part in this revolution. My latest book, “Eat Fat, Get Thin,” came out earlier this year.
Here, I combined the latest research with my own personal experience – based on decades of empirical evidence working with patients – to prove what I’ve long known: The right fats can help you become lean, healthy and vibrant.
Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks. In fact, the average person is made up of between 15 and 30 percent fat.
Yet for decades, we’ve demonized dietary fat. We’ve diligently followed low-fat diets that almost always equated into high-sugar, high-refined carb diets. But, as it turns out, this kind of diet contributes to insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many other health problems.
The truth is that the higher the fat quality, the better your body will function. Think about it: You have more than 100 trillion cells in your body, and every single cell should be constructed of high-quality fat.
How do you know if your cells are getting enough vital fat? Your body actually sends you signals when it doesn’t get enough good fat. Never ignore the signs your body is giving you. Some warning signs include:
• Dry, itchy, scaling or flaking skin
• Soft, cracked or brittle nails
• Hard ear wax
• Tiny bumps on the back of your arms or on your torso
• Achy and stiff joints
• Memory problems
• Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
• Weight gain
Dietary fats are absolutely essential for good health. Obviously you want to add more of the right fats to your diet. To do this, you need to know which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.
Many people label all fats as bad and lump them all together. The fact is that all fats are not created equal. There are good fats, questionable fats, and bad fats. But government, media, scientists and doctors have long advised us to eat the wrong types of fats.
Building the body from the inside out is like building a house. You can frame the house with the cheapest materials or you can invest in high-quality materials that are going to be energy-efficient and last a really long time.
When you eat the wrong fats, you’re using cheap materials, and the results won’t be good. Most processed foods on supermarket shelves are made with poor-quality omega-6 fats from refined, processed vegetable oils. They are abundant, very cheap, taste good, and add texture.
The next time you’re in the supermarket, take a closer look at the ingredient lists of your favorite packaged foods. If the list includes oils from corn, soy, cottonseed or safflower, you are getting a poor-quality fat.
When you consume these sub-par fats, your cell walls also become subpar. Instead of being flexible and responsive to intercellular communication, they become stiff and rigid. The more rigid the walls, the slower the cells function and the more vulnerable they become to inflammation.
You want to ensure your body has the fats it needs to construct high-quality cell walls. That means eating more omega-3 fats. Cell walls made from omega-3 fats are more flexible, which allows cells to respond more quickly to the ‘messages’ they receive.
These good fats also help the body produce prostaglandins, otherwise known as the hormones that “cool off” inflammation.
Optimal sources of omega-3 fats include small cold-water fish like wild-caught salmon, sardines and herring, organic flax and hemp seed oils, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and sea vegetables.
Scientists suspect that early humans ate almost equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Our hunter-gatherer human ancestors got healthy omega-6 fats from seeds and nuts. They got their omega-3s from wild game and fish as well as foraging for wild plants.
As people began to refine oils from plants, the fat-ratio became skewed more toward omega-6 fats. Before long, this created a drastic imbalance in the modern diet, making us more vulnerable to serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
When the human diet contained a balanced number of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, heart disease was almost nonexistent. Today, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world.
The more omega-3 fats you eat, the easier your body can “cool off,” meaning that it is less prone to inflammation, which is at the root of nearly every chronic disease, especially those impacting the brain and the heart.
The brain is completely dependent on these high-quality fats. In fact, it is made up of 60 percent fat. High-quality fat boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory. By contrast, studies link a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and even violence.
Your heart will also thank you for eating more omega-3s, which help lower levels of bad fats (triglycerides) and raise levels of good fats (HDL). Omega-3 fats make the blood more slippery, reducing the likelihood of artery disease.
Beyond nourishing your heart and brain, eating the right kind of fats helps you shed body fat. Paradoxical as it sounds, not eating fat or eating the wrong types of fat make you gain weight.
That’s because healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, meaning you’re more likely to burn than store fat. Consuming healthy fats also helps absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Besides eating plenty of wild, fatty fish, you can optimize your fat intake with nuts and seeds, coconut oil, grass-fed butter (or ghee if you’re dairy sensitive), avocados, grass-fed meats, extra-virgin olive oil, and olives.
If you’re still curious about whether you’re getting enough fat in your diet, take this quiz. Also check out my new Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook, filled with luscious, delicious, healthy recipes that deliver optimal amounts of healthy fat.
Let’s spread the news about healthy fats and permanently put to rest outdated myths about fat!
Mark Hyman, MD is a physician and widely acclaimed book author. He is chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and serves on the board of directors of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. He is the founder and medical director of The Ultra Wellness Center in Lenox, Mass.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.