Integrative Nutrition Blog

Dispelling the Myths About Fat

February 23, 2016

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Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher, Frank Lipman, MD, is an integrative physician and founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, which focuses on sustainable wellness and offers patients a customized blend of Western medicine with alternative therapies. Practicing what he calls “good medicine,” he focuses on healing and preventing the root cause of sickness with a team of Health Coaches trained at Integrative Nutrition by his side.

With the release of Dr. Lipman’s book (on shelves today), we had the chance to check in and get his perspective on fat – one of the most misunderstood and confusing components of a healthy diet!

Dispelling the Myths About Fat
By Frank Lipman, MD

One of my favorite sayings is by U.S. humorist Josh Billings:  “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble—it’s what you know that just ain’t so.”  I’ve found that this is true in many areas of life, but nowhere more so than in health.  If we know we’re making unhealthy choices, we might expect to get bad results.  But what could be sadder than doing something we “know” is healthy—only to find that it is nothing but? 

 That’s why I wrote my latest book, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat…and How YOU Can Stay Young, Slim, and Happy! I wanted to help people break through the myths around health so that they could know the truth about making healthy choices.

 My book takes on a number of myths about health. Would it surprise you to learn that all of the following commonly held beliefs “just ain’t so”?

Some Myths About Health and Weight Loss

  • “Weight loss is primarily about cutting calories.”
  • “If a certain condition runs in my family, there is little I can do to prevent it.”
  • “If I don’t have celiac disease, I can eat all the gluten I want.”
  • “Whole grains are a very healthy food for just about everyone.”
  • “Juicing is healthy.”
  • “Feeling tired is normal as you get older.”
  • “Getting a good night’s sleep has nothing to do with my weight.”
  • “Stress is mainly psychological.”
  • “You have to be really enlightened to reduce or relieve stress.”

 And those are just a few of the myths that I take on.  It’s remarkable how much incorrect information is out there—and it’s sad to think how those myths are preventing people from making good decisions about their health. 

Some of the most common myths have to do with dietary fat.  So I’m going to answer some of the most frequent questions I hear about that topic, helping you break through some very common—and very dangerous—myths. 

Q:  I’ve heard that one of the best ways to lose weight—and to protect your heart—is to cut back on fat.
A: That’s not quite true.  Many types of fat are bad for you—but some types of fat are terrific for your health.  You should cut back on unhealthy fat…but make sure to get a lot of healthy fat.

Chief among the unhealthy fats are the fats that nature never made:  trans fats, a.k.a partially hydrogenated fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  These fats are made by injecting extra hydrogen into vegetable oils to extend their shelf life, which is why they used to be found in so many processed and packaged foods. 

While they preserve the foods, however, they slowly but surely destroy your body. Because they are unnatural, they are very challenging to digest, and they also weaken the integrity of your cell walls.  Piling on the injuries, they also provoke inflammation, an immune-system response that can be healthy when mobilized to heal an infection or injury, but literally deadly when it becomes your body’s chronic condition.  Eat a bit of hydrogenated fat each day—or even a few times each week—and you help create the chronic inflammation that makes you more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and even cancer. Fortunately, the FDA has banned them, and they’re supposed to be out of our food supply by 2018.

Fat from factory-farmed animals is also pretty unhealthy. I’m talking about conventionally raised red meat and poultry, as well as the dairy products that come from conventionally raised cows. These poor cows and chickens are shot up with antibiotics, stuffed with corn and soy, and exposed to industrial toxins in a thousand different ways. Neither their meat nor their fat is healthy for you, so you want to focus on pasture raised, grass fed animals and dairy products, whose fat will be far healthier.

Q: So I should stick to vegetable fats as far as possible?
A: Well…not completely.  Some plant-based fats are healthy, but again, many are not.

There’s a whole group of vegetable oils masquerading as healthy that are absolutely terrible for your health. I call these vegetable oils (which by the way, are not even made from vegetables) “industrial oils,” because the only way we can digest them is when they have been highly processed. They were never part of the human diet until we developed food factories to produce them.

Because this type of oil is so common—especially in restaurant, processed, and packaged foods—it might even be worse for your health than trans fats, simply because you may be consuming it in such high quantities.  Industrial oils threaten your health in several ways:

  • They are often made from genetically modified crops.
  • They imbalance your ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s.
  • They are unstable, which makes them likely to cause inflammation.
  • They are highly refined, which makes them even more inflammatory.  The refining process must be done at a high heat, which oxidizes an unstable oil and turns it into a nest of free radicals just waiting to do damage to your cells. To remove these oils’ natural flavor and aroma, chemical solvents must be used, and these solvents aren’t especially good for you either.

Industrial Oils to Avoid

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Rice bran
  • Soy

Q: You’re making me feel as though I should cut out all fats, just to be on the safe side.
A: Not at all!  Healthy fats are absolutely terrific for your health, and I want you to make them a regular part of your diet.  In fact, for ideal health and weight loss, you should have at least one or two tablespoons of heathy fat at every meal.

Fat has gotten a seriously bad rap in recent years, which as a physician, I find distressing. We need healthy fats to support our brains—which are about 60 percent fat—as well as our cell walls—which are made of fat. Many vegetables are full of fat-soluble vitamins—vitamins that dissolve only in fat—which means that if you don’t put a light coating of healthy fat on your salads and veggies, you’re depriving yourself of vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Here are the healthiest fats for you to focus on.  Note that they include both animal- and plant-based fats:

Healthy Plant-Based Fats

  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Coconuts and coconut oil (virgin or expeller pressed)
  • Olives and olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Palm oil
  • Flaxseeds and flax oil
  • Raw nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Unheated nut oils like walnut oil and macadamia oil
  • Seeds, such as chia seeds

Healthy Animal-Based Fats

  • Fish oil
  • Cold-water fish like wild salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and sardines
  • Organic grass-fed or pastured meats
  • Organic pastured egg yolk
  • Pasture-raised duck fat
  • Grass-fed butter or ghee (clarified butter)
    • Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheese

Q: I notice you’ve got some saturated fats on that list.  Shouldn’t I be worried about cholesterol.
A: Ah, cholesterol…one of the biggest myths of all! 

The cholesterol story is a complex one, and if you want more detail, you can find it in my book. But I don’t want to leave you in suspense, so here are the key points:

  • Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to perform many vital functions.
  • Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease or any other disorder.
  • If you’re concerned about cardiovascular disease, focus on lowering your inflammation (which you can also find out how to do in my book!).
    • Long term studies have not shown a correlation between saturated fat intake and blood cholesterol levels.
    • You actually get excessively high cholesterol and triglycerides from eating too many sweets and starches.

If you’d like to learn more about fat—or if you’d like to learn more about the many myths about health that “just aren’t so,” check out my book, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat. . . and How YOU Can Stay Young, Slim, and Happy! 

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