Recently I sat down to the dinner table with my Dad and boy was I surprised at what I discovered.

But first, let me share with you a little bit about my dad.

My dad is one of the most health conscious people I know.

Since I was a little girl I can remember him talking about the importance of the quality of food you eat and being told at all costs to avoid fast food and junk food. In the mid 80’s we had chia seed, chorella, and even bee pollen in the refrigerator. We were not allowed to drink regualr soda.

And today, at the ripe age of 70 my Dad can still bust out 50 knuckle push-ups and 12 pull-ups on a moments notice. (Look below for proof.) So obviously, the guy is healthy.

P1060815

My Dad and I having a push up contest – we’re obviously deeply focused on the task at hand.

So when we decided to prepare and cook a meal together, I was excited at the prospect of some healthy, tasty food. We decided on a menu of grass-fed beef, roasted squash, salad, and maybe even a little red wine. Sounds pretty good, right?

But as we got into the details as to how and what ingredients we would use I uncovered a startling fact.  

My father believes fat is unhealthy.  

(Record scratching) Wait, what?

My dad insisted we use the leanest cut of beef we could find (sirloin instead of rib-eye), fat free salad dressing, and hold back on the butter. As I tried to further understand what was fueling his belief, I uncovered it stemmed from two of the most common misconceptions out there around fat.

2 Common Myths about Fat

1. Saturated Fat is bad for you and causes high cholesterol and an increased risk for coronary heart disease.

2. Eating fat makes you fat.

I share this story to reflect how entrenched this idea is in our culture.

Even someone as health conscious and vigilant as my Dad is confused by all the noise out there around fat.

Can you blame him?

There have been recent publications debunking these fat myths in the New York Times and Time Magazine, but there is still much work to do to get the message out.

Again, eating fat is not bad for your health.  

So I’d like to address each of these myths separately, so we can put them to rest once and for all.

1) Saturated Fat is bad for you and causes an increased risk for coronary heart disease.

Where did this come from?

This common misconception comes from a popular but outdated and biased study done in 1958 by Ancel Adams named the Seven Countries Study. This study examined the link between a high fat diet and cardiovascular disease. It concluded that a diet high in fat caused heart disease. Unfortunately this was not a good study as it cherry picked information that didn’t support its claim and also overlooked key pieces of evidence.

How did it become part of our dietary guidelines?

The bad news for Americans is in the late 1970’s the US Senate set some dietary recommendations for the country, one being to stop eating fat and cholesterol to try to mitigate the growing heart disease the country was facing. At this time the US senate was also recommending eating more fruits, vegetables, and grains. Not long after this the USDA adopted this recommendation, which worked nicely in their favor since they have an obvious stake in selling grains, and a whole new niche of fat free/non fat/low fat was born. Low fat, high carb diet for all…

Why exactly this became conventional wisdom when there was no solid scientific proof in the first place is unknown. But what we do now know is that in 2010 there was a large article published that looked at 21 prospective epidemiological studies with over 300,000 patients. The results were clear: no association between saturated fat and heart disease. Check it out for yourself here.

In fact, there is even more evidence to support the above claim. Saturated fat is known to positively affect two markers in total cholesterol. It has been shown to increase HDL (high density lipoprotein) – the good cholesterol. It has also been show to increase the amount of large, fluffy LDL (low density lipoprotein). LDL is typically thought of as the bad cholesterol – however it’s a bit complicated as LDL particles can be large and fluffy or small and dense. It is the small and dense LDL proteins that are harmful. The large and fluffy LDL proteins are benign. (1,2,3,4,5,6)

2) Eating fat makes you fat.

Many people still think fat makes you fat. It kinda makes sense, right? Wrong.

It turns out that this is not how it works in the body. While fat has more calories than carbohydrates and protein, we now know that calories aren’t the only factors that make you fat. Quality of where calories come from and how they impact key hormones like insulin, leptin, and others plays a much larger role in overall fat metabolism. If fat actually made you fat, why did the biggest spike of obesity rise in the time of the low fat, fat free, non fat everything era?

obese chart

This graph is from the National Center for Biotechnology Information -http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19623/ figure 7.

I am not stating that just because these things happened at the same time (correlation) there is causation, although some experts say this is the case. I do think though, one can make the deduction that cutting out all this fat hasn’t prevented us from gaining weight. Now that these myths have been debunked let’s talk about why you should be consuming fat and how to easily add it to your diet.

4 Reasons to Eat Quality Fat

1) Our bodies are primed for it and need it.

We have been eating fat for centuries and it has important functions in the body    and the brain. Did you know our brain is composed of up to 60% fat? Fat also forms cell membranes, manufactures and balances hormones, and forms our nervous systems.

2) Contains essential nutrients

There are 2 fatty acids that we need but our bodies can’t make – linoleic acid and linolenic acid.   We have to get them from dietary fat.

3) Absorption of vitamins 

The fat-soluble vitamins, which are A, D, E, and K can’t be absorbed without fat. Meaning if you eat a plate of vegetables with salad and you don’t include some cheese, avocado, or full fat salad dressing chances are you won’t absorb many of those nutrients. What a waste!

4) Eat Less 

It is hard to overeat when you are eating food that has fat. Not only does it taste great, but also it makes you feel full. Now I am not talking about processed foods that are loaded with sugar and trans fats, but whole, real foods that have fat. No need for overeating.

Quality “Healthy” Fats

There are fats to be avoided that aren’t healthy like trans fat and hydrogenated fat, but if you are getting your fat from unprocessed foods you will not have to worry about it. You’ll find trans and hydrogenated fats in most junk food, fake diet food, and processed foods.

Examples of ways to eat more healthy fat:

  • Choose fattier meats (grass-fed) and fishes.
  • Supplement with cod liver fish oil.
  • Eat butter (grass-fed), eggs, and avocados.
  • Use coconut oil or olive oil.
  • Add heavy cream to your coffee.

Now I’d like to ask you – What are your beliefs around fat? And what do you eat to make sure you get enough of the healthy fats in your diet? (You can officially stop beating yourself up over that extra spread of butter or piece of bacon).

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