What About Fat?
If you take one piece of information away from my blog, I want it to be this: fat is NOT bad for you. This whole low-fat diet craze that began in the late 1970’s was based on flawed research. That original research implicated saturated fat as the cause of cardiovascular disease. It is now becoming recognized that the true culprit in the rise of cardiovascular disease in Western culture is carbohydrates (sugars and starches). That’s why the rate of heart disease has skyrocketed in the last three decades despite the fact that so many of us switched to low-fat salad dressing, pasta, and Snackwells.
Not only is dietary fat not bad for you, it’s critical for your health. You need to eat fat in order to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat is essential for cell construction, nerve function, digestion, and for the formation of the hormones that regulate everything from metabolism to circulation. Your brain is composed of more than 60% fat and cholesterol. By the way, dietary cholesterol isn’t bad for you either (but I’ll save that for its own post), so stop avoiding eggs. Eggs are very healthy for you, especially if you get the omega-3 ones.
You’ve probably heard alot about omega-3 fatty acids. That’s because dietary deficiency in omega-3s has been linked to: dyslexia, violence, depression, anxiety, memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease, weight gain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, eczema, allergies, asthma, inflammatory diseases, arthritis, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and many others. But not all omega-3 fatty acids are created equal. There are three forms. ALA is found is flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and many other plant sources of polyunsaturated fats. Your body mainly needs the other two forms, DHA and EPA, which are found in fish, omega-3 eggs, free-range poultry, pasture-fed cattle, dairy from pasture-fed animals, and wild game.
So, what about omega-6 fatty acids? These are also polyunsaturated fats. Many diet gurus are now labeling linoleic acid (the dominant form of omega-6 found in grains, modern vegetable oils and meat from grain-fed animals) as the True Bad Fat. But, there are no bad fats in nature. The problem is the quantity of omega-6 fats that has insinuated itself into the modern human diet. Ancestral diets consisted of a 1:1 to 1:2 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. When grain was introduced into the human diet (and to the diets of grazing animals that we raise for food) approximatly 10,000 years ago, we dramatically increased the proportion of our dietary fat that is omega-6s. Modern Western diets contain anywhere from a 1:10 to a 1:40 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. This is NOT what nature intended for our optimal health.
There is a complex interplay between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your body, and both are essential for life. Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to anti-inflammatory processes, whereas omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. “Pro-inflammatory” sounds bad, but, in the balanced quantities that our ancestors consumed, it is critical for wound healing and fighting infections. But, when you combine excessive omega-6 fatty acid consumption with the irritation to the gut lining caused by gluten and other lectins, our bodies have constant low-level inflammation. This sets the stage for many diseases, decreased ability to fight infection, and exaggerated allergies.
If you make only one change to your diet after reading my blog, I hope that it is increasing your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with the goal of restoring the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s in your diet. You can achieve this with food choices or by adding a high quality fish oil supplement to your diet. Either way, you will feel better for it.