Debunking Big Fat Myths
For a long time, we’ve been fed the story that fats are the enemy, and that the only way to stay healthy and fit was to eat a low-fat diet. While many studies have revealed the numerous health benefits of fats, we still see products being advertised as low-fat to perpetuate the myth that low-fat equals healthy.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I emphasize the importance of science-backed nutritional recommendations and often suggest that my patients incorporate more healthy fats to help regulate blood sugar, improve energy and balance hormone levels. So, let’s set the record straight about fats by breaking down the top 3 fat myths.
3 Big Fat Myths
1. Fats Are Bad for Your Health
The most important thing to remember here is that not all fats are created equally. While some fats can fan the flame of inflammation and contribute to disease, other fats can help to calm inflammation and provide a healthy source of energy for our cells. In case you’re wondering which fats are considered “harmful” and which ones are considered “healthy," I’ve made a list of the main ones you should know.
These fats are highly processed and can damage our cells.
- Hydrogenated Fats (ex. Margarine)
- Soybean Oil
- Canola Oil
- Peanut Oil
These fats are minimally processed and have been shown to improve brain health and markers of inflammation.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Unrefined Coconut Oil
- Grass-Fed Butter & Ghee
- Nuts & Seeds
Healthy fats are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, which has been studied extensively for its health benefits. One study even showed that older adults who followed a Mediterranean Diet in addition to supplementing with extra-virgin olive oil (1 liter per week) experienced an improvement in their cognitive function compared to those who followed a low-fat diet (1).
Many people who live in “Blue Zones” - areas of the world where people commonly live past the age of 100 - follow a Mediterranean Diet. The healthy fats they consume likely improve their quality of life. You can learn more about the healthy habits of these populations in our blog, The Secrets To Living A Long Life: 9 Lessons From The Blue Zones.
2. Eating Fat Makes You Gain Weight
False! In fact, a 2-year study found that a Mediterranean or low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight-loss compared to a low-fat diet (2). Participants in the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diet groups were encouraged to consume healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil and nuts. In addition to the increased weight loss, participants in the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate groups saw a greater improvement in their overall cholesterol levels and a decrease in C-reactive Protein- a marker of inflammation in the body.
These findings make sense given the fact that fats can improve blood sugar levels by helping insulin to respond more efficiently. Unregulated blood sugar can contribute to weight gain, chronic inflammation and other imbalances.
3. Eating Fat Worsens Cholesterol Levels
How dietary fats affect cholesterol levels has long been a controversial topic. Several factors need to be considered when looking at the research here. For example, the type of fat consumed, genetic predisposition, and overall lifestyle practices can affect someone’s cholesterol levels.
One study found that cashews, an abundant source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, may help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol) (3). Another study looked at heart disease risk factors in people who followed a low carbohydrate versus a low-fat diet. After 1 year, there was no significant change in LDL cholesterol in either group. However, HDL cholesterol (aka “good” cholesterol) increased significantly in people who followed a low-carbohydrate diet compared to a low-fat diet (4). HDL cholesterol helps the body remove unwanted cholesterol particles and can protect against heart disease.
Fats, particularly the healthy fats highlighted in this article, are loaded with beneficial properties! This isn’t to say that you should overload your plate with fatty foods. It’s all about balance and giving fats a seat at the table to be a part of a healthy diet.
- Valls-Pedret C, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Jul: 175(7):1094-1103. DOI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25961184/
- Shai I, et al. New England Journal of Medicine. 2008 Jul 17: 359(3):229-41. DOI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18635428/
- Mah E, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 May: 105(5): 1070-1078. DOI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28356271/
- Bazzano L, et al. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014 September: 161(5): 309-18. DOI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25178568/