Once upon a time there was no confusion about healthy eating. We all knew the rules, even if we didn’t always follow them. High-complex carbs, heavy on the grains, moderate fish and chicken. Low calorie—even lower fat.
But that was then. Emerging science suggests that we were not only wrong about fat, we were spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong.
It’s clear that our knowledge of what fat is, what it does, and what it does not do needs a serious update. Let’s start by looking at three of the biggest myths related to fat and disease.
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease
Actually, it doesn’t. There have been several major, peer-reviewed meta-analyses in the past decade completely debunking the notion that saturated fat is a causal factor in heart disease. In 2010, researchers reviewed 21 studies looking for the relationship of dietary saturated fat to the risk of coronary heart disease. They couldn’t find one. “There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) or CVD (cardiovascular disease),” they concluded.
This lack of association was confirmed in several other studies, notably a 2014 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which found no link between saturated fat consumption and the risk of heart disease or death.
Myth 2: Vegetable Oils Are Good
Well, not always. Vegetable oils don’t actually come from vegetables. They’re processed from grains such as corn, or from plants such as soybeans. Those we commonly use—corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil—are frequently derived from GMO crops, unless they’re organic. They’re processed at high heat, often with harsh chemicals, so by the time they end up on the shelf, there’s little nutritional value left. What’s more, they are mostly made up of omega-6 fats, which—in the absence of sufficient omega-3s—are pro-inflammatory.
Myth 3: Animal Products Are Unhealthy and Don’t Belong in a “Clean” Diet
It’s true that toxic animal products are unhealthy and don’t belong in your diet. But note the word “toxic.” Toxic animal products come from animals that have been raised in unspeakable conditions, fed an inflammatory diet, given massive amounts of antibiotics, injected with hormones and steroids, and fed grain sprayed with chemicals. Most of this meat comes from “factory farms” or CAFOs (confined animal feedlot operations).
Beef that is 100 percent grass-fed and organic is the opposite of toxic meat. The cows graze on their natural diet of pasture. Their omega-3 content is higher, their (pro-inflammatory) omega-6 content lower. They tend to have high concentrations of CLA (conjugated linolenic acid), which has anticancer and anti-obesity properties. [Read more about grass-fed meat and try our recipe for Balsamic Blackstrap Steak Salad].
Did You Know?
Macadamia nut oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s packed with immune-boosting antioxidants.
A New Way of Looking at Fat
So the old way of classifying fat—animal fat “bad,” vegetable fat “good”—turns out to be pretty useless. In our 2016 book, Smart Fat, Steven Masley, MD, and I suggest dividing fat into two categories—toxic and nontoxic.
The simple take-away? Avoid toxic fat, and don’t worry about the rest. Welcome clean fat back into your diet. It really shouldn’t have left.
Take our Fats Quiz.