Wednesday 25 June 2014

Should we eat more fat? Time Mag says yes!

I’m sure, by now, many of you have seen the recent time magazine cover telling us to “Eat Butter”. In case you missed it, here it is:

You’re probably expecting me to jump around and say “Haha! I told you so!”, while I do a little Irish jig, because, well, I did tell you so a couple of years ago in this post. However, I’m not going to do that. Oh wait, did I just do it? Oops!

What I actually want to do in this post is cover off the key points from the Time article and see how we can apply this and that perhaps we do not need to eat MORE butter. Yes, I am going to play the Devil’s advocate!

OK, let’s dive in. Here are the salient point from the article:

  • In the 1980’s, dodgy science reported that high intakes of saturated fat increased your risk of heart disease. The USDA took note, created dietary guidelines that recommended avoiding fat, and subsequently a whole realm of low fat foods were produced
  • Fat intake decreased, junky grain-based carb consumption increased, the prevalence of chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, obesity) was on the rise
  • In the mid-1990s, Dr Walter Willet found that if people replaced foods high in saturated fat with carbohydrates, there was no reduction in heart disease. Go figure! More people then started to question the role of fat
  • The Mediterranean Diet began to take flight as the heart-healthy diet, with its preponderance of poly and monounsaturated fats (note – these were from nuts, seeds, fish, olives and olive oil NOT refined vegetable/seed oils)
  • Arrogant wanker quote of the year** from Dr Robert Eckel, past president of the American Heart Association (AHA) – “When you replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated  and monounsaturated fats, you lower cholesterol. That’s all I need to know”. This kind of closed-minded, egotistical view is what is stifling the health of the world. We need to put our egos aside and be open to new evidence and admitting when we were wrong. This is the nature of science!
  • A 2010 meta-analysis (a study of many relevant studies) found that there was no significant evidence of an association between saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease. These findings were further supported by another study this year
  • Saturated fat increase LDL cholesterol AND HDL cholesterol, which negates the heart disease risk
  • Refined carbs stimulate the production of insulin, which drives fat storage
  • Low-carb diets have shown potential in helping with diabetes and obesity
  • Increasing meat may have environmental consequences. Read why I disagree HERE (the Allan Savory vid)
  • Some experts are concerned that if we spread the message that saturated fat is fine, this may increase unhealthy habits and instead, we should focus on whole, real foods

**Time Magazine did not call this dude an arrogant wanker. That was me being on my soap box 

Now for my thoughts on the situation.

First off, I think it is awesome, and long overdue, that this information is out in mainstream media. And it is only fitting that Time Magazine publish this, considering they were the catalyst for everyone freaking out in the first place with this cover in 1984:

I whole-heartedly agree that we should not avoid saturated fat. The research clearly does not support the thinking that this nutrient increases the risk of heart disease. HOWEVER I think there are a few things we need to be wary of

1. Healthy, “risk-free” saturated fat does not mean party pies, sausage rolls and pop-tarts.

Saturated fat from REAL FOOD is what we are talking about here, peeps, so do not use this research as a license to go and feast at McDonald’s or your local 7/11! Instead, enjoy real-food sources of saturated fat, such as:
  • Meat and organs (choose grass-fed, which is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Chicken (again, free range and organic is best)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fish (31% of the fatty acids in salmon are saturated)
  • Olives (YES they are actually 13% saturated fat!)
  • Nuts (macadamias are highest in saturated fat of all nuts)
  • Coconut and coconut products (the main fatty acid, lauric acid, has been shown to increase HDL/”good” cholesterol, and is also the predominant fatty acid in breast milk)
  • Dairy products
  • Avocado (23.5% of fats are saturated)

Note that those foods that we often associate with being good sources of poly- or mono-unsaturated fats (e.g. salmon, nuts, avocado, olives) are actually also good sources of saturated fat? That is because these fatty acids never exist in isolation! We need to start thinking of WHOLE foods, rather than their individual constituents.

2. Carbohydrates are not the devil

Image by Fonda LaShay, via pinterest
When the original research came out regarding fat causing heart disease and making us fat, we all went gung-ho and took the stance of “the less fat we can have in our diet, the better”.  We know this is not true. We need fats for the optimal functioning of a number of bodily processes, such as hormone production, health bone metabolism, cell membrane integrity, satiety, immune health and more.

What concerns me is that people will take the “low-fat=no-fat” attitude and apply it to carbohydrates, going extremely low carb, or cutting them out altogether. While this may be beneficial for some (such as those suffering from epilepsy, pre-diabetes or un-medicated diabetes, or even obesity), this does not mean it is the best choice for everyone. I made the mistake of going too low-carb for too long. Learn from my mistakes and be mindful that you need carbs for a few things:
  • Carbohydrates feed the good bacteria in our digestive system. If we go too low carb, they can be starved, creating dysbiosis and digestive problems
  • Carbohydrates provide bulk to the stool to help with passing a bowel motion, and we are all aiming for the perfect poop, right?
  • Carbohydrates help with the conversion of the inactive (T4) to the active (T3) form of thyroid hormone, thus helping fuel metabolism. Go too low carb and you may find yourself in a bit of a weight pickle as your thyroid stops working as it should
  • Carbohydrates prevent the body from relying on the adrenal glands and cortisol to keep blood sugar levels in balance, thereby limiting the likelihood of adrenal fatigue
  • Carbohydrates help to refuel muscle glycogen stores after an intense workout, and prevent the breakdown if muscle

There are more, but I think you get the point. Carbs can be useful. How much you need is dependent on your lifestyle and individual situation. If you are active and/or stressed, you may need slightly more. If you are sedentary and/or chilled out, maybe a little less will suit. Play around with it and see how you feel!

All in all, I recommend that you avoid low-fat junky “foods” and not fear fat, while also being mindful that some carbohydrate-rich foods (such as sweet potato, potato, parsnip, beetroot, rice, a little fruit and even quinoa or legumes, if tolerated) are also great sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and can help our body to function at its peak. Do I think they should be the bulk of our diet? No. But they should not be demonised, either.

Moral to the story – eat real food. If it needs an ingredients label, or if you don’t know what all of the ingredients are, don’t eat it. Simple. Don’t get caught up in the minutia – life is too short!

What are your thoughts on this whole dealio?


  1. "Fat intake decreased, junky grain-based carb consumption increased, the prevalence of chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, obesity) was on the rise..."
    Absolute fat intake remained constant. Total food intake increased (mostly from junk carbs), so fat % decreased. See also

  2. Loved this post. I find my brain functions ALOT better when I'm eating higher than the usual guidelines with fat. However, I cannot deal without carbs. I become very light headed and just can't get satisfied! Does 200g+ a day seem okay for an active person?