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There are so many myths about fat floating around. I’m sure you’ve heard all of them: Fat makes us fat, contributes to heart disease, leads to diabesity; saturated fat is bad; vegetable oils are good … I could go on, but I think you know what I’m talking about.
None of these beliefs about fat are true. In my latest book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, I combined the latest research with my several decades of empirical evidence working with patients to prove what I’ve long discovered: The right fats can help you become lean, healthy and vibrant.
There’s a lot to say about fat, but for now, let’s look at these eight take-home fat facts.
1. Sugar, not fat, makes you fat. Consuming a lot of sugar means your cells become numb to insulin’s “call.” Your body pumps out more and more insulin to pull your blood sugar levels back down. You can’t burn all the sugar you eat. Inevitably, your body stores it as fat, creating insulin resistance and overall metabolic havoc among other mayhem.
2. Dietary fat is more complex than sugar. There are some 257 names for sugar, but despite very minor variations, they all create the same damage. Fat is more complex. We have saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and even trans fats, not to mention subcategories within each group. Some fats are good; others neutral; and yes, a few are bad.
3. Low-fat diets tend to be heart-unhealthy, high-sugar diets. When people eat less fat, they tend to eat more starch or sugar instead and this actually increases their levels of the small, dense cholesterol that causes heart attacks.
4. Saturated fat is not your enemy. A review of all the research on saturated fat published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. As with all fats, quality becomes key here. The fats in a fast-food bacon feedlot cheeseburger will have an entirely different effect than saturated fat in coconut oil. Let’s stop classifying it all as the same.
6. Everyone benefits from more omega 3s. About 99 percent of Americans are deficient in these critical fats. Ideal ways to get them include eating wild or sustainably raised cold-water fish, omega-3 rich eggs and taking an omega-3 supplement.
7. Eating fat can make you lean. Healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats are better able to metabolize insulin, which keeps blood sugar better regulated. Without proper blood sugar control, the body socks away fat for a rainy day. The right fats also increase fat burning, cut your hunger and reduce fat storage.
8. Your brain is about 60 percent fat. Of that percentage, the biggest portion comes from the omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your brain needs DHA to spark communication between cells. Easy access to high-quality fat boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory. In contrast, studies link a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
I eat fat with every meal and I’ve never felt better. The right fats can improve your mood, skin, hair and nails, while protecting you against Type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and much more.
Among my favorite sources of fat include:
- Nuts—walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, but not peanuts (one study showed a handful of nuts a day reduced death from all causes by 20 percent)
- Fatty fish, including sardines, mackerel, herring and wild salmon that are rich in omega-3 fats
- Extra virgin olive oil (a large study showed that those who consumed 1 liter a week reduced heart attacks by 30 percent)
- Grass-fed or sustainably raised animal products (I recommend the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide to eating good quality animal products that are good for you and good for the planet).
- Extra virgin coconut butter, which is a great plant-based source of saturated fat that has many benefits. It fuels your mitochondria, is anti-inflammatory and doesn’t cause problems with your cholesterol. In fact, it may help resolve them.
The take-home here is that most of your fat-cell biology becomes controlled by the quality and type of the food you eat. That explains why we should eat a quality fat, whole-food diet that’s lower in refined carbohydrates, low-glycemic and high in fiber.
Want to learn more? Watch my Q&A video on fat. Here are just some of the questions I answer in this video:
- If it’s not fat, what is the true cause of heart disease, diabetes and disease?
- How can we differentiate between good and bad fats?
- Is butter really good for you?
- And how did we get into this big, fat mess?
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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
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If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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