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Health Gain - Weight Loss - Part 6 - True Facts on Fat

     Much like carbohydrates, fats are vilified in the world of dieting. The notion that “fats make you fat” is a widespread belief held for many decades. Low-fat diet products and foods that come in “low-fat” versions are found in abundance wherever food is sold.

     The release of the 1992 Federal Food Guide Pyramid guidelines did much to influence the minds of Americans to adopt this “low-fat” mentality. These guidelines recommended severely limiting dietary fat and increasing the consumption of foods like cereal, rice, bread and pasta to six to eleven servings a day.  

     However, in spite of the “low-fat” eating trend, obesity and diseases related to diet and lifestyle continue to escalate. Not only does reducing the consumption of fat fail to provide a solution for weight loss and greater health, but it actually enhances the body’s tendency to store fat and, in some ways, contributes to the development of health problems.

The Problem with “Low-fat” Diets

     Research indicates that weight loss occurring from low-fat diets is very modest and generally temporary. A group of nutrition researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Dr. Walter Willett, designed a study which compared two groups of people on a 1500 calorie-a-day diet.  Both the “low-fat” diet group and the “low-glycemic load” diet group lost weight.

     But merely losing some weight does not paint the complete picture of a person’s health. The conclusion of the study, presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity’s 2003 Annual Meeting, reveals important facts that should not be overlooked: the people in the “low-fat” diet group were found to have metabolisms which were slower than those in the “low-glycemic load” group.  In addition, members of the “low-fat” diet group were hungrier and their bodies were more resistant to additional weight loss than those in the “low glycemic load” group. Finally, the people on the “low-fat” diet evidenced more signs of poor health, such as higher levels of inflammation, triglycerides, insulin, blood sugar and blood pressure.

     One major problem with low-fat foods is that any fat removed from a product is usually replaced with starchy or sugary carbs and/or additional salt and artificial flavorings. As an example, check out the added sugar content of a bottle of low-fat or fat-free salad dressing, compared to the full fat version. Adding these types of ingredients may make the food taste better and temporarily satisfy feelings of hunger, but in the end they increase insulin levels, cravings and appetite. This leads to a greater likelihood of overeating and weight gain.

The Type of Fat Matters

In reality there are:

  • good fats that improve health and enable the body to lose weight and
  • bad fats that actually promote weight gain and poor health.

     For example, the Mediterranean diet is comprised of as much as 40% fat, yet it noted for lowering cholesterol, thinning the blood and reducing blood pressure and blood sugar. This is due to the fact that most of the fat consumed in this diet (olive oil, nuts, avocados, etc.) is monounsaturated (to learn more about the different types of fats, I would refer you to my article “Understanding Fats, the Good, the Bad and the BEST

It’s not the amount of fat … it’s the type of fat you eat

     The right fats actually benefit the body in countless ways.  Among numerous other bodily functions, they provide fuel for energy, provide material for cell membranes, coat nerves, aid absorption and transport of important fat-soluble vitamins, provide insulation, and are vital to hormone production.

     Unfortunately, healthy fats are hard to come by in the dietary fare of the average American. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, commonly known as “trans fats”, permeate our modern food supply. These toxic, man-made fats are found in frequently eaten products, such as margarine, shortenings, deep-fried foods, most peanut butters and commercially produced baked foods (crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries and breads).

How Trans Fats Affect Weight and Health

     Unfortunately, the body doesn’t quite know what to do with these artificial fats, created when unsaturated vegetable oils are altered by adding hydrogen atoms. Trans fats cause cell membranes to actually stiffen and grow rigid, which interrupts the flow of communication between cells essential for the normal function of bodily systems.

     The rigidity and inflexibility of cell membranes created by hydrogenated fats also impede the transport of nutrients and oxygen into cells and waste products out of cells. This in itself diminishes health and lowers metabolism (the ability of muscles to turned stored fat into energy).  Bad fats increase the size of fat cells, especially around the waist, and literally program the body for fat storage.

     Moreover, the effect of bad fats on cells increases the risk of inflammation and insulin resistance.  Inflammation contributes to obesity and diseases associated with inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, autoimmune, and heart disease.  Experts agree that every gram of trans fat consumed significantly increases a person’s risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, a typical bakery doughnut contains 3.2 grams of trans fats and a large order of French fries contains 6.8 grams.

     It is essential to avoid all trans fats if you want to lose weight and enjoy good health.

Good Fats to the Rescue

     The more you can avoid “bad fats” and incorporate more sources of “good fats”, the better off you will be. Good fats such as Omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats, and certain types of saturated fats send the right messages to genes that increase metabolism and help burn stored fat. When good fats are consumed with a meal, they lower the meal’s overall glycemic load since they are absorbed more slowly in the digestive tract. By taking longer to digest, they also help a person feel satisfied from the food consumed for a longer period of time.

     Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are called “essential” fatty acids because they must be obtained from the diet, since the body cannot produce them. Omega-3 fats, in particular, are essential for both weight loss and optimal health, because they interact with DNA to activate processes that help increase fat burning, improve blood sugar control, correct insulin resistance and reduce inflammation.

     The majority of people are deficient in this healthy, essential fat, since significant amounts are only found in foods such as wild-caught, cold water fish, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and various types of leafy greens, nuts and seeds. A certain amount of Omega-3 fatty acids can also be obtained from eggs laid by free-range chickens and beef from grass-fed cattle.

     Keep in mind that farm-raised salmon are fed a diet of corn and soy, which increases Omega-6 levels and lowers Omega-3 values. Be cautious as well of what type of fish you buy, due to the problem of mercury toxicity in much fish caught today.  Many people find high quality fish oil supplements to be a safe and consistently reliable source of Omega-3 fats (please refer to my article on “Understanding Fats – the Good, the Bad and the BEST – Pt. 2” for specific guidelines for purchasing the safest types of fish and fish oil supplements).

Other Unsaturated Sources of Fat

     Omega-6 is another essential fatty acid needed by the body. Our modern food supply contains an overabundance of it, primarily in the form of refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, soy, sunflower, and safflower oils), used in nearly every salad dressing and processed food. While the high heat refining process used in the production of these oils increases their stability and smoke point, it also destroys nutrients and the oil’s natural preservatives. Additionally, the process creates dangerous lipid peroxides that release free radicals, which then produce oxidative damage in the body associated with accelerated aging and cancer.

     If you do use any polyunsaturated vegetable oils, choose unrefined expeller or cold-pressed ones and use them in small amounts. Any effort you make to reduce foods and oils high in Omega-6 while increasing sources of Omega-3 in your diet will help correct the imbalanced ratio between them.  If the imbalance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 continues, it can trigger inflammation and insulin resistance, which in turn lead to weight gain and poor health. To understand more about the adverse effects in the body from diets low in Omega-3 sources and high in Omega-6 sources, please read my article “Understanding Fats, the Good, the Bad and the BEST – Part 2.”

     Monounsaturated fats are extremely healthy and are known to lower LDL without decreasing HDL. They support the immune system and aid in weight loss by decreasing insulin resistance. Good sources of these heart healthy oils are olives, olive oil, avocados, and various nuts and seeds, particularly macadamia nuts, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and sesame seeds. Olive oil may be used for cooking as well as a dressing for salads (see my article on Healthy Cooking Oils – Part 2 for the types of olive oil to use and cooking guidelines) .”

Are All Saturated Fats Bad?

     Because animal sources of saturated fats contain cholesterol and are thought to cause clogged arteries (though scientific studies reveal only 26% of fat from clogged arteries is saturated – the majority is from trans fats and polyunsaturated sources), people tend to think all saturated fats are bad. However, saturated fat is a concentrated source of energy the body needs for a number of reasons. It gives cells their rigidity, transports calcium to the bones, enhances brain health, contains fatty acids that fight microbes, viruses and fungus, enables the body to absorb and utilize key nutrients, and increases the production of certain hormones that promote a sense of fullness.

     Primary sources of foods high in saturated fats are animal products such as the fat on beef (both visible and marbled), chicken skins, butter, cream, milk and cheese, as well as certain tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil.

     Commercially (feedlot) raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry contain far more saturated fat than free range grass-fed livestock. For instance, grass fed steer contain 500% less saturated fat in their tissues than those fed grain from omega-6 sources to fatten them up more quickly. When beef, poultry and dairy products are not produced organically, the antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides they eat are concentrated in their fat. When we eat them, the toxins are transferred over and become stored in the fat cells of our bodies.

     In addition, grain-fed animals are missing CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), an important fatty acid that the body cannot produce, which possesses important weight loss benefits. CLA improves body composition by encouraging the buildup of muscle and by driving fat out of fatty tissues, where it can more readily be burned up. Animals that graze strictly on grass have levels of CLA hundreds of times higher than animals raised on grain feeds.

The Virtues of Coconut Oil for Weight Loss and Health

     Coconut oil is a plant sourced saturated fat that contains the short and medium-chain fatty acids also found in butterfat. This type of saturated fat absorbs directly from the small intestine to the liver, where it is converted to quick energy instead of circulating in the bloodstream and being stored as body fat. Short and medium chain fatty acids also yield fewer calories per gram (6.8 instead of 9) than other fats, meaning coconut oil lessens calorie intake as well.

     Cooking with highly stable fats such as extra virgin coconut oil, organic butter and ghee (clarified butter) is a far healthier option because these fats do not break down as readily when exposed to heat, as do polyunsaturated fats. Unwanted body fat can be lost more easily through the consumption of saturated fat in the form of coconut oil than polyunsaturated fat in the form of processed vegetable oils.

Putting Together the Right Fuel Mixture

    Weight loss and health gain occur when adequate amounts of healthy fats, carbs and protein are eaten in the right balance and portions. Quality whole food sources of these macronutrients should be eaten at every meal and snack. For the average person, most health experts agree that 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fats is the best ratio for maintaining an optimum weight and a healthy body.
     In his recent book, “I Can Do This” Diet”, Dr. Don Colbert helps people visualize these amounts by dividing a 9 inch plate (for women) and an 11 inch plate (for men) into three sections. Section A represents a low-glycemic starch, Section B, protein and Section C, nonstarchy vegetables. He likens the serving portion of protein as the size of a deck of cards, the low-glycemic starch as a tennis ball (or about a half of cup) and nonstarchy vegetables can fill half the plate and beyond. For men, the portion sizes are one and a half to two times greater than a woman’s.  

     Since fats contain twice as many calories per gram as the other macronutrients, their portion size is much smaller, roughly the size of your thumb. As a gauge, the amount for each meal would be approximately equivalent to 10 to 15 nuts, two and half tablespoons of dressing or one tablespoon of oil or butter. Snacks should be like mini-meals, containing good carbs, protein and fats.

     Several of the principles already covered in Part 2 of this series - beginning the day with a hearty breakfast and eating every few hours - are reiterated by Dr. Colbert in his book. He also emphasizes the need to have a lighter evening meal and not to eat any type of carbohydrates after dinner. For those who have a sluggish metabolism or hit a plateau in their weight loss even with following these guidelines, he explains how to reset the metabolic rate with a system of rotating amounts of complex low-glycemic carbohydrates. By keeping the body guessing, the metabolic rate is kept high and greater weight loss results. For more detailed “how to” information, meal plans and many other helpful suggestions on every aspect of healthy weight loss, I would highly recommend that you obtain a copy of Dr. Colbert’s latest book, “I Can Do This” Diet.


     Rather than just another method of “dieting,” eating the right “fuel” mixture – consisting of healthy proteins, carbs and fats - should become a way of life.  Having the right balance of each type of these foods with each meal and snack satisfies your appetite, gives you steady energy and programs your body for fat loss.

Next month’s focus:

     Many times people do their best to eat the right foods in the right amounts and still have trouble losing weight, never realizing that what they are drinking (or not drinking) might be sabotaging their weight loss efforts. Next month we will leave the topic of food and focus instead on what your beverage menu should be when you desire to lower your weight and improve your health.  

In Summary:

  • Contrary to popular belief, fats do not make you fat, nor do low fat diets or diet products result in true weight loss or optimal health.
  • The rights types of fat benefit the health of the body in numerous ways and are key to weight loss.
  • Trans fats permeate our modern food supply and need to be avoided at all costs if a person is serious about having good health and losing weight.
  • Omega-3 fats are critical for good health and weight loss and must be obtained through the diet from quality sources.
  • Polyunsaturated vegetables oils, high in Omega-6 fatty acids, should only be unrefined and cold-pressed, and used on a limited basis.
  • Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are heart-healthy and can help in weight loss by reducing insulin resistance.
  • Saturated fats serve many good purposes in the body and are healthiest when obtained from pasture-fed animals, raised naturally without hormones or antibiotics.
  • The type of saturated fat in coconut oil and organic butter contains fewer calories and is converted to quick energy rather than stored as fat.
  • For optimum weight loss and overall health, whole food sources of good fats, carbs and proteins should be consumed in the right balance at each meal and snack.


Ultrametabolism by Mark Hyman, M.D.
“I Can Do This” Diet by Don Colbert, M.D.
Mastering Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels

Copyright © 2008-2015 Lucinda Bedogne, CNHP, CNC

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