It turns out that earlier warnings about the dangers of fat were premature, misleading and even downright wrong .
After four decades of being known as the supervillain of the health world, this three-letter word is in the midst of an epic battle for redemption. All the sto- ries you’ve heard recently are true: fat is back!
Cracks have been steadily forming in the foundation of the “fat-is-bad” camp over the past 20 years. Contrary to popular belief, research continues to be published to this day highlighting the essential role that fat plays in the body. These important functions include making up the structure of the brain, lining cells and helping the body’s cells communicate.
The latest blow came from a landmark study published in the medical journal The Lancet in August 2017. It explored the link between dietary fats, carbo- hydrates and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
The study found that individuals with the highest consumption of dietary
fat had a 23% overall reduced risk of death compared to those with the lowest intake of fat. Additionally, the intake of saturated fat, which has long been looked down upon as a health villain, did not have a significant association with heart disease.
These results turn conventional wisdom on its head. They also highlight the revelation that dietary fats are important for our health and might not be detrimental, as was previously considered. (It’s important to note that the study does not show causation, but only an association between these dietary patterns and health).
Additional research also explores the link between dietary fats and risk of cardiovascular disease. Even butter, the former bad boy of the fat world, appears to have been set free of warnings about cardiovascular risk, including of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease.
There are also various fats that have been shown to have significant health benefits. Among these are omega-3 fatty acids, including the long-chain fats EPA and DHA, which are obtained from both marine sources and the Mediterranean diet. Evidence suggests that these fats can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, particularly among people who have experienced a cardiovascular episode in the past.
Furthermore, in adults, the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce the risk and symptoms of a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis. These findings have been recorded in those who consume high levels of EPA and DHA, in the range of 500 to 3,000 mg per day.
One family of fats that is receiving more attention is medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are the slightly shorter cousins of EPA and DHA.
These fats, prominent in coconut oil, are thought to be much more metabolically active. Research suggests that MCTs may increase metabolic rate and decrease fat mass. A recent study examined the effects of using coconut oil, which is generally high in saturated fat, versus sunflower oil for cooking among patients with coronary heart disease. Over two years, researchers found there was no statistically significant difference in risk factors or cardiovascular events between the two groups.
There are also various fats that have been shown to have significant health benefits. Among these are omega-3 fatty acids, including the long-chain fats EPA and DHA.’Michelle W. Book
What this tells us is there is room for more research to reexamine the role that fat plays in our diets. You should still monitor the amount of fat you’re consuming, but with the rise of alternative diets that rely heavily on fat and protein (such as Atkins or Paleo diets), these new discoveries are changing our perspectives on the role of fats in a healthy lifestyle.
Take, for example, the keto craze. One of the biggest trends to emerge is called the ketogenic diet, sometimes referred to as the “new Atkins diet.” This high-fat, medium-protein and very low-carbohydrate diet forces the body to make energy from fats. This leads to the increased production of ketones in the body, which can be used for energy in the place of carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet was originally designed to help those with epilepsy, but has now become popular with health enthusiasts for its potential weight-loss benefits. The ketogenic diet has been shown to help accelerate weight loss, but the long-term health implications are not yet known. Speak with your health care practitioner if you’re considering following a ketogenic diet for weight loss.
The study of healthy fats has been through a rollercoaster of research results, obscured by a past cluttered with misinformation and the ongoing battle among macronutrients. As we discover more about the benefits of fats for our health, it’s important to keep in mind that moderation is key. Research continues to explore the benefits of fats, from the popular omega-3s to lesser-known MCTs.
More Inspiration: Our research into why the keto diet sucks for so many people, but can help others.
Author: Michelle W. Book is the in-house holistic nutritionist and spokesperson for the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), an organization dedicated to educating Canadians about the benefits of natural health and organic products. As a busy professional with a young family, Michelle strives to spread the message that small changes in our everyday lives can have significant, positive effects on our health.