Read an Excerpt
The Big Fat Lie
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THE AMERICAN PUBLIC HAS BEEN BRAINWASHED with a great big fat liea lie that has been told, retold, and told again over the past fifteen years. It is a lie that, in my opinion, has resulted in widespread harm to the overall health of our nation.
This lie, one of the biggest marketing hoaxes of the twentieth century, is that fats are the ultimate dietary killers. What's more, the lie has been extended to cover all fats, not just a few harmful ones. Many of the nation's food companies would have us believe that all fats are harmful, despite widely known scientific evidence that fats are, biochemically speaking, very different from one another. Just pick up any newspaper or women's magazine and you can learn all of the newest, most creative ways to slash the fat, cut the fat, lose the fat, or lower the fat. We've been told that we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, all the time, as long as the food we are eating is fat free. Unfortunately, doctors, dietitians, and others who should know better seem to have forgotten that fat happens to be an essential nutrient, necessary for the health and well-being of our bodies and our brains.
Advertisers have learned that the words fat free, low fat, or reduced fat translate into an instant sales boost. Just take a look at how low-fat Snackwells have replaced Oreos as the nation's best-selling cookie. The magic adjectives "low fat" and "fat free" seem to convey to us that we have unlimited permission to scarf down whole boxesof the stuffwithout getting fat! (More on this in chapter 2.)
So let's look at the evidence. Since we as a nation have gone fat free, here's what has happened:
1. Obesity has increased more than 23 percent.
2. Adult-onset diabetes has skyrocketed.
3. The incidence of certain kinds of heart diseases has increased.
4. Depression has become a widespread national disorder.
5. Immune system viral infections like chronic fatigue and other illnesses are rampant.
While every disease is not necessarily associated with a fatfree diet, the fact is that these diseases have increased while fat intake has declined. This is a phenomenon that begs to be investigated. While it is true that Dr. Dean Ornish's low-fat diet (along with lifestyle factors like meditation, yoga, and stress reduction) has reversed heart disease in some cases, the dangerous message we keep getting is that all fat is all bad all the time.
IT'S THE TYPE OF FAT THAT COUNTS
Although Americans are too fat, I believe in reality many are suffering from an essential fatty-acid deficiency. That's right. Many of us are starved for certain kinds of fats. This deficiency may be contributing to the rise in breast cancer, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), depression, diabetes, arthritis, immune system dysfunction, and PMS and menopausal problems, not to mention nail, hair, and skin problems like eczema and psoriasis. As a nutritionist for the past two decades, I have discovered that the majority of my female (and increasingly male) clients suffer from a condition known as "fear of fats." They have been programmed to believe that fat is bad and must be eliminated from foods, via fat-free cooking methods, the intake of no-fat foods, and the conscientious counting of fat grams. Instead of healthy fats, my clients have loaded up on sugars and carbohydrates like rice cakes, breads, pastas, and potatoes. Sadly, by eliminating all fats (even the healthy and essential ones) from their diets, many women actually gain weight, feel depressed, and suffer from PMS and perimenopausal symptoms like mood swings, irritability, water retention, and breast tenderness.
I first discovered the value of healthy fats in the early 1980s when my female clients absolutely raved about the virtues of an essential fat called gamma linolenic acid (GLA.) Found primarily in evening primrose and borage flowers, GLA works wonders in treating allergies, eczema, arthritis, and premenstrual syndrome. My patients happily reported that when they began taking GLA, the mood swings and cramping they experienced during their menstrual cycle disappeared. As I have continued my extensive research in this area, much of which I will share with you in this book, I have discovered that essential fats like GLA, along with many others, are absolutely vital for everyone at every stage of both the male and female life cycles.
WHY SOME FATS
Essential fatty acids are necessary because the body cannot produce them on its own. There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate or an essential sugar, but there is essential fat. It's what our nutritional textbooks years ago called vitamin F. You need to take it in from a food source or food supplement. Quite the opposite of the fat phobia that is out there today, it is absolutely critical that we begin to understand the importance of taking in these essential fats.
So where and how do we come by these essential fatty acids? They're primarily derived from two families of fatty acids called the omega-3s and the omega-6s. The highest amounts of omega-3 oils of one particular variety are found in fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. There is also a vegetarian source of omega-3 fat, high in an essential fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid, that can be found in flaxseeds, the vegetable purslane, and to a lesser degree walnuts, soybeans, and pumpkin seeds. The highest amount of omega-6 oils can be found in nuts, seeds, and botanicals like evening primrose oil and borage oil. (I will say more about these oils in chapters 8, 9, and 10.)
Essential fatty acids are necessary for the production of the group of hormonelike chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are essential for the entire body's cellular functioningfrom the tiniest cells to the largest of the vital organs. Healthy prostaglandin functioning is critical in the body's fight against a wide variety of conditions ranging from arthritis and ulcers to migraines and cancer. They also boost the functioning of the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and central nervous systems.
Essential fatty acids can dramatically contribute to health and vitality throughout lifebeginning with the development of the infant brain. Over half of the brain is composed of fat. Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are regulated by the prostaglandins that are created by the essential fatty acids. There is a particular kind of omega-3 essential fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is absolutely essential for brain and eye development. (I will discuss DHA in detail in chapter 8.) Prevalent in fatty fish and plant algae, this omega-3 fatty acid is the major fat present not only in the brain but also in the retina of the eye. DHA is also well known for its ability to promote learning functions and to stimulate the brain's auditory and visual perceptions. Both the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are components of the outer membrane of every cell in the body where they protect against viruses, bacteria, and allergens. The brainand indeed the entire central nervous systemneeds fats for nourishment and protection.
There is frightening evidence to suggest that the previous three generations of Americans have not been eating the right kinds of fatty acids for the development of the brain. Could this be a reason we have so many children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? America's children are being diagnosed right and left with ADHD and are being prescribed the drug Ritalin. These kids are not suffering from a Ritalin deficiency. There are studies to suggest that these children are suffering from essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency because some of the clinical signs of EFA deficiency are restlessness, short attention span, irritability, mood swings, and even panic attacks. When children diagnosed with ADHD start eating the right kinds of fats, many parents notice that their children become calmer and more focused.
Mother Nature did a brilliant job of combining the omega-3 and omega-6 oils in the most immune-protective food ever createdmother's milk. Cow's milk, on the other hand, has little. For this reason, I firmly believe that omega-3 supplementation should be recommended for every pregnant woman. Moreover, it should also be added to baby formula due to its crucial role in brain development and immune protection.
Wait a minute. I can hear you worryingif I include more fat in my diet, I'm just going to get fatter! Contrary to what most of us have been taught to believe (that eating fat will make you fat), dietary supplementation with an essential fatty acid has actually demonstrated significant reduction in body weight and fat by stimulating the oxidation of fat. Scientists and nutritionists now believe that the building blocks of the essential fatty acids increase metabolic rate and positively affect the body's ability to burn fat. Eating fat to promote fat burning? That's right. My female patients who supplement their diets with foods or food supplements high in certain kinds of fat report surprising weight-loss results. These women do not diet, per se, but take the special fat nutrient GLA to control their PMS problems, recurring yeast infections, and arthritis. Many of my clients are amazed that they can eat fat and lose weight at the same time. The difference, of course, is that they eat the right kind of fat. The right kind of essential fat will actually stimulate the mechanism in the body that burns fat. This internal fat burner is what scientists call brown fat. (More about this in chapter 7.)
Plain and simple, our bodies couldn't function without fats! Perhaps this is why the American Heart Association suggests that we should consume up to 30 percent of our total calories from fat. Fats are required for the production of hormones; they facilitate oxygen transportation and calcium absorption; and they assist in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats nourish the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes, and by providing essential fatty acids they undoubtedly benefit the immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, and central nervous systems. There really is no other nutrient on earth that can heal the body from head to toe and keep it healthy from infancy to old age like the essential fats.
The big fat lie is that all fat is harmful. The actual truth is that not all fats are created equal. Indeed, they are quite different. There are healing fats and there are harmful fats. Unfortunately, we have been exposed to misguided and distorted nutritional information that has grouped all fats, from healthy olive and flaxseed oils to the dangerous transfats in margarine, shortening, and fried foods into the same undesirable category. Rather than blaming all fats for our ills, we need to look more carefully at the types of fats we have been eating and, consequently, attempting to avoid.
In November 1997, researchers in Boston published the results of their extensive Nurses' Health Study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, in which 80,000 nurses between the ages of thirty-four and fifty-nine were followed for fourteen years, reported that contrary to popular belief, "it's not the amount of fat you eat, it's the kind of fat." "The best solution is to decrease saturated fats and avoid transfats" said the lead author, Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. "And replace these unhealthy fats with healthy onesmonoun-saturates and polyunsaturates from natural vegetable oils."
A basic rule is that the body is accustomed to fats that occur in foods naturally. Some naturally occurring fats are more beneficial than others, but, in general, the body can process natural fats much more easily than fats altered by man-made processes. Natural fats, especially unsaturated natural fats like the omega oils, are particularly suited for efficient use. Pliable and soft, unsaturated natural fats are easily formed into the necessary elements for the body's needs. As I noted earlier, these natural fats are components of all the vital organs, including the brain and nervous system.
THE FATS TO AVOID
At the other end of the health spectrum from the natural fats are the transfats. Transfats are rigid and difficult for the body to process. I'll talk a lot more about them in chapter 4, but for now, let me explain that in transfats the fat molecules have been chemically transformed so that the body cannot identify them as natural fats. If the body doesn't recognize them, chances are it's not going to know how to process them efficiently or effectively. Research has shown that transfatty acids contribute to impaired cellular function, clogged arteries, and degenerative disease. We also know they are believed to interfere with the body's ability to efficiently process good fats.
Both fried foods and margarine, for example, contain fats that are harmful. The fats in fried foods have been transformed by high temperatures into transfats. Most of us know that fried foods aren't good for us, but what's wrong with margarine?. Simply put, margarine is not the natural form that vegetable oil takes. Margarine is a "hydrogenated" food product, which means that its oils have been artificially processed to make them stiff and more easily used in food preparation. Unfortunately, hydrogenated fats contain the harmful transfatty acids associated with accelerated aging and degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer.
How, you may be wondering, am I supposed to figure out which fats to eat, which fats to avoid, and how much "good fat" is too much? Throughout this book, I will help you negotiate the often confusing maze of information on different types of fats, the quantities you need to stay healthy, and which fats to eat throughout your lifetime to promote efficient fat burning and lasting weight loss.