Ground rules on fats are changing

In my many years of nutritional practice, I have always counselled my patients to never count calories. Why?
Because not all calories are created equal. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. This has been borne out in recent news articles in the UK that called on the guidelines trumpeting low-fat to be replaced by the call to eat more fat – and more saturated fat at that! 

What? More eggs, bacon, cream, meat, cheese, coconut oil and butter? Surely not. If you weren’t aware, there is a groundswell building with the paleolithic, ketogenic, low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) way of eating.

This movement has really thrown the cat among the pigeons. It calls for the significant reduction or cessation of carbohydrates and an increase in the amounts of fat in a patient’s diet.

But surely this will cause heart-attacks, stokes, elevated cholesterol and obesity. In fact, the majority of evidence has shown the opposite.

That’s right, increasing fat and reducing carbohydrates has seen a significant lowering of insulin and blood sugar levels, significant weight loss, falling inflammatory levels and lower cholesterol. This is completely contrary to the last 50 years of diet advice when we have been told to eat low-fat to lose weight.  But look around. This approach doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease continue to rise.

This increase in illness may certainly have a number or elements including a more sedentary lifestyle, the increase in fast food and soft drink and the overuse of antibiotics. But independent of that, the evidence of a higher fat and low sugar/carbohydrate intake does have merit and the evidence is strong.

One of the largest and most compelling recent studies in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine followed more than 7000 participants. Two groups were divided by diet to gauge cardiovascular events.

One group was given a higher-fat, Mediterranean-type diet, the other a low-fat, higher carbohydrate diet (similar to our current guidelines).
The study was actually stopped early due to the cardiovascular events in the low-fat, high-carbohydrate group.

That’s right, more people were dying on the low-fat diet. So this brings me back to my original point that a calorie of one food cannot be compared to another.

Why then, given all we have been taught about the ills of fat, am I actually saying that more fat and less carbohydrate/sugar may be a good thing?

There are a number of reasons.

Firstly, the hypothesis that saturated fats cause death have never really been conclusively proven out in research.

Many studies have shown that saturated fats don’t raise cholesterol.

Carbohydrates and sugar have been implicated in a number of studies to be the real culprit behind elevated cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes, diabetes and obesity.

And when I talk about carbohydrates, I mean anything made with flour, sugar, rice and grains (yes, even gluten-free).

In fact, all carbohydrates, healthy legumes included, will be broken down by the body to produce glucose.

This glucose in excess, and over a long-period may cause even mild insulin-resistance, elevated blood sugar levels and is implicated in CVD, diabetes, inflammation and excess weight gain.

In my practice, patients will usually abstain from all carbohydrates for short time and then legumes and starchy vegetables are added back.

OK, there is some fine print.

It is important that you concentrate on food quality-so ideally those high-fat foods are grass fed or even organic to they don’t contain a great deal of toxins.

Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables including parsley, spinach and broccoli.

Eat plenty of fermented foods like yoghurt and sauerkraut. Make sure your fats are not subjected to high-heat or chemically altered into trans-fats so limit fried foods and margarine.

And eat plenty of nuts and seeds.

Just think back to the bad old days when they told us to stop eating eggs, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and butter. Thankfully those days are gone.

Now, pass the organic Australian butter please. I need to fry some eggs.

Anthony Power is a Registered Nutritionist in Hawthorne, Brisbane and also consults via Skype/phone. Call 0417 911 219, email anthony@powernutrition.com.au, or visit powernutrition.com.au.

He will be conducting seminars in September on how to reverse diabetes and why fat doesn’t make you fat.