The high fat diet is becoming widely known as the best way to loose weight, improve energy levels and boost mental performance. There are a whole list of benefits associated with eating a high fat diet (see below) yet we have been told for the past 50 years by our governments and official agencies that fats are bad for us! So which is true?
The answer lies in putting aside the official advice for a moment and availing ourselves to the many facts that support the idea. Even a cursory glance at the evidence reveals that for at least the past 50 years we have been lied to in the official advice to avoid dietary saturated fats and to eat plenty of grains and other carbohydrates.
Humans evolved eating a high fat diet
In this interview with Nora Gedgaudas we learn about our ancestral roots and the evolution of the human brain as well as many other factors that show how essential fat is for us. Not only is it not bad for us, it is essential for optimal health. If you are new to this idea, fasten your mental seat belt for a dose of truth that will rock your brain as you wrestle with the propaganda you have been told all your life. If it is health and longevity that we want it is absolutely essential to be willing to re-think this kind of assumption that has been so drummed into us that it can be hard to overturn.
Without doubt our ancestors ate a high fat diet. In North America, the plains and northern indians used pemmican (a concentrated mix of fat and protein), the siberians valued raindeer fat, Marsh arabs valued camel fat, Canadian tribes relished moose fat, The Coastal Salish tribes living in British Columbia valued ooligan greese (rendered fish oil), Aboriginies ate emu fat, the Innuit of north eastern Canada ate seal walrus and whale fat, the Masai tribes of the Serengeti ate meat and drank raw milk… to name a few!
Weston A Price (September 6, 1870 – January 23, 1948) was a dentist known primarily for his theories on the relationship between nutrition, dental health, and physical health. He spent many years researching the eating habits of isolated indigenous people and noted their complete lack of diseases while eating their traditional high fat diets, and their decent into ill health as soon as contact with the western world brought them the ‘benefits’ of a western diet.
He found that the high fats diets of these people had about 10 times the amount of essentail fat soluble nutrients than the ‘modern’ western diet had back then. With decades of growing increasingly less nutritious food and the appalling way animals are raised for food these days, levels of these fat soluble nutrients will be far lower today.
Brain runs better on a high fat Fat
Structurally the brain needs fat and in order to maintain a healthy brain these fats need to be in the diet. 80 % of the human brain is fat, and 50% of this is saturated fat. A full 25% of our bodies cholesterol is to be found in the brain. The growth and development of the brain rely on Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Arachidonic acid (AA).
The human brain does require a small amount of glycogen synthesized on demand by the liver. Yet this is taken to mean that we need sugar! Nothing could be further from the truth. there is zero need for dietary carbohydrates or sugars. The brain prefers to use ketones bodies such as Acetoacetate and Beta-hydroxybutyrate that are broken down from dietary fats. And even though it is only about 2-5% of human body weight the brain uses up to 30% of our caloric intake. Fats contain 9 calories per gram as opposed to carbohydrates which contain 4 calories per gram. It was the consumption of fats and their higher caloric content made the evolution of the human brain possible.
I have found through personal experience that brain fog lifts when I eat a ketogenic diet and consume high levels of dietary saturated fat. It is interesting to note that fasting produces ketones in abundance and also is known to sharpen mental acuity. If we think about it for a moment this makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. When hungry there is a greater need for clarity of thought in order to secure more food. Nutritional ketosis supports optimal brain function and clearer thinking. See here for more details.
Babies on a high fat diet
If we look at what nature prescribes for young human infants we see that babies are born into a state of ketosis. There is a big clue here that should be noted by all those claiming of the need or desirability for carbs and grains in the diet. The collostrum and the high saturated fat content in human breast milk means that babies go into nutritional ketosis when suckling. This enables optimal brain development. The sugary diet that most children are on these days does there brain development no favours. If DHA isn’t in the diet it isn’t in the brain, where it needs to be.
Healthy fats and unhealthy fats
Nora delves into the difference between the healthy fats that are essential to our health and the unhealthy ones that are to be avoided. She reminds us to avoid the Omega – 6 vegetable oils that are not stable when heated and should certainly not be cooked with. These are the inflammatory oils such as rapeseed oil in the form of canola and safflower oil and sunflower oil. All of these should be avoided, along with trans fats found mostly in baked processed ‘foods’.
On the other hand, saturated fats from grass fed organically raised livestock, eggs, butter, ghee, and oils such as coconut and avocado oil, are very good for us. There are of course the healthy oils in nuts as well, such as Pecans and Macadamia nuts.
The take away point is that healthy fats are essential in the diet, and it is similarly essential to avoid eating the wrong fats. A little self-education is all it takes and you can quickly get the hang of it. One publication that is a massive authority on the subject is that fabulous book by Mary Enig co-founder of the Weston A Price foundation, called “Know your fats“.
The benefits of a High Fat Diet
The benefits of a high fat diet result not only from the fat being being consumed but also from the absence of sugar being burned as a primary fuel.
- Disease avoidance: Because there is less glycation of proteins in the blood when we eat more fat and less sugar we suffer less chronic inflammation. Fat is a clean burning fuel so at the cellular level there are fewer Rective Oxygen Species (ROS) generated and therefore less mess for the immune system to clean up.
- More energy: Ketones are broken down from dietary fats. Ketone bodies are much more efficiently converted into Adenosine Tryphosphate (ATP) than glycogen. This means more energy is produced within the cell and more energy is then available to the body as a whole.
- Mental clarity: The brain prefers ketones bodies for fuel over and above glycogen. In a fasted state or in nutritional ketosis a greater clarity of thinking is experienced.
- Improved gut health: The profile of bateria in the gut shifts as we move away from carbohydrates (sugar) as a primary fuel. The absence of sugar means that species of bacteria that tend to be pathogenic in a state of dysbiosis have their sugar fuel advantage removed. As a result the diversity of the gut broadens and stabilises.
- Food cravings go away: As the body adjusts and adapts to burning fat as a primary fuel food cravings become a thing of the past. Many refined wheat and grain products are addictive due to stimulating pleasure receptors in the brain. Fat doesn’t do this and does not illicit food cravings like carbs. In fact we become more genuinely in touch with our hunger on a high fat diet.
- Long range fuel tanks: Nora makes the analogy of the wood stove in the podcast. When we burn fat we have access to all the fat store of the body without any switch over necessary. It becomes easy to spend several days without eating!
- Better power to weight ration: improved muscle mass is experienced as the protein sparing effect makes sure that proteins in the body are not broken down into sugar as some suggest. Muscle mass is increased and fat deposits reduced, and a better pwer to weight performance is noticed.
- Slower aging: The rate of aging is reduced due to less glycation of proteins and fewer ROS, but also a lower fasting insulin level means lower levels of IGF-1 resulting in an upgrade of mend and repair functions of the body. Also mTOR is not triggered on a high fat diet and this also upregulates repair functions as well.
- Improved athletic performance: Increased levels of VO2 max have been measured in athletes giving them a competitive advantage over their conventional colleagues.
- Dental health: A high fat diet with the commensurate low levels of sugar (and that is an important thing to note – you must not eat high fat AND high sugar or you get the worst of all worlds!) means teeth enjoy the benefit of a better profile of bacteria in the mouth and less sugar for tooth decay. Dental health improves on a high fat diet.
- Weight loss: Oh yes, and you naturally stabilise at your bodies ideal weight with zero effort or calorie counting. The hunger mechanism begins to work reliably as it should as food addictions become a thing of the past.
I hope you enjoy the interview. My apologies for the sound quality in this episode, I hope it doesn’t detract from the educational value of what Nora has to share.
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If you would like to buy one of Nora’s excellent books here are a couple of links.
And if you are in the UK, you can use the links below.