Those who follow me on Facebook saw me litter my page this week with a bunch of screen shots from Dr. Mark Hyman's "The Fat Summit."
I'll say right now, contrary to what you probably think based on the photo above, we are not getting fat from eating fat.
Dr. Hyman, best-selling author of health and nutrition books, particularly around carbs, fat and blood sugar, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and HuffPost contributor, interviewed more than 30 nutrition experts on the effects of different types of fat, and carbohydrates, on our body.
His expert panel included top people in the medical, scientific and lifestyle sciences. Just to name a few: Deepak Chopra, MD, Chris Kressler, MS, Aseem Malotra, MD, David Ludwig, MD, PhD, Walter Willett, MD, Christiane Northrup, MD, Michael Roizen, MD, Neal Barnard, MD, Barry Sears PhD and Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz investigative nutrition journalists.
Hyman, and most of his experts, advocate a diet high in healthy fat -- nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oil, avocado, eggs, full fat dairy and some meat. And no refined carbohydrates. I should say right now that's my own personal bias, as well and how I eat.
Most of his experts validate it's not a matter of calories in, calories out we've always heard or eat less, move more. It is the quality of those calories and how your body uses them.
Interestingly, the very friendly and charismatic Hyman, talked frequently about how contradictory the information is coming at Americans about nutrition and how difficult it is for the average person to know what's right and what's wrong. No doubt. So I found it funny that even among his guests, not all agreed with each other.
Very briefly: All agree healthy fat is better than bad fat. Healthy fat is better than refined carbohydrates. The disagreement is whether we should really eat a lot of healthy fat, like neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, who pours olive oil on his morning eggs. Or should we severely limit healthy fat too like Drs. Dean Ornish and Joel Fuhrman who think the benefit doesn't outweigh the calories consumed. Yes, pun.
For me, having diabetes, eating a diet plentiful with healthy fat and low in refined carbs is a no-brainer. Carbs raise blood sugar. Refined carbs spike blood sugar. Higher blood sugar requires more insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. The more of it circulating in your blood stream, the more it's causing calories to be stored -- in the liver as fat.
Voila, you gain weight, mostly putting it around your belly, and you end up with fatty liver disease to boot. By the way, most people with Type 2 diabetes also have fatty liver disease and don't know it.
Dr. Hyman is also popularizing the notion that goes a step beyond "food is medicine" to "food is information." Food tells your body how to act, respond, behave; it guides your metabolic response, tells your body what hormones to stimulate and influences what genes get turned on. That's why a more nutritious diet decreases the risk of all dis-eases.
Here are some take-aways his experts shared:
- The way your body metabolizes fat and refined carbs, it's the carbs that cause weight gain
- Eat mostly plant foods and nutrient dense foods. Don't eat processed foods.
- Food can be more powerful at lowering blood pressure than medication
- If you want to lower your A1C eat more fat and less carbs
- When the brain burns fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates it does so more efficiently and without creating as many free radicals
- Saturated fat is not the devil. Most saturated fat in our body is actually made from carbohydrates.
- Insulin keeps fat locked in our fat cells, preventing it from getting burned or used. Eating fat does just the opposite.
- Obesity kills more people than smoking and alcoholism and being sedentary combined
- Soda consumption is the number one contribution to obesity in America
- Most of our cows today eat corn, which they aren't designed to eat but corn fattens them quickly inflaming their fat cells. Eating them fattens us and contributes to our body's inflammation.
- The food industry gives an enormous amount of money each year to politicians
- Procter & Gamble has long been a major funder of the American Heart Association. You do the math.
- Media no longer has time to do investigative research on food plus their news outlets are usually owned by corporations that have an agenda
One thing not to forget has become a catch phrase in diabetes, "Your diabetes may vary." As Hyman stressed, we are all individuals. Different things may work better for different individuals. So whether you should eat a lot of healthy fat, moderate amounts or very little, may differ for you. The best way to know is to try the variations on yourself.
For me eating a liberal amount of healthy fat -- nuts, seeds, tahini, avocado, coconut and olive oil, eggs and some cheese and Greek yogurt, and grilled chicken and fish with occasional red meat, tons of vegetables and little to no refined carb -- works extremely well in keeping my weight down and my blood sugar from spiking. I haven't counted a calorie for a decade. And I feel good.
Of course we also don't live in a food vacuum. I walk an hour most days, drink wine with dinner most nights, drink a lot of water and no sugary beverages and have the genes I was born with.
I don't think there's any easy answer to this nutritional debate. But I do think we're lucky more information is coming out that we can all access.
So take the daily contradictory news headlines about food and what the government says and ads say, even I hate to say it but must, what the behind-the-curve organizations like the Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association say, with a grain -- or a plantation full -- of salt.
People can always make studies and statistics say what they want them to say and food lobbyists are a powerful force.
How can we dismiss that forty plus years or so ago, when we were all pushed to stop eating fat and eat more carbs, Americans got fatter than ever?
Riva is the recipient of the 2015 IDF Award for education and advocacy. She has written three books, Diabetes Dos & How-Tos, 50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It and The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. Riva speaks to patients and health care providers about flourishing with diabetes. Visit her websites DiabetesStories.com and DiabetesbyDesign.com.