“Dr. Hyman, how do I know if I’m eating enough fat?” a reader recently asked me. This is an excellent question and one of my favorite subjects because I wholeheartedly believe eating the right amount and type of fat plays a crucial role in shaping health and well-being.
Doctors, patients and readers are often completely confused about fat, clinging to myths and misinformation that prevents them from understanding the latest science to lose weight and achieve optimal health.
You’re familiar with many of these myths: Fat makes us fat, fat contributes to heart disease, and fat leads to obesity. Saturated fat is bad, while vegetable oils are good.
Simply put, these and other fat myths are big fat lies. Thankfully, the importance of fat is finally starting to catch on.
I’d like to think I played a part in this revolution. My latest book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, came out earlier this year.
In this book I combined the latest research with my own personal experience – based on decades of empirical evidence working with patients – to prove what I’ve long known: The right fats can help you become lean, healthy and vibrant.
Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks. In fact, the average person is made up of between 15 and 30 percent fat.
Yet for decades, we’ve demonized dietary fat. We’ve diligently followed low-fat diets that almost always equate into high-sugar, high-refined carb diets. This diet contributes to insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other health issues.
The higher the fat quality, the better your body will function. Stop and think about it: You have more than 100 trillion cells in your body, and every single cell should be constructed of high-quality fat.
How do you know if your cells are getting enough vital fat? Your body actually sends you signals when it doesn’t get enough good fat. Never ignore the signs your body is giving you. Some warning signs include:
- Dry, itchy, scaling or flaking skin
- Soft, cracked or brittle nails
- Hard ear wax
- Tiny bumps on the back of your arms or on your torso
- Achy and stiff joints
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Weight gain
Most people label all fats as bad and lump them all together in a box. The truth is that all fats are not created equal. There are good fats, questionable fats and bad fats. Our government, media, scientists and doctors have advised us to eat the wrong types of fats for too long.
Building the body from the inside out is exactly like building a house. You can frame the house with the cheapest materials possible or you can invest in high-quality materials that are going to be energy-efficient and last a really long time.
When you eat the wrong fats, you’re using cheap materials and the results won’t be good. Most processed foods on supermarket shelves are made with poor-quality omega-6 fats from refined, processed vegetable oils. They are abundant, very cheap, taste good and improve texture.
The next time you’re in the supermarket, take a close look at the ingredient list of your favorite packaged food. If the list includes oils from corn, soy, cottonseed or safflower, you are getting a poor-quality fat.
When you consume these subpar fats, your cell walls also become subpar. Instead of being flexible and responsive to intercellular communication, cell walls become stiff and rigid. The more rigid the walls, the slower the cell functions and more vulnerable it becomes to inflammation.
You want to ensure your body has the fats it needs to construct high-quality cell walls. That means eating more omega-3 fats. Cell walls made from omega-3 fats are more flexible, which allows cells to respond more quickly to messages.
Optimal sources of omega-3 fats include small cold-water fish like wild-caught salmon, sardines and herring, organic flax and hemp seed oils, walnuts, Brazil nuts and sea vegetables.
Scientists suspect that early humans ate almost equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Our hunter-gatherer human ancestors got healthy omega-6 fats from seeds and nuts. They got their omega-3s from eating wild game and fish as well as foraging for wild plants.
As people began to refine oils from plants, the ratio became skewed more toward omega-6 fats. This created a drastic imbalance in the modern diet, making us more vulnerable to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
When the human diet contained a balanced number of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, heart disease was almost nonexistent. Today, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world.
The more omega-3 fats you eat, the easier your body can cool off, which means less inflammation that forms the root of nearly every chronic disease, especially those impacting the brain and the heart.
The brain is completely dependent on these high-quality fats. In fact, it is made up of 60 percent fat. High-quality fat boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory. In contrast, studies link a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and even violence.
Your heart will also thank you for eating more omega-3s, which help lower levels of bad fats (triglycerides) and raise levels of good fats (HDL). Omega-3 fats make blood more slippery, reducing the likelihood of artery disease.
Beyond nourishing your heart and brain, eating the right fats helps you shed fat. Paradoxical as it sounds, not eating fat or eating the wrong types of fat make you gain weight.
That’s because healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, meaning you’re more likely to burn than store fat. Consuming healthy fats also helps us absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Besides eating plenty of wild, fatty fish, optimize your fat intake with nuts and seeds, coconut oil, grass-fed butter (or ghee if you’re dairy sensitive), avocados, grass-fed meats, extra-virgin olive oil and olives.
If you’re still curious about whether you’re getting enough fat in your diet, take this quiz. If you’re not getting enough fat, or if you’re ready to kick-start your health in the new year, I highly recommend joining our Eat Fat, Get Thin January Challenge. Thousands of people all over the world have completed this program, and the results have been astonishing. If you’re tired of typical calorie-deprivation diets that don’t work, this is the program for you.
Let’s spread the good news about healthy fats and permanently put outdated myths to bed!
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD