The Meal Matters Most

What Makes Healthy Food Healthy: From a Stress Perspective

The Clear Science on Fats is Really Fuzzy

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“The main problem with the past decades’ low-fat trend is that it has been misinterpreted.”

That’s how the Los Angeles Times article begins (it reminds me of being on the playground with that know-it-all who is never wrong just misinterpreted). And then it is elaborated upon by Dr. David Heber, founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition:  “There is no real low-fat controversy, the problem wasn’t low fat; the problem was that when we lowered fat content, we increased carbohydrate and sugar content.”

Here’s the problem with that statement and they say it themselves: “If you cut back on saturated fat, you’re going to replace it with either unsaturated fat or carbohydrates. The type of replacement can have a major impact on health outcomes.” (at the time of the advice, they believed “fat was fat” btw)

By the 2000s, mounting evidence showed that different fats had differing health outcomes. Saturated fat in particular was associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, and unsaturated fats were shown to have a protective benefit.

The biggest change to the advice is that we now have “healthy fats” and “unhealthy fats” and that our mistake was that people, instead of switching one fat for another kind, switched instead to refined carbohydrates.

This again sounds like the child on the playground. They find a plausible story to shift blame and take it on as the truth they always meant, but never stated and allowed for the misinterpretation to begin with.

Here’s the problem with the new story. Can we really reduce fats down to be either “good or bad”? Its an easy wish to make, but the real science gives us a much fuzzier story.

Saturated fat being good or bad depends on the system, state and context.

The system is the genetic predisposition. The state is our current state of health and epigenetic programming. The context is the other aspects of the meal the fat is eaten with or the context of the diet as a whole.

They were right with their current correction to separate fats. That not all fats are the same. However, advising to get a more diverse amount of fats is different than divining that there are “good” and “bad” fats. Because while looking at studies we can say that one fat creates higher metabolic effects, we could also look at that like jet fuel. One kind of fat, saturated, creates more pollutants when burned. In this interpretation, we would say it wasn’t “bad”, rather we’d say that it need to be properly burned and cleaned up. We could also say that there could be diverse benefits to saturated fats (rarely is something like butter and meat fat purely bad, there are typically trade-offs along with benefits)

If you approach the evidence from this point of view this is what you see. LDL and HDL are associated with heart issues because of their attempting to balance oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress depends on the system, state and context.

Your genetic predisposition to handling fats and sugars.  Your state of health, if you have metabolic issues to begin with you’re already stressed, so fats or carbs could cause more issues. And in the context of the meal, if you eat sat fats with refined carbs it amplifies the effect and negative byproducts, but saturated fats with high antioxidant content (like nuts) aren’t as much of an issue.

Not once in the article do they mention such complexities.  Complexity of context like  saturated fat on a ketogenic diet (very high fat and low carb) is handled differently than when on a western diet highly refined diet or Mediterranean-type whole food diet. Context matters.

Context is a different science than reductionistic and linear methods we currently use (at least the scientists in this article). So I understand their interpretation of the evidence. Since they work in singular cause and effect their conclusions would logically be that there are “good and “bad” fats. That’s the science, rules of science, they use.

The current shift and revolution in science is that we need a new science to interpret evidence and give advice. A low-fat diet, such as the one advised by the Cleveland clinic can be healthy without saturated fats or animal products, and high fat diets with saturated fats advised by Dr. Attia for example can also be healthy. And saturated fats in moderation to a mix of other fatty acids and a diet of whole foods in healthy system can also be advisable. It depends on the system, state and context. The context of balancing stress.

High cholesterol and heart disease go beyond saturated fat and cholesterol. Balancing stress depends on the individual, genetics, contexts and current stress states. While I believe this gets a bit messier, like real life, than finding single problems and solutions. In my view, the science is only “clear” if you are looking at it through a “fuzzy” lens. A lens of complexity, diversity and a stress perspective.



Author: Lori Hogenkamp

Lori's passion is for food, the brain, science and stress shifting perspectives .

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