Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Farmacy…
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Eating the right kinds of fat and oils can actually help you lose weight. 53 randomized controlled trials looking at high fat diets versus low fat diets, and every time, the high fat diets beat out the low fat diets for weight loss.
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter, and today I’m bringing you a health bite to improve your health, because taking small steps every day can lead to significant changes in your health over time.
Today, I thought we’d talk about fats and oils because, well, people are confused about fat. They’re still confused about fat, even though the data’s pretty clear. It can be really good for you or really bad for you. So, we need to understand a lot about fat in order to navigate all the fats that there are. Sugar is sugar is sugar, but basically, fat is not fat is not fat. So, let’s talk about why it’s essential for our health, why low fat diets aren’t necessarily good for you, and what all the different kinds of fat are. Which are good, what are bad? What’s your kind of medium? What’s really true? Let’s talk about fats and oils, what you should be eating and what you need to do to avoid the bad fats.
Okay, so true or false, let’s do a true or false segment here. True or false, vegetable oils are better for your health than animal-based fats? True or false? False. They’re not. What is a vegetable anyway? Well, it’s usually a seed or bean oil, soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil. And these oils are relatively new to human history. The increase in soybean oil consumption has been a thousand-fold. I mean, that is a lot of increase in oil, a thousand percent increase in the last hundred years. So, that is not something that our bodies have been consuming for our entire evolutionary history.
And these oils in these forms are heat extracted. They use solvents and chemicals, like hexane. They’re often oxidized. They’re very unstable, and they’re used for usually deep frying. They’re in all processed foods, and they’re really low quality. And there’s some interesting data that it may increase the risk of heart disease, suicide, homicide, violent behavior as we start to increase these and decrease the traditional fats we ate, which were primarily olive oil and saturated fats.
Okay, true or false, a salad with non-fat dressing or lemon juice is healthier than one drenched in oil? Actually, false. You need fat in order to actually absorb a lot of the nutrients in plant foods, like vitamin A that’s in, or carotenoids that are in vegetables. Olive oil also is incredibly healthy. So, do you want to put the refined oils in your salad dressing? No. Do you want extra virgin olive oil? Yes, because it’s been shown to reduce heart disease, diabetes, obesity. And there’s been many studies looking at this. We can talk more about that in a minute.
Next true or false question. True or false, cholesterol from eggs clogs your arteries and causes heart disease? False. In fact, even the dietary guidelines in 2015 said, kind of, we got it wrong. Cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern, and cholesterol-rich foods like eggs or shrimp have really no effect on the cholesterol in your blood, and it’s not really linked to heart disease, which is kind of funny. I mean, you have literally 200 milligrams per deciliter of cholesterol. You have five liters of blood. So that’s like 10,000 milligrams of cholesterol floating around in your blood. If you eat like 200 milligrams from an egg, do you think that’s going to be a problem? Not really. So, it’s really not. In fact, eggs are really an amazing food, particularly pasture-raised eggs.
True or false, vegetable shortening is a better alternative than lard or pork fat when cooking or baking? False. Trans fats are bad. Shortening shortens your life. It’s been ruled as non-GRAS by the FDA, meaning not safe to eat, not generally recognized as safe. It obviously doesn’t taste as good. That’s lard. But we’ll talk about saturated fats in a minute. But definitely no shortening in your life, because it shortens your life.
Next, true or false, fats and oils make you gain weight because they have more calories than carbs or protein? Fat has nine calories per gram. Protein and carbs have four. So, if you eat more protein than fat and carbs, you’re going to lose weight, and more fats, you’re going to gain weight. Not true. Why? Well, eating the right kinds of fats and oils actually help you lose weight. In fact, there are 53 randomized controlled trials looking at high fat diets versus low fat diets, and every time, the high fat diets beat out the low fat diets for weight loss. So, eating the right fats burns body fat, it boosts your metabolism, it fixes your HDL, it lowers your triglycerides, it is associated with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity. So actually, eating the right fats is really good for you.
The federal government… True or false, the federal government’s dietary guidelines now tell us there’s no limit on the amount of fat you can eat? True. Actually, until 2005, the guidelines said we should be eating a low fat diet and lots of carbs. Now they finally caught up with most of the science. Not all of it. And remember, the food pyramid said eat six to 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta a day, and eat fats only sparingly, the little tiny tip of the pyramid, and at the bottom was like pasta and bread and cereal. It should be inverted actually.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the purpose of fats and oils. What is the nutritional purpose? Well, they help us feel full and satisfied. If you eat carbs, you can just keep eating them and eating them. I mean, people binge on a bag of chips and white cookies, but nobody’s binging on a bag of avocados, right? Okay.
They increase our metabolism. They actually don’t contain sugar, which spikes insulin, and basically they help us lose weight and increase our fat burning. We also need fat to produce our healthy cell membranes. Every one of your 30 trillion cells has a beautiful membrane around it, like a baggy, and that is made up of fat. It has to be made up of the right fats.
Also, we need them to make hormones. Where does your testosterone and cortisol and estrogen and progesterone come from? It comes from fat. It comes from cholesterol, right? It also is important to make your immune cells, and it regulates inflammation and metabolism, and fats are really critical in all the inflammatory pathways. So, eating the right fats are anti-inflammatory, and the wrong fats are inflammatory. Also, we need fat because our brain is 60% fat. Pretty important.
All right, what are the six things we need to know about fats and oils? Well, monounsaturated fat is our friend. It’s a good guy. MUFAs. We call them MUFAs. Monounsaturated fat. And where do they come from? Well, the most common source, obviously, is olive oil. But they’re also found in macadamia nuts and almonds and many, many other nuts and seeds. They’re really important. They have, particularly extra virgin of olive oil is full of polyphenols and antioxidants that can protect against heart disease.
They’ve been shown to lower blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, lower your LDL cholesterol. So, I mean, yes, fats can lower LDL cholesterol. More important when it comes to cholesterol, it actually changes the small, dense particles which are super harmful, that attack the walls of your arteries and cause hardening the arteries. So, it actually guards against the damage that’s caused by the sugar. So, you get rid of the sugar, you increase the olive oil and your cholesterol will get better.
They also are the main pillar of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to extend life. Things like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados. Avocados, great source of monounsaturated fats. Also, they’re present in animal foods like butter, lard, beef, chicken fat, can be helpful as sources, although they tend to be more a mixture of other fats like saturated fat.
They’re also found in some unhealthy refined foods, like canola oil, which can have some monounsaturated fats, but that’s also produced in a way that bleaches it. It’s refined, has lots of chemicals, high heat, and it’s deodorized, so it’s kind of an industrial food product. It’s not a whole food in any way, shape or form. And when you do that to the oils, it’s not good for them. They oxidize, they become damaged. I mean, even olive oil. You’ve got to keep olive oil in a dark container, in a dark cupboard. When you leave it out, if you get some really dark, dark, dark green olive oil and you put it in like a clear glass jar on the counter, leave it for a while, you’ll see it turns from dark green to light green. That’s because it’s oxidized, and that’s very dangerous. That’s rancid fat.
What about polyunsaturated fat? Well, there’s not just one kind. There’s many kinds, the good, bad and the ugly. These are essential. There’s no such thing as essential carbohydrates, but there are essential fats, and these polyunsaturated fats are essential. What are they? Well, there’s linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 that’s essential, and omega-3 fats, which there’s a number. There’s alpha linolenic acid, which is from plant sources like walnut or flax seeds, and EPA and DHA, which are found in fish, wild game, grass-fed meats. These are, the foods that we traditionally ate from an evolutionary history perspective had a lot of these omega-3s. So, we had way more omega-3s and omega-6s.
So, it’s not that omega-6s are bad, it’s just about how much we’re having, what form we’re having. So, we need to know about these. You need both of them, but you do not want to get your omega-6s from refined oils. You want to get them from whole foods. Nuts, seeds, beans, grains. These all have the omega-6s. Those are fine to eat in the whole food forms. And of course the omega-3s, which you can get from fish oil, wild fish and so forth, and certain wild plants, wild game.
Omega-3s are really quite amazing. They regulate this whole pathway called the eicosanoids, and they basically regulate inflammation and are anti-inflammatory. They protect your heart. They’re great for your brain. They’re important for mood. They help your diabetes, chronic disease, skin health, pretty much everything. Immunity. If you have low levels of omega-3s, which is about 90% of Americans, you’re at much higher risk of heart disease, chronic inflammation. You see low levels in people with Alzheimer’s, ADD, dementia. People who are violent, depressed, suicidal, often have low levels of omega-3s. Bipolar disease has been even shown to be treated with some omega-3s sometimes.
Too much omega-6s actually can cause inflammation. Not so great. Where are you going to get them all? Omega-3s are, like I said, in whole fatty fish. My favorite are sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring. Small fish, fatty fish, grass-fed meats, eggs that are pasture-raised. You can get, algae is a great source, actually. It’s how the fish get it. So, you can get DHA from algae. It’s harder to get EPA. Flax seeds, walnuts.
Omega-6, where you’re going to get those? Like I said, whole grains, beans. But stay away from the ones that are in processed foods. Stay away from the ones that are refined oils. You shouldn’t be eating those at all anyway. Like desserts, packaged snacks, potato chips, any kind of industrial food, conventionally-raised meat. People have fried things, made in a diner. I mean, these are all full of these processed oil like soybean oil.
Bottom line, we need polyunsaturated fats, but we should get them from whole foods like the fatty fish we talked about. We should definitely be getting our good polyunsaturated fats from things like fatty wild caught fish, like salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel, pasture-raised, grass-fed meats, regeneratively raised meats and whole grains sometimes, which have good fats, and nuts and seeds, poultry and eggs, grass-fed dairy, avocados, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds. Actually, chia and flax have a good source of omega-3s, although the body has to convert them, which is not so great for most people.
Next fat, let’s talk about saturated fat. Well, I could write a whole book on that. In fact, I kind of almost did, called Eat Fat, Get Thin. I encourage you to check it out. There’s a lot of stuff in there about this, and how we got to the view that saturated fat was bad and why it’s not the boogeyman anymore.
Now, that said, there are certain people that genetically don’t tolerate saturated fats as much. There are certain kind of physiotypes. I’m one of them, which is a, we call a lean mass hyper responder. My body fat’s like, 6-7%. I exercise a lot. And so, my body somehow does not process saturated fat very well, so if I eat too much saturated fat, I’ll get abnormal cholesterol.
So, I think it depends on you, but most people who are metabolically unhealthy, like diabetics… I mean, I had a patient who was very overweight, prediabetic. I put her basically on coconut oil and butter, and a ketogenic diet, and saturated fat mostly, and she lost 20 pounds. Her cholesterol dropped like, over a hundred points. Her triglycerides dropped 300 points. Her HDL went up 30 points, which you just don’t see. So, it actually can be very helpful. In fact, saturated fats raise HDL. They raise LDL a little bit too, but it’s not necessarily bad. They lower triglycerides.
Next thing you should know about fat is trans fats are the worst fat. If there’s good, bad and the ugly, it’s the ugly, right? Margarine, Crisco shortening. It’s still in the marketplace, even though it’s been ruled not safe to eat. It was a good idea at the time, because there was a butter shortage, and back in the turn of the century, 1900s, they figured out how to hydrogenate oil, meaning they put hydrogen molecules into vegetable oil to saturate the chain of fats, which makes it solid a room temperature like butter, which is saturated fat. But it does it in a way that’s a trans fat, not a cis fat. It’s chemical. Whatever, doesn’t matter.
But the point is, it’s bad for you. It causes small, dense cholesterol particles. It blocks your arteries, causes inflammation, diabetes, cancer, dementia, not bad. And in 2015, the FDA said it’s not safe, don’t eat it. But it’s still everywhere, so be careful. Even if it says zero trans fat on the label, it could still have trans fat. Look at the ingredient list. If it says hydrogenated anything, don’t eat it. And the loophole basically is, if it has less than half a gram per serving, like Cool Whip has less than half a gram per serving, so it says zero trans fat, but it’s basically all high fructose corn syrup and trans fat, which is crazy to me.
Also, the great way to eat your fat is not with carbs. If you eat particularly starch and sugar with saturated fat, bad news. Bad news. So, eat your fats with veggies. Think lots of dressing. People go, “I want a little dressing. I’ll have a little vinegar or a little lemon.” No, no, no, put the oil on your veggies. Put your oil on your broccoli. Put your oil on all your veggies. That’s going to help you actually get the good fats you need, not have it do bad things, and actually be able to absorb the nutrients, like vitamins A and vitamin E and K and things that are fat soluble that really help your body. Even vitamin D, when you’re eating mushrooms, or eating, for example, wild fatty fish like herring has vitamin D. You need the fat to absorb it.
When you eat fat, it actually simulates bioproduction, which you need to absorb these fat-soluble vitamins, so it’s really important. So, eat salad, for example, with lots of raw veggies, lots of olive oil. Broccoli with a little lemon, all that, it’s great. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be getting the nutritional benefits. So, don’t use the low fat dressing. Use extra-virgin olive oil. I probably go through a liter a week.
And in fact, one study showed in Spain, it was a big… It’s hard to do nutritional studies. They’re highly complicated to do, 7,000 people and randomize them on different diets and follow what they did. But they basically gave people a liter olive oil and a bunch of nuts to eat, or a bunch of nuts, or just a low fat diet. And they found that when they had a liter of olive oil a week, they reduced their heart attack risk and diabetes and all these other diseases dramatically compared to the low fat diet. So, it’s really important. Also, there’s all sorts of amazing things in extra virgin olive oil, flavonoids, polyphenols, are anti-inflammatory. They help us absorb things like the lycopene in tomato sauce with olive oil. Just great.
What about coconut oil? Well, coconut oil is mixed. It’s got a bad rap, but it really, it does raise total cholesterol. It raises LDL, but it also raises, actually, HDL more, and the ratio is better, and your cholesterol is more fluffy and light. So, typically it’s better. There are large populations that live on coconut, like 50% of their diet is coconut oil and fat, and they’re in the South Pacific, and they don’t have these diseases of heart disease. So, it’s a problem in intensive. If you have a lot of sugar, it’s a problem. But I think it’s really not a bad guy.
However, like I said, certain people like myself don’t do good when they just use a huge amount of saturated fat, so you have to be careful, make sure you’re not one of those lean mass hyper responders. There’s a particular fat in coconut oil called MCT oil, which you can take separately. It’s about 20, 30% in coconut oil. But it boosts your metabolism and reverses insulin resistance. It helps your brain function. They go right from your gut into your body. They don’t have to go through the lymph system, which most other fats do. And they are burning energy, and they’re just great before exercise. So it’s great.
What about ketogenic diets? Are they healthy? Intermittent fasting? Well, ketogenic diets have been around for a long time. We use them for epilepsy when medications don’t work. But now we’re seeing them used for type two diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, autism, brain health, cancer. It’s pretty amazing. And it may increase both your lifespan and your brain function. So, it’s great for a lot of people.
However, I don’t think we should be on it all the time. If you have a condition like type two diabetes or Alzheimer’s, for sure, go in hard, see how it works. It doesn’t mean you should be on it forever, and some people cycle in and out. So, it’s something that requires a little bit more thought but can be very effective.
And what about the environment? Is it bad to eat fats for the environment? Well, some are good, some are bad, right? Palm oil, they call it conflict palm oil, and they’re destroying the habitats of orangutans. It’s being used to replace trans fat in a lot of baked goods and a lot of snack foods. But it causes deforestation, disrupts ecosystems, all kinds of human rights violations, terrible working conditions. So, make sure that you look at this, because one of the largest areas of deforestation in Indonesia, and places with, these equatorial countries, it’s the palm oil. So, it’s really bad. So, make sure you have sustainable palm oil. It’s called CSPO, certified sustainable palm oil. Conflict-free palm oil. Really important.
What about olive oil? Well, sometimes overdoing olive oil can be a problem in some Mediterranean countries, so there’s got to be more responsible olive oil practices. But be careful about that. Organic is better. Regenerative is better. Coconut oil, again, it can be very popular, but a lot of people who are actually doing this are being abused in terms of working conditions. They live in poverty. For example, 60% of small scale coconut farmers live in poverty in the Philippines, where they get a lot of it from. So, look for the fair trade, and be careful what you’re buying, where it’s sourced from.
How do we get the best sustainable fats and oils? We’re going to have it all in the show notes, but olive oil, you can link to the Truth in Olive Oil website, where you’ll see what the kinds you can have. There’s California olive oil, maybe better. Certified coconut oil, organic coconut oil. There’s actually regenerative coconut oil now from Dr. Bronners. Grass-fed butter, if you’re going to have butter. Thrive Market’s a great source of wonderful good fats, from avocado oil to macadamia, walnut oil, fair trade oils and so forth.
How much should we eat? Well, get it from real food. Legitimately raised meat. Say, fish pasture-raised chickens, eggs, grass-fed dairy, sheep and goat, obviously, I like better. Avocados, nuts and seeds. Extra virgin olive oil. A little grass-fed butter, ghee. Don’t be afraid of fat, but make sure you understand that the kind of fat you eat is way more important than how much. In fact, I think we should not be afraid of fat anymore, as long as you’re cutting down the starch and sugar. But definitely cut out those refined oils. They are not good for you.
And by the way, just a reminder, don’t combine fat with sugar or starch. It’s like rocket fuel for weight gain. So if you want to gain weight, eat a donut, right? A deep fried carb, right? That’s not good. Really bad cholesterol, french fries, ice cream, buttered bread, all that stuff. Do not eat that.
We should eat fat regularly at every meal, particularly in the morning. One of the good ones we should eat, well, I’ll use organic avocado oil. I use grass-fed butter. I use sometimes extra virgin, or organic, unrefined coconut oil. Occasionally I’ll use lard or tallow or duck fat or chicken fat, but mostly olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil are my staples. And then, lots of other kinds of source of oil, like tahini, walnut oil, almond oil, macadamia oil, sesame oil can all be used safely as long as they’re not the main oils.
And what should we be avoiding? Well, all the other ones. Soybean oil, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, palm, peanut, vegetable. What’s vegetable? Broccoli oil? Margarine, all the other substitutes. Hydrogenated anything. Get rid of those.
So, we learned a lot about fat today, probably more than you want to know, but it’s really important for your health to understand which fats to eat, which to avoid, and how to navigate the very confusing world of fat. I refer you back to my book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, and Food, What the Heck Should I Eat, and the Pegan Diet. It’s lots more in there, and we’ll put all the notes, tell those books in the show notes.
But if you take away anything, it’s this: eating lots of good, real, whole food-based healthy fats is super important for your health. So, focus on eating the fats and the oils that our ancestors ate, and get rid of all those industrial produced, highly processed, nasty fats from your kitchen, and you’ll be doing great. So, that’s it for today’s health bite. If you liked it, be sure to share it with your friends and family on social media. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit IFM.org and search their Find A Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.