4 Big Thoughts on How Fat Helps Health


At virtually every workshop I teach, many of my students arrive with a slightly misguided, sometimes irrational fear of fat – and it’s part of my job to disavow them of those old school notions and teach them how to embrace fat in a healthy way.

To help shift their thinking, I often refer to a recent paper by James DiNicolantonia (*), which reviewed the history of the low-fat diet/heart story and the data that lead the US Dietary Guidelines down the wrong dietary fat road for decades – one that wound up throwing the dietary baby out with the bathwater – causing millions of people to increase carbohydrates and decrease fat and cholesterol in their diet.

 The result? An epidemic of obesity, diabetes and fat-o-phobia that’s still got so many steering clear that they’re depriving their brains, guts and essential organs of an essential substance that helps them thrive. Crazy, isn’t it?  It’s also why in my workshops the following questions about fat always come up – and here are my thoughts on the big fat topic! 

1.) Isn’t butter bad for my heart? 

Butter from animals that have been raised right and grass-fed is OK. Just be sensible about your quantities as cutting-edge research in gut health indicates that going overboard on healthy saturated fat choices can disrupt digestive integrity, which can trigger inflammation and leaky gut, which is counter-productive. In other words, a dab of butter here and there is one thing. Bathing your food in a butter bath is quite another.

 2.) Do avocadoes contain a lot of cholesterol? 

Avocadoes do not have a liver so they do not contain a drop of cholesterol! Livers produce cholesterol and for good reason – it is an important component of cells and critical for hormone production. Avocadoes do contain high amounts of nutrients, plus fiber and good fats which helps give them their creamy, thick consistency – and belly-filling, satiating benefits.

 3.) Should I be using olive oil in cooking?

  • It is ok to use olive oil in cooking, but use lower temperature cooking methods (under 350 degrees Fahrenheit).  
  • Use a medium heat when sautéing on the stovetop. Heat from an oven is diffused and will not destroy delicate olive oil as quickly as heat from the stovetop.  
  • If you do decide to turn up the heat, use one of the sat fat choices (ex. coconut oil, butter, lard) instead as they hold up much better to higher temperatures. 

4.) Why are coconut, red palm oil and cocoa butter OK all of a sudden? 

Saturated fats have long been recognized for the health of the body (which is why even nuts and seeds contain some Sat Fats!) Most nutritionists have always agreed on the basic tenet of balancing your personal fat budget with a healthy mix and amount of fat. With a balanced budget, it’s pretty hard to go wrong, so as with butter, manage your dose, and err on the conservative side. Also keep in mind that there are ecological concerns with palm oil, both for the planet and the gut, so purchase from the most ethical sources possible and use consciously. 

Bottom line: Be sure to consider the whole fat story – dietary diversity and mindful portions of healthy fat choices is the way to go! 

For more ideas on how to create a vibrant diet, and a healthy gut and microbiota, check out my book The Swift Diet: 4 Weeks to Mend the Belly, Lose the Weight and Get Rid of the Bloat.


-- with additional reporting by Kate Doyle Hooper

(*) source: DiNicolantonio JJ. Open Heart 2014;1:e000032. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2013-000032

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