Girl Planting seeds

Chew On The Fats Of Life Part 1

avocados-nuts-good-fatsSince I proclaim to be an advocate of eating a healthy diet to prevent and treat many chronic illnesses, you might ask “why would I devote an entire article to fat?”   Well, before you dismiss the topic or label me a nutritional heretic, hear me out:  I’m not talking about packing on the pounds or eating the wrong kinds of fats. I’m referring to my new found reverence for the good fats and the role they play in optimizing our health.  


For starters; besides being a concentrated source of energy, necessary for the absorption of Vitamins A, D and E and building blocks for our cell membranes and hormones, 70% of our brain is composed of fat!   So in order to have optimal mental function we need adequate amounts of the right kind of this vital substance. Optimal brain function means we maintain stable moods, have sharp focus and concentration, we sleep well and avoid severe depression, anxiety and dementia.  

Additionally, there are major implications of having good fats on board when it comes to preventing post-partum depression and supporting a child’s brain development.  Andrew Stoll, MD, PHD is the director of psychopharmacology at McLean Hospital in Boston, professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of the Omega 3 Connection.   In his excellent book he explains the role Omega 3 fats (found in fish oil) play in mental health and he discusses how the incidence of post-partum depression could be drastically reduced if women were given this important fatty acid during pregnancy, after birth and while breast feeding.   He also emphasizes the need to include this fat (which is a source of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) in all infant formulas for the non-breast fed babies in order that they receive the foundational components for optimal brain development and function.      

No one wants to be fat!

Our legitimate concern over the health risks and aesthetics of being overweight has led us to falsely assume that fat is the sole villain responsible for the drastic rise in obesity and heart disease.  But that is simply not true. There are many reasons we get fat and develop blocked arteries:  lack of exercise, too much processed food (including the wrong kinds of fats: hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans fats), consuming foods high in sugar and ones low in antioxidants,  alcohol, too little fiber, genetics etc.   

Some of us have also bought into the idea that all fats are created equal; which is another myth that needs dispelling.  Good fats suppress inflammation, lower cholesterol and give fluidity to our cell membranes while the bad ones promote inflammation, raise cholesterol and make cell membranes rigid.

Our Obsession with Low Fat Diets:

We began our obsession with avoiding fat in our diet in the 1950’s when a researcher by the name of  Ancel Keys popularized the theory that there is a  direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat in one’s diet, and the incidence of heart disease and certain types of cancer.    If this theory were true however, one would conclude that with our reduction in fat intake since that time, our country’s collective health statistics would have improved.  But that is not the case.      

Before the 1920’s coronary heart disease and obesity were very rare (fewer than 1 in 100 Americans were obese and coronary heart disease was unknown.)  By the mid 1950’s heart disease became the leading cause of death in the US, and today it is responsible for 40% of all deaths in this country.   Similarly, obesity has continued to rise from 14% of the population during the 1970’s to 28% of the adult US population in 2010.

As health author and promoter of the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Sally Fallon explains in her book Nourishing Traditions “if, as we have been told, heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet.  Actually the reverse is true.   During the sixty year period from 1910-1970 the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 lbs. per person per year to 4.  During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable fat in the form of margarine, shortening, and refined oils increased about 400% and the consumption of sugar and processed food increased about 60%.”   (1)

Further proof that sugar and carbs rather than saturated fat may be culprits in these health epidemics is this comment from the former director of the infamous Framingham Study (which began in 1948 and is often cited as proof that the intake of saturated fat is directly linked to heart disease).   Dr. William Castelli stated: “weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet” meaning they found that people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active” (2).  

I know, I know it sounds so contradictory to what we’ve all been learning all these years!  And while I’m not recommending eating red meat at every meal or lathering on the butter, I do believe given our high rates of chronic illness including: ADHD, depression, obesity, heart disease,  dementia etc, it  may be time  to give fat (or at least the good fats)  a second chance.  

In the hugely popular health website, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, discusses a  study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition (3) that emphasizes the importance of avoiding processed carbohydrates (not good fats) in order to minimize one’s risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.   Dr. Mercola states:  “When you replace saturated fat with a highercarbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, you exacerbate insulinresistance and obesity, increase triglycerides andsmall LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol. The authors state that dietary effortsto improve your cardiovascular disease risk should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intake, and weight reduction.”  

Dr. Mercola goes on to say:  “In a nutshell, eating fat and protein does not make you fat—carbohydrates do. I firmly believe the two primary keys for successful weight management and reducing your risk for diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related health problems are: 1.Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and 2. Increasing healthy fat consumption”

maureenmcdonnellMaureen McDonnellhas been a registered nurse for 35 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)   She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now Conferences, and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (  Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health.  She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and owner of Nutritionist’s Choice Inc.   Presently, Maureen serves as the Medical Coordinator for the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer.   She and her husband have five grand kids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.




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