For nearly 40 years, practically all research has indicated that eating fat is implicated in heart disease – strongly implicated – and that it is also a big player in the obesity epidemic and in the common cancers (breast, prostate and colon).
This research is what spawned the low-fat campaign to take the fat out of fattening foods and provide substitutes.
Now it seems all those studies were wrong – but were they?
In this article I want to look at our fat-loving habits, and the new research – that fat is the main cause of Type 2 diabetes – not sugar, as was once believed.
Marketing and Imagination
For many years, I believed the propaganda – yes, that’s all I can call it – that hundreds of carefully done research studies were being twisted in some way to produce these results – that the vegetable oil industry, the margarine industry were behind it all, and that the real truth was that all the natural fats of old, the butter, the lard, the dripping, the fat on chicken, the cream and yoghurt, the raw milk, the olive oil, the coconut oil – all fats found in nature – were really the good guys and without them, you’d be a sickened, weak version of yourself. We were all victims of a huge 50-year conspiracy to hide the truth.
Then I read some statistics while studying my first Nutrition degree that made me question what I had come to believe: In a nationwide survey done by the Australian government in 1980, it was discovered that Australians were eating 50% more beef than in 1900, 150% more oil (including olive oil) than in 1900, 400% more cheese than in 1900 and 800% more margarine than in 1900!
That shocked me. I had had a ‘romantic’ view that our ancestors last century had been feasting on steak and eggs, eating roasts every night, gulping down glasses of raw milk, and were still lean, healthy working machines. My mother once told me that her favourite food after school had been bread with dripping (that is, the congealed fat that dripped from last night’s roast dinner meat), and you can’t get much fattier than that. Because of my view of the past, based on anecdotes and a vivid imagination, it shocked me to find we were actually eating a LOT more fat these days than even 80 years ago. Another survey I saw showed that dairy consumption has more than doubled from earlier last century.
The confusion arises because most people believe we have reduced the calories we get from fat.
The reasoning goes that if we have reduced fat calories but are getting fatter, then fat is not the cause – it must be something else.
The blind leading the blind
Today, many health professionals look to studies such as the huge Harvard Nurses’ Health Study started in 1976, that followed 238,000 nurses over 20 years, to learn about nutrition. In this study, high fat eaters were compared with nurses who ate only skim milk and low fat yoghurts as their main fat sources. There was next to no difference in their health. From looking at this study it was concluded that eating fat does not cause any illness. The problem with these comparisons was that no one in this study was eating less than 30% fat in their diet. We failed to realise back then that the only way to really get a low fat diet would be to take all those dairy foods right out of the diet, and almost all the meat too.
This statement from Harvard Medical School says it all: “Few public health messages are as powerful and as persistent as this one: fat is bad…the average American has substantially reduced the percentage of calories that she or he gets from fat over the past three decades…but we are not any healthier for all of this effort. In fact, we are worse off for it.”
The problem is that none of us in the West have actually reduced our fat calories, particularly not in Australia.
In fact, we have doubled and tripled them! That’s why we are worse off.
It wasn’t until research projects moved overseas from the West – to developing countries where people ate less meat and no dairy foods – that the benefits of a true low fat diet could be seen – less heart disease, next to no obesity, no diabetes, less cancer, less of other diseases too.
In 2013, the Banting Memorial Lecture delivered new research on the cause of Type 2 diabetes. The Banting Memorial Lecture is the highest award bestowed by Diabetes UK. The lecture is awarded to a person internationally recognised for their eminence in the field of diabetes. Professor R. Taylor showed that, for about a decade before a diabetes diagnosis, fat builds up inside muscles; this leads eventually to ‘fatty liver’ which, during the next ten years, leads to fat around the pancreas. All of this time, insulin has struggled to get blood sugar into cells as the cell receptors are ‘gummed up’ with fat. After 7 – 10 years of this abuse, the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin (itself being clogged with fat, and the muscles that need the glucose are also fat-clogged – or ‘insulin resistant’) At that time blood glucose levels skyrocket rapidly to diabetic levels.
“Type 2 diabetes, rather than being a problem of too much sugar in the diet, is actually a reversible condition of intra-organ fat excess”, said Professor Taylor.
We now know that when a person eats excess fat, they are circulating more free fatty acids in their bloodstream than they need to build cell walls and make steroid hormones in their bodies. This fat gets shunted into cells and eventually causes ‘insulin resistance’ – by gumming up muscle cells and causing fatty liver disease.
We also know that when a person becomes overweight, free fatty acids from fat cells actually spill out into the bloodstream, causing even more free fat in the blood.
So eating fat and getting fat BOTH cause insulin resistance – and ultimately, Type 2 diabetes.
Stopping the craziness
How much fat do you need to eat and what type exactly?
If you are very lean, as long as you have cut out processed foods including vegetable oils with their high levels of competing arachidonic acid, just a little of the Omega 3 and 6 fats is all you need.
If you are not so lean, you should need next to no dietary fat – your body will simply instigate a process called lipolysis, breaking down the stored triglycerides into their component parts of 3 fatty acids each with a glycerol backbone, then use those free fatty acids to make into whatever type of fat they are needed for. You’ll never be short of needed fats while you have fat on your body.
If you have Type 2 diabetes and want support to change your diet and lifestyle and turn your condition around, please contact me – and watch the magic begin.