Having recently published a book wholly embracing dietary fat (especially animal fat) as literally being central to human health, the title of this article might seem a bit surprising. But I realize that there is still some confusion out there, and I feel the need to clarify a couple of points:
First off, it may shock you to hear that more fat is not always necessarily better.
Allow me to explain…
Although the sub-title of my new book mentions the words “High-Fat, Low-Carb Paleo Diet”, the intent was not to promote the consumption of extra dietary fat at every turn, or, encourage, say, drinking lard. I jest a bit, but I have stated many times that the dietary approach I advocate is not so much a “high-fat” approach as it is a “high percentage fat” approach. Unfortunately, adding the word percentage to the cover of the book would have added to an already quite wordy sub-title and that, well, wasn’t going to happen. So I was left to try to explain what that meant within the pages of the book. Hopefully I was able to clarify this reasonably well for those of you who have actually read my book. If not (or if you still feel unclear about this issue), read on…
When I say “high-fat” I am not talking about eating a brick of Kerry Gold butter at the end of a popsicle stick (as delightful as this may sound to some).
This, instead, is what I mean:
By eliminating sugary and starchy carbohydrates and moderating your protein intake, while eating a wide variety of fibrous vegetables and greens there is an automatic caloric vacuum created that needs to be filled if a person is to meet their energetic/caloric needs day-to-day.
I have submitted that dietary fats from a variety of unadulterated, 100% pastured and organic, nutrient dense and fat-soluble nutrient-rich sources should be the primary source of calories in any given meal. But by no means does this imply “the more fat the merrier”. Not at all.
And that’s where people get tripped up.
It’s understandable, in a way, but this really needs to be clarified. The right idea is eating “enough fat” in order to meet your energetic and fat-soluble nutrient/essential fatty acid needs… Which in most cases should be sufficient to also satisfy your appetite. Rich foods are inherently satiating, after all, and the idea is to mimic the health promoting and longevity effects of caloric restriction without feeling deprived. The idea is not, conversely, to indulge in a depraved and unbridled orgy of grease-gorging.
The recent exoneration of dietary fat–and especially dietary animal fat–within the peer-reviewed literature and within the psyche of increasingly more people has led to an unfortunate tendency to overdo things a bit. The popularity of ketogenic diets has similarly led to an explosion of ketosis-enhancing products that are getting used in all sorts of ways that I believe are highly questionable. It is typical of human nature to swing to extremes, or pull out the stops once they hear that a certain food might actually be good for you. If a little is good, many typically reason, more should be even better! “PLEASE PASS THE LARD!!!” Not necessarily so.
Nowadays you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody drinking coffee laced with MCT oil and butter. Extra fat seems to pile or pool on every other plate… And worse yet, those who continue to embrace the idea of eating starchy and sugary (albeit “natural” and “Paleo-friendly”) carbohydrates want to have their proverbial cake and eat it too– topped with high-fat frosting, so to speak. These are mistakes… And they can be costly mistakes to your health and waistline.
SO–What is your dinner plate supposed to look like?
And DEFINITELY NOT this!
More like this (a ‘Primalrito’):
Or maybe this (Pork Breakfast Patty with Sautéed Greens/cultured vegetables):
The bottom line really isn’t the calories. The whole caloric thing has been debunked many times over. But it’s not that calories don’t count at all. They certainly can. As I have pointed out multiple times before, a calorie isn’t a calorie isn’t a calorie. The human body is not a heat engine, but instead a complex biochemical factory. Food initially goes toward replenishing fundamental nutrient and structural needs prior to apportioning any remaining calories for the purposes of energy production or storage. Plainly put, different types of foods are going to be used differently by the body.
Dietary fat and protein first go to replenishing structure and repair. Fat is the second most abundant substance in your body aside from water. It makes up the bulk of the human brain and nervous system—by far the most fat-rich and metabolically expensive tissues in the body. Quality dietary fat goes to building/rebuilding every single cellular membrane in your body; it goes to supporting a wide variety of immune and endocrine processes, and more. Dietary protein, too, goes toward meeting a variety of structural needs: organs, tissues, muscle, neurotransmitters, enzymes, etc. Fortunately, we have developed an efficient means of recycling a lot of protein within the body (typically about half our daily needs can be met this way), and our leftover protein needs are relatively easily met by consuming no more than about 6 to 7 ounces per day of complete-source protein. But once that protein intake is actually exceeded, certain reproductive metabolic processes are triggered that have the potential to derail your weight loss efforts; and worse, compromise your health and longevity. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are a growing baby, child or teen then some extra protein is absolutely necessary. It’s working hard to make new needed cells. We have a scientifically established human dietary requirement for certain fatty acids and fat-soluble nutrients; along with certain amino acids from protein.
BUT virtually every molecule of carbohydrate-based food (sugar and starch, that is) is typically considered “excess” by a body that has no fundamental, scientifically established dietary requirements for it. So your body produces insulin in response to consuming carbs as a means of rapidly getting it out of the bloodstream and injecting whatever glucose might be needed in the cells at the moment (which is rarely very much, except during an emergency), and then dealing with the rest of it by storing it however one can. Also, since carbohydrates are non-essential in the diet, ultimately every carb calorie definitely counts! Rather than being a blood sugar hormone, insulin’s job first and foremost is to take excess nutrients and move them in to storage for a rainy day (i.e., in case of a famine). The majority of anyone’s carb intake is automatically “excess”. That’s why it impacts insulin so strongly. Whatever can’t be stored as glycogen in the liver or in the muscles (and again, those storage sites fill up quickly) typically gets converted into triglycerides (blood fats) by the liver and then gets deposited in places we would mostly rather not have them.
Of the three major macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates, by far the ones we most need to keep under control (when it comes to eating for health and human longevity) are carbohydrates (in the form of sugar and starch), and protein. I have discussed the effects of the protein-sensing mTOR metabolic pathway and the longevity-compromising effects of eating too much protein in all of my books. In a manner of speaking, however, fat is technically a “free fuel” in this relative regard. It has not been demonstrated to contribute to deleterious metabolic or aging processes. If you are metabolically adapted to using fat as a primary source of fuel then you are likely experiencing most of the health and longevity benefits associated with caloric restriction. But this doesn’t mean that fat-indulgence is therefore a “free-for-all”. If you eat fat well over and above what you really need to meet your structural, neurological, immunologic, cellular and other needs, then you will quite likely store those excesses as well. And if you combine carbs and fat together (heaven forbid), you are in effect sticking a lit fuse on top of a nasty powder keg metabolically. The insulin you generate in response the carbs combined with fat will shuttle away both to your thighs and love handles. It is not a fabulous combination.
If you are trying or struggling to lose weight, this becomes all the more important.
As I have said many, many times, dietary fat means ‘survival’ to our primitive human physiology. If you don’t eat enough fat, then your body will simply get better at making more of it from other things (mainly carbohydrates), and your body becomes better at hanging on to the fat stores you already have. So eating enough fat to send the message to your hypothalamus that “hey, relax…hunting is good” allows for the free release of body fat stores to more freely burn as fuel. This is a good thing and is what we want.
But consider this: if you are adding a lot of extra fat to everything all the time– even if you are technically operating with a fat-burning metabolism, you will have to burn through at least some of that dietary fat before you get to burning your own body fat. That’s the rub.
This is also a potential issue with ketone-enhancing supplements, which include both racemic/synthetic and ketone salts and things like MCT oil. A little of this can help kick start/catalyze a fat-burning metabolism and help someone more easily transition from sugar burning to fat burning. A little of this can enhance performance for certain demanding/athletic events. –All fine and good, more or less. But regularly taking exogenous synthetic ketones and chugging MCT oil past a certain point is simply pouring in more outside fuel for you to burn before you even get a chance to start burning your own internal fat stores. In other words, it’s anything but a fast track to sliding effortlessly into your skinny jeans.
The trick lies in adopting a fat intake that is high enough to meet your nutrient, hypothalamic and metabolic needs without flooding yourself with a bunch extra that forces your own body fat to get in line when it comes to getting burned for fuel. Frankly, it’s an all-too-easy mistake to make. I would say that eating too much protein is probably the single most common mistake I see people make when adopting this way of eating. If in doubt, lower the amount of protein you are eating and increase the fat a little (olive oil, macadamia nut oil and coconut oil are going to be the easier fats to burn in the beginning). Later on, the type of fat matters less when it comes to fully operating on an efficient fat-burning metabolism. But also be mindful of how loosy-goosy you are getting with the dietary fat, too.
My 21-day meal plan and recipes in Primal Fat Burner do a pretty good job of supplying just the right amount of everything so that you can get feel for how this works. Once you get it, it’ll be like riding a bicycle. –A very tasty, healthy, easy to ride and satisfying bicycle!
It is very easy to get caught up in all of the enthusiasm surrounding the exoneration dietary animal fat, and fat in general—Not to mention the exploding popularity and wide range of well-researched benefits associated with a fat-based, ketogenic way of eating. It is the now-popular bandwagon that comes most naturally to the human body and definitely satisfies our most primitive taste buds and bodily requirements. But quality counts (first and foremost), and a certain amount of restraint also counts when it comes to your total fat intake (unless you live or work in a cold environment or have an especially physically demanding job). If you are mindful while you eat and allow yourself to take in the aroma of the food and notice the feeling/texture and rich flavor while chewing and savoring every bite, then chances are you will naturally reach the right satiety and it will come automatically to you. If, on the other hand you have a tendency to wolf your food down and not pay attention while you eat, then it is way easier to overdo it and sabotage your own progress. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself frustrated with your weight loss efforts.
A little mindfulness goes a long way to making all this easier and restoring your rightful relationship with your own body.
Nothing could be more natural.
~ Nora Gedgaudas, CNS, NTP, BCHN
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