By Dr. Mercola
Every five years, the US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) convene a 15-member panel to update the nation’s dietary guidelines.
The panel’s mission is to identify foods and beverages that help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease. In addition to guiding the public at large, the guidelines significantly influence nutrition policies such as school lunch programs and feeding programs for the elderly.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) scientific report is an integral part of this process, as it serves as the foundation for the development of the dietary guidelines.
Another remarkable turnaround is the Advisory Committee’s revised stance on fats. As noted in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)paper,5 the latest advisory report reverses nearly four decades of nutrition policy.
“[The new DGAC report] concluded, ‘Reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk…
Dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat.’
Limiting total fat was also not recommended for obesity prevention; instead, the focus was placed on healthful food-based diet patterns that include more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and dairy products and include less meats, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains…
In finalizing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services should follow the evidence-based, scientifically sound DGAC report and remove the existing limit on total fat consumption.”
Research has consistently demonstrated that low-fat diets do not prevent heart disease. On the contrary, the low-fat craze has undoubtedly done more harm than good, as your body needs healthy fat for optimal function.
Unfortunately, the DGAC doesn’t go so far as to set the record straight with regards to saturated fats, as it makes no firm distinction between healthy saturated fats and decidedly unhealthy trans fats.
Still, if the DGAC’s conclusions on total dietary fat consumption make it into the HHS and USDA’s final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will be published later this year, it will certainly be a step in the right direction.
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Ditches Cholesterol and Total Fat Limits
Healthy fat and cholesterol have, for decades, been wrongfully blamed for causing heart disease, and it’s like a breath of fresh air to finally see the advisory committee is taking note of the accumulated science.
With regards to cholesterol, the panel concluded it “is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” noting the absence of a link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.
Until now, the American dietary guidelines have recommended limiting dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams (mg) per day, which amounts to about two eggs. As noted by Steven Nissen, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic:
“Many of us for a long time have believed the dietary guidelines were pointing in the wrong direction. It is long overdue.”
Similarly, the report recognizes that reducing total fat intake has no bearing on heart disease risk either. Nor does it reduce your risk of obesity. Instead, mounting research shows that sugar and refined grains are in fact the primary culprits.
Saturated fats are actually important for optimal health, and those with insulin/leptin resistance may need upwards of 50-80 percent of their daily calories from healthy fat—far more than the upper limit suggested by current federal guidelines.
As noted by Forbes Magazine:6
“[T]he recommendation to have no more than 35 percent of your calories coming from fats is over. ‘Placing limits on total fat intake has no basis in science and leads to all sorts of wrong industry and consumer decisions,’ said Dariush Mozaffarian, one of the authors of the new [JAMA] paper.7
“Modern evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish have protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease.
Other fat-rich foods, like whole milk and cheese, appear pretty neutral; while many low-fat foods, like low-fat deli meats, fat-free salad dressing, and baked potato chips, are no better and often even worse than full-fat alternatives. It’s the food that matters, not its fat content.”
A High-Quality Fat Diet May Be Key to Weight Management
The idea that a low-fat diet would help you lose weight has been proven wrong. Low-fat recommendations are likely to do more harm than good across the board, but may be particularly counterproductive if you’re trying to lose weight.
Contrary to “conventional wisdom,” mounting evidence clearly shows a high-fat, low-carb diet can be exceptionally effective for weight loss—provided you’re eating the right kinds of fats. Sources of healthy fats include:
Olives and olive oil (for cold dishes) Coconuts and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking) Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, such as macadamias and pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils
While trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils do promote heart disease, saturated fats are not only essential for proper cellular and hormonal function, they also provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.
The high-fat, low-carb combination is therefore ideal because when you cut down on carbs, you generally need to replace that lost energy by increasing your fat consumption. By boosting total fat and reducing non-vegetable carbs, you effectively “reset” your body to burn fat instead of sugar.
Not only can this promote highly efficient weight loss, you don’t have to feel like you’re starving to do it. Fat (which burns slower than sugar) is far more satiating, effectively cutting hunger pangs. This was recently demonstrated in an Australian study8,9 published in Obesity Reviews. The researchers found that people who were on ketogenic (high-fat, low-carb) diets experienced a gradual reduction in overall appetite, despite the overall cut in calories.
According to the authors:
“Although these absolute changes in appetite were small, they occurred within the context of energy restriction, which is known to increase appetite in obese people. Thus, the clinical benefit of a ketogenic diet is in preventing an increase in appetite, despite weight loss, although individuals may indeed feel slightly less hungry (or more full or satisfied).
Ketosis appears to provide a plausible explanation for this suppression of appetite. Future studies should investigate the minimum level of ketosis required to achieve appetite suppression during ketogenic weight loss diets, as this could enable inclusion of a greater variety of healthy carbohydrate-containing foods into the diet.”
Research into the health benefits of ketogenic diets has also revealed a number of other beneficial effects besides weight loss. Diabetes, epilepsy, and even cancer may benefit from a high-fat, low-carb diet. Drs. Thomas Seyfried and Dominic D’Agostino have both investigated the effects of ketogenic diets on cancer, coming to the conclusion that it effectively “starves” cancer cells, as cancer needs glucose to thrive.
The Importance of Omega-3 Fat
Another healthy fat that most people get too little of is the omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fats—25 percent of which is DHA. Omega-3 fats such as DHA are considered essential because your body cannot produce them, so you must get them from your daily diet. Aside from benefiting your brain, they’re also a potent anti-inflammatory.
Recent research10,11 shows omega-3 supplementation can help reduce inflammation in people with chronic kidney disease, but chronic inflammation is a hallmark of most chronic disease, including but not limited to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and cancer. So omega-3 is important for general, overall health, and can be beneficial no matter what chronic health condition you’re afflicted with.
Swedish researchers recently found that seniors who eat plenty of fish and vegetables live longer than those who do not. As reported by Reuters:12 “Among more than four thousand 60-year-old men and women, those with the highest blood levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which come from fish and plants, were significantly less likely to die from heart disease or any cause over about 15 years than those with the lowest levels.”
Generous amounts of PUFAs are found in fatty fish such as salmon and herring. They’re also found in avocados, olives, and raw nuts. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fish is too contaminated to eat on a frequent basis. Most major waterways in the world are contaminated with mercury, heavy metals, and chemicals like dioxins, PCBs, and other agricultural chemicals, which is why, as a general rule, I no longer recommend getting your total omega-3 requirements from fish.
Instead, I recommend taking an animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil on a regular basis, while simultaneously limiting damaged omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils and processed foods. These two strategies will help normalize your omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, which is an important consideration for optimal health.
If You Want to Eat Fish, Choose Wisely
That said, I do make one exception when it comes to eating fish.
The nutritional benefits of wild-caught Alaskan salmon or sockeye salmon, I believe, still outweigh the risk of potential contamination. The risk of sockeye accumulating high amounts of mercury and other toxins is reduced because of its short life cycle, which is only about three years. Bioaccumulation of toxins is also reduced by the fact that it doesn’t feed on other, already contaminated, fish.
Moreover, neither Alaskan salmon nor sockeye salmon are allowed to be farmed, which is another safety factor. For a less expensive alternative to salmon fillets, look for canned salmon labeled “Alaskan salmon.” If you want to be on the safe side, you may also consider taking some chlorella tablets along with your meal. Chlorella is a potent mercury binder and if taken with the fish will help bind the mercury before you are able to absorb it, so it can be safely excreted in your stool.
Besides wild-caught salmon, smaller fish with short lifecycles also tend to be better alternatives in terms of fat content, so that’s another alternative if you want to eat fish. A general guideline is that the closer to the bottom of the food chain the fish is, the less contamination it will accumulate. Good choices include sardines, anchovies, and herring.
Cheese Is a Health Food
Cheese has long been demonized courtesy of its saturated fat content, but as the saturated fat myth has come under increasing scrutiny, this food may soon experience a revival as well. Many recent studies into the health effects of cheese have come to exonerating conclusions. Joanna Maricato, an analyst at New Nutrition Business, recently told FoodNavigator-USA:13
“Nutritional science, like all sciences, is constantly evolving. In the past, studies focused on analyzing individual nutrients and their effects on the body. Now, there is a growing tendency to look at foods and food groups as a whole, without pre-judgments based on their content of an individual content of an individual nutrient. As a consequence, amazing results are appearing from studies on dairy and particularly cheese, proving that the combination of nutrients in cheese has many promising health benefits that were never considered in the past.”
Indeed, cheese—especially when made from the milk of grass-pastured animals—is an excellent source of several important nutrients, including:
- High-quality protein and amino acids
- High-quality saturated fats and omega-3 fats
- Vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, B2 (riboflavin), and B12
- Vitamin K2 (highest amounts can be found in Gouda, Brie, Edam. Other cheeses with lesser but significant levels of K2: Cheddar, Colby, hard goat cheese, Swiss, and Gruyere)
- CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a powerful cancer-fighter and metabolism booster
Even if you’re lactose intolerant, there are many cheeses you will likely tolerate as most of the lactose is removed during the cheese making process. There is a major difference between natural cheese and processed “cheese foods,” however. Natural cheese is a simple fermented dairy product made with just a few basic ingredients — milk, starter culture, salt and an enzyme called rennet. Salt is a crucial ingredient for flavor, ripening, and preservation.
You can tell a natural cheese by its label, which will state the name of the cheese variety, such as “cheddar cheese,” “blue cheese,” or “brie.” Real cheese also requires refrigeration. Processed cheese or “cheese food” is a different story. These products are typically pasteurized and otherwise adulterated with a variety of additives that detract from their nutritional value.
The tipoff on the label is the word “pasteurized.” A lengthier list of ingredients is another way to distinguish processed cheese from the real thing. Velveeta is one example, with additives like sodium phosphate, sodium citronate, and various coloring agents. A final clue is that most don’t require refrigeration. So, be it Velveeta, Cheese Whiz, squeeze cheese, spray cheese, or some other imposter — these are NOT real cheeses and have no redeeming value.
Raw Cheese from Pasture-Raised Animals Is Best
Ideally, the cheese you consume should be made from the milk of grass-fed animals raised on pasture, rather than grain-fed or soy-fed animals confined to feedlot stalls. The biologically appropriate diet for cows is grass, but 90 percent of standard grocery store cheeses are made from the milk of cows raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Not only does raw cheese have a richer flavor than cheese made from pasteurized milk, as heat destroys enzymes and good bacteria that add flavor to the cheese, grass-fed dairy products are also nutritionally superior:
- Cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows has the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio of 2:1. By contrast, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grain-fed milk is heavily weighted on the side of omega-6 fats (25:1), which are already excessive in the standard American diet. Grass-fed dairy combats inflammation in your body, whereas grain-fed dairy contributes to it.
- Grass-fed cheese contains about five times the CLA of grain-fed cheese.
- Because raw cheese is not pasteurized, natural enzymes in the milk are preserved, increasing its nutritional punch.
- Grass-fed cheese is considerably higher in calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
- Organic grass-fed cheese is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
Take-Home Message: You Need Unprocessed Saturated Fat—It’s Good for You
Focusing your diet on raw whole, ideally organic, foods rather than processed fare is perhaps one of the easiest ways to sidestep dietary pitfalls like excess sugar/fructose, harmful trans fats, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other harmful additives, while getting plenty of healthy nutrients. The rest is just a matter of tweaking the ratios of fat, carbs, and protein to suit your individual situation. One key though is to trade refined sugar and processed fructose for healthy fat, as this will help optimize your insulin and leptin levels.
Healthy fat is particularly important for optimal brain function and memory. This is true throughout life, but especially during childhood. So, if processed food still make up the bulk of your meals, you’d be wise to reconsider your eating habits. Not only are processed foods the primary culprit in obesity and related diseases, including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, processed foods can also affect the IQ of young children. One British study14 revealed that kids who ate a predominantly processed food diet at age three had lower IQ scores at age 8.5.
For each measured increase in processed foods, participants had a 1.67-point decrease in IQ. Another study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics15,16,17 also warns that frequent fast food consumption may stunt your child’s academic performance. For more detailed dietary guidance, please see my optimal nutrition plan. It’s a step-by-step guide to feeding your family right, and I encourage you to read through it. I’ve also created my own “food pyramid,” based on nutritional science, which you can print out and share.