Are High Fat Diets Good For You? (Part 4)

I ended last week's article with an important point that highlights the primary reason why I am writing this series of blog posts. "In short, healthy fats in the diet do not spike insulin levels. So, high fat diets, which are conversely lower in carbohydrates, tend to keep insulin levels lower, thus encouraging fat burn versus fat storage." I also promised more details in this week's post.

If I were coaching a client who would like to lose weight, the first place I would start is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates, especially from refined sources such as breads, sodas, candy, and juices. I would replace those calories with healthy sources of fats such as full fat dairy, meat products, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil. As we've seen in the last several articles (here, here and here) this makes sense from a biological perspective and would actually move us closer to the diet that we ate before the epidemic of obesity and heart disease started.

Why would I recommend this dietary shift? Because eating fat does not make you fat, but instead, it protects you against it. Eating fat in combination with other foods decreases the amount of sugar in your blood stream and protects against insulin spikes. Moreover, the consumption of healthy fat causes no release of insulin. As a reminder, insulin is the hormone that signals fat cells to "open its doors" and store fat.

"There's no possibility of storing fat in fat cells unless insulin opens the receptors, and only eating sugar can make that happen." -Dr. David Ludwig

To further demonstrate this point, let's look at the example of type 1 diabetics. Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body's immune system takes the pancreatic cells (which produce insulin) to be foreign invaders. Our own immune system launches an attack against these cells, halting the production of insulin. Unable to produce insulin, the body simply cannot store fat as it should. If left untreated, these patients die emaciated despite having a voracious appetite. What is the solution? Give them injections of insulin. What is the main side effects of insulin? Weight gain. In fact, as demonstrated in one animal study, insulin injections predictably causes weight gain independent of food intake and physical activity.

Take the opposite example of modern man, who typically eats highly processed and refined carbohydrates far too frequently. In this state, our bodies are constantly producing insulin, thus signaling our fat cells to rapidly take up too many calories, thus leaving too few for the rest of the body. That's why we get hungry.

"We overeat in an effort to keep enough calories in the blood stream for the brain, muscles and other vital organs, but those extra calories ultimately wind up in fat cells, creating a vicious cycle of hunger, overeating and weight gain." -Dr. David Ludwig

The reality is that we have an excess storage of calories in our body, but unfortunately, because of our dietary habits, those calories remain stored instead of being mobilized and burned. Interestingly, obesity is not a matter of eating too many calories, but is actually because we have too few calories available in the blood stream to be burned.

Let's look at a couple studies that provides credence to the ideas presented above and in the last several articles (taken from an article written by Dr. David Ludwig here):

1. When animals were given exclusively refined carbohydrates, which lead to spikes and consequent troughs in blood sugar, they tended to take in more calories and gain excessive weight as a result. Interestingly, when their calories were restricted so that they could lose weight, their metabolism slows down and they still accumulated an excess of fat tissue.

2. In humans, the blood sugar crash that inevitably comes a couple hours after eating highly digestible carbohydrates leads to a surge in stress hormones, which triggers hunger and craving in attempts to get blood sugar levels back up. This effect was not seen in diets that comprise mainly of slowly digesting carbohydrates and diets that contained less total carbohydrates to begin with.

In next week's article (the final in the series), we will review data from the best available randomized, controlled studies and see what they reveal about the benefits of eating a diet higher in healthy fats.

This blog was adapted from article written by Dr. David Ludwig, which can be found here.

This article will appear in the 10th edition of my newsletter, "5 Big Ideas to Upgrade your Health."

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