Fat, Fad Diets and Cholesterol
by Christina Captain, DAOM, MSAOM, MSHN, MA
Throughout time, fad diets have been a staple of the American weight loss industry. It seems that almost everyone is looking for the next miracle cure to lose weight and lower cholesterol. In response to that need, the marketplace presents a new and improved fad diet every year. Some of the more dangerous fads use injectable hormones and severe calorie restriction as part of their weight loss strategy.
Fad diets do work in the short-term because they cut calories. It makes no difference if the plan is anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, low-carb, liquid, fasting, paleo, no-grain, high-protein, high-fat or food-combining. All of these plans are low in calories, and most require you to ingest less processed foods and more whole foods.
Cleaning your diet can make a difference immediately. With that being been said though, fad diets do not appear sustainable for most people. To avoid gaining all your weight back—including your less-than-optimal cholesterol numbers—the ideal approach is to create a plan that you can continue as a lifestyle instead of a temporary fix.
Cholesterol is complicated and should not be relegated to a “you have this number, so you get this treatment” kind of mentality. Cholesterol levels need to be analyzed, so the balance between the different types of fat is noticeable. Suppressing cholesterol to its lowest levels can be detrimental in most people and should, in my opinion, be considered only in patients with a history of heart disease or previous attacks. This is a great transition to how you can maintain healthy and optimized cholesterol levels through the foods you consume.
The newest medical theory on the block was developed by a physician whom I truly respect, Dr. David Perlmutter, MD. In his book Grain Brain, he espouses a world where nobody should consume grain carbohydrates including most fruit. So this means no or limited rice, wheat, millet, quinoa, corn, potatoes and fruit, while advocating for a higher (naturally saturated and monounsaturated) fat diet.
Huh? I was taught fats are evil—they make cholesterol higher and damage the cardiovascular system. So how is it fat ideal all of a sudden? The theory behind Grain Brain is that grains, including sugar (which is a grass), can produce inflammation in the body which is known as the foundation of disease.
Dr. Perlmutter’s theory is that elevated cholesterol is not the problem we have been conditioned to believe, as the brain requires fat for fuel. Depriving the brain of healthy fat will cause even more damaging situation. He states that grains actually do more harm to the brain functions than any of the natural saturated or monounsaturated fats cause the heart.
The idea is that we should be increasing our intake of omega-3 fatty acids because they are fats which keep us healthy overall, fuel the brain and reduce inflammation. Likewise, we should be decreasing our intake of omega-6 fatty acids. If we consume too many omega-6’s (the part of fat that increases inflammation), then we are becoming unhealthy.
This comes back around to whole foods versus processed foods. Most of the grains and carbs found in the carb addict’s pantry are processed cookies, cakes, crackers or breads which are heavy in omega-6—in contrast to organic eggs from pastured hens with naturally occurring fat which is rich in omega-3.
Another helpful tip Dr. Perlmutter explains in his book is that most saturated fat comes from animal products (beef, eggs and dairy), and the key to eating naturally occurring saturated fat is to consume animals and animal products that have eaten omega-3 enriched feed or grass. If a cow or hen eats conventional grains (probably GMO a topic for another time), the by-product is higher in omega-6 which results in more inflammation. But if the animal eats grass, and is free roaming or pastures, the higher the omega-3 content.
High omega-3 equals heart and brain health. The other approach to ingesting healthy omega-3’s is by eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat from avocado, raw nuts or nut butter, salmon and olives.
While there is ample evidence that points to Grain Brain being a correct theory, there are others who assert we need grains in our diet. As always, I am taking the middle ground. I believe in balance and that eliminating an entire food group is not necessary, unless you have a specific disease process or condition that makes it a detriment to consume that food group.
In that line of thinking, if you have diabetes type 2, metabolic disease or even just elevated cholesterol, it might be important to adopt a low-carb, moderately high-fat diet for about 90 days. This could be the answer you are looking for. What I know for sure is that eating monounsaturated and naturally occurring saturated foods will not be detrimental to your cholesterol—in fact, it might even create balance where there is now chaos.
Dr. Christina Captain is nationally board-certified by the National Commission for Certification in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). She is the lead practitioner at the Family Healing Center which she founded in 2000. Dr. Captain is also an expert Feng Shui practitioner and teacher who studied under Nancilee Wydra of the Feng Shui Institute of America, before originating her own style, Essential Balance Feng Shui. Since this discipline is a branch of Oriental Medicine, she often blends Feng Shui principles into her treatment plans. Family Healing Center is located at 2650 Bahia Vista St., Suite 101, Sarasota.