Recently, I was a guest speaker on Jonathan Landsman’s Immune Summit. (The opportunity to listen to the talks for free is over, but you can still purchase Jonathan’s excellent summit here.)
A statement I made on the summit confused one listener, who contacted our office to ask for clarity. My comment was that “a high saturated fat diet kills trillions of good microbes in the gut (specifically Bifidus) and allows a pathogenic bacterium named B. wadsworthia to flare up, produce toxic substances (LPS), and inflame the gut lining, even causing leaky gut.”
Research clears up confusion
Eating too many saturated fats from animals can destroy the diversity of your microbiome. Hardy Bifidus bacteria in the gut, like those found in the Bifidus Power Blend Probiotic, can protect the gut from inflammation caused by excess fat in the diet.
A 2012 study published in Nature confirms this. When University of Chicago researchers took mice with a genetic predisposition similar to colitis and fed them a diet high in saturated fat, the bacterial composition of the microbiome changed and encouraged the growth of a harmful bacteria called B. wadsworthia.1 More B. wadsworthia in the gut, researchers said, can trigger an inflammatory immune response in mice predisposed to the disease. The fat used in this study was milk fat, found in butter, cream, ice cream, cheese, and high fat milk.
Whether saturated fat is good for you or not is a question on the minds of many today, so let’s dig deeper.
In the last two years, fat has gone from demonized to the darling of many health experts. You’ve probably been hearing these statements everywhere you turn:
- A diet that provides energy from carbs is bad.
- A high-fat ketogenic diet is the way to go.
- Fat should be eaten at every meal.
This entire fat issue is bewildering to many, and it’s certainly not easy to find answers amidst the conflicting opinions. So, I’d like to chime in with another piece of the fat story and hopefully put an end to the debate.
Are you clear about where fats come from and why we eat them?
There are different types of fat — saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated — and even more than you probably want to remember, so let’s forget about that right now. No wonder it’s confusing.
We eat fats:
- As a source of energy.
- To store as energy for later use.
- For their essential fatty acids — since our bodies can’t make the essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 on their own.
- For cholesterol — to form steroid hormones like progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone.
- For the proper functioning of our nerves and brains.
- Because they help keep our cell membranes more flexible.
- To carry fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, around the bloodstream, delivering them to the cells.
Remembering that fats are a very important part of a healthy diet and remembering a few more facts is wise:
- Fats can be obtained from both plants and animals.
- Saturated fat can be obtained from just two plants but from many animals.
- The healthiest saturated fats are in fatty fish, like salmon, and in plant sources, like coconut oil, coconut milk, and MCT oil. Red palm oil is also a saturated fat, and while it isn’t as popular as coconut and MCT oil are right now, it’s still good to eat.
- Three fats that are excellent for our health that are not saturated come from these plants: extra virgin olive oil; avocado oil, which comes from the flesh of the avocado, not the pit; and macadamia nut oil, which has a delicious and buttery flavor. These fats are called monounsaturated (MUFAs). It’s these that you’ll want to eat more of if you choose to eat a high-fat diet.
When you hear experts like Dr. Mark Hyman promoting a high-fat diet, these are the fats he is recommending, not saturated fat from commercially-raised animals. That kind of fat is bad for everyone. Yet if those animals are pastured-fed on green grasses most of their life, they will provide you with a healthier type of saturated fat, plus some omega-3 fatty acids, and this could be good for you. Notice I used the word “could.” That’s because it may or may not be good for you. And this is where your own individual uniqueness comes in (a concept I’ve tried to promote for years in The Body Ecology Principle of Uniqueness).
For more information on what Body Ecology is all about, start with our downloadable Quickstart Guide and Blueprint.
5 easy clues that can help you decide how much fat you need to eat
Both where you live and the season of the year can be factors to consider, especially when it comes to consuming saturated fats. The winter is a time to take in more saturated fat from animals since doing so will help you stay warm during the cold months. Cool temperatures alter metabolism and increase brown fat storage.2 During the hot summer months, you need little to no saturated fat from animals, and you’ll feel better if your fat comes from plants. This same concept — of changing the type of fat you eat — holds true if you live in a hot climate most of the time, or if you live where seasons come and go. If and when it’s cold in your area, saturated fat from animals can help you stay warmer.
Bottom line: If you live in Hawaii, ditch the saturated fat from animals.
Don’t take my word for it — try it. During hot weather, eat a quinoa salad one night and then a beef stew the next and see how much better you feel and sleep. Also, notice with plant fats that you will be much more tolerant of the summer heat. Remember, coconuts grow in hot, tropical climates. For people living in hotter climates, this is a strong clue from Mother Nature that your saturated fat should come from coconuts and not from animals.
In the summertime, try this quinoa salad with an olive oil or macadamia nut oil dressing. Millet makes a lovely summer salad too. Quinoa and millet are both Body Ecology-recommended grain-like seeds; they are gluten-free and are not carbohydrates.
Delicious and nutritious: Our collection of Body Ecology recipes can be found here.
The kind and amount of exercise you do each week must be considered when you decide how much fat to eat. You’ll notice that many of the advocates of a very high-fat diet are athletes and burn a lot of fat for fuel.3 Do you?
3. Food combining.
Do you have an untamable sweet tooth and eat sugar every day? Fats combined with sugar are a big no-no. Adding sugar to an already high-fat Western diet may be even more harmful than eating a high-fat Western diet alone, a 2014 Experimental Physiology study states.4
Have you had your genes tested yet? You might want to. In 2014, Tufts University researchers pinpointed 63 genetic variants that increase the risk for obesity when eating saturated fat.5 If you’ve inherited “variants” (a.k.a. SNPs or alleles) in certain genes, then saturated fats from animals are not for you.
If you have any of the following gene SNPs, you’ll want to carefully monitor your fat intake:
- APOA2 - The variant in this gene is C and is associated with weight gain and obesity when saturated fat intake is high, as well as insulin resistance and atherosclerosis.
- APOA5 - The T variant in this gene has been associated with greater weight gain and less weight loss when eating a high-saturated fat diet.
- APOe4 - This is the gene that puts many at risk for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.6 A low-fat diet is recommended for this genotype, which means no saturated fats from animals and little or none of the healthier fats from plants. Even omega-3 fats from fresh fish like salmon are a concern. So, perhaps someone with this gene should not take fish oil supplements and should obtain their omega-3s from plants like algae and algal powder.
- FABP2 - This gene, which stands for fatty-acid-binding protein 2, strongly influences fat absorption in the small intestine. With the A variant, you will absorb more fat in your small intestine and tend to gain weight. It seems unfair, but if you have the A variant and share the same moderate fat meal with a friend who does not have this variant, you’ll absorb more fat. You will naturally struggle with more weight gain and increased abdominal fat than he or she will; eating a high-fat diet will cause weight gain and abdominal fat storage for you, and even a moderate amount of fat will be better absorbed. The FABP2 gene A variant is also associated with insulin resistance and higher triglycerides when fat is eaten.7
- FTO - This well-researched gene has been associated with a higher risk for a larger waist circumference and obesity if you have the A variant and eat saturated fat.8 With the A variant, you have to carefully manage your total fat intake. It’s also important to avoid sweet foods and flour products, and you must decrease the amount of saturated fats from even grass-fed animals while including more MUFAs (monounsaturated fats). Think avocado and avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, and macadamia nut oil. If you eat a high-fat diet and have a sedentary lifestyle, your risk for obesity is even greater.
Learn more about your gut-gene connection. Body Ecology's Cracking the Code course explores the fascinating field of nutritional genomics.
5. Your liver, pancreas, and gut microbiome.
These three organs play a key role in your ability to digest the fats you eat. In 2012, University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers learned that some microbes in the gut can increase dietary fat absorption to help the body extract more calories from the same amount of food.9 Supporting the gut with good bacteria, the study indicates, could be used to decrease fat absorption and reduce instances of metabolic disease and obesity. Let’s also not forget — as most experts do — that the condition of your liver, pancreas, and the substances they produce, like bile and pancreatic enzymes, are other key players in how well you digest fats.
A keto diet beats a high-carb diet every time
If you are on The Body Ecology Diet — as I have been for over two decades now — you are on a “modified ketogenic diet.”
You and I are obtaining our energy from our fats, not from carbs. That’s because Body Ecology is sugar-free (no carbs) and gluten-free (and The Diet doesn’t recommend any flour products either). Throughout each day, those of us on The Body Ecology Diet consume 80 percent of our food from vegetables, eating many different plants (dark, green leafy; cruciferous; root vegetables, like daikon and carrots; and ocean vegetables). Body Ecology has a strong emphasis on supporting gut health, and this is an area where The Body Ecology Diet shines far above the other advocates of the ketogenic diet, who don’t fully understand the value of fermented foods. (The healthy microbes in cultured veggies and probiotic drinks help consume sugars and break down fats and proteins so they are more digestible.)
I stand firmly on the statement I made that a diet high in saturated fat from animals (and usually eaten with carbohydrates) is going to destroy the diversity and health of your microbiome. A high-fat diet decreases the number of Bifidus bacteria, an important member of a healthy inner ecosystem. Bifidobacteria have been shown to improve intestinal barrier function and decrease toxic substances that cause intestinal inflammation called lipopolysaccharides (LPS produced by pathogenic bacteria).10 They have also been shown to play a role in regulating high-fat-induced diabetes.10 Prebiotics, such as chicory inulin, can increase the number of Bifidobacteria and reduce the impact of metabolic disorders caused by a high-fat diet.10
Following The Body Ecology Diet, which is a high-fiber, 80-percent plant food diet combined with healthy, natural fats — from avocados, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, MCT oil, fatty fish, grass-fed meats, and a small amount of seeds and nuts — will help you restore and maintain your inner ecology.
By Donna Gates
What To Remember Most About This Article:
As The Principle of Uniqueness states, your health and your body are unique. There are five specific factors that can affect how much daily fat your body can tolerate:
The oils recommended on The Body Ecology Diet, mentioned above and mostly from plants, are the ones you should eat at every meal, and you can eat them quite generously. Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, like salmon, are great to eat several times a week. When eating meat from poultry, beef, lamb, bison, etc., carefully strain off any animal fats from soups and broths and remove the skin from chicken before you cook it. Your liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and microbiome will thank you for doing this.
A diet high in saturated fat from animals, normally paired with carbohydrates, can destroy the diversity of the gut. Bifidus bacteria help to support a thriving microbiome and can also reverse inflammation caused by eating too much fat.
IMPORTANT: That’s the whole fat story. But remember, you are unique, and you may not tolerate some of the fats or oils suggested on The Body Ecology Diet. Pay attention to your gut and nurture it. Only eat the fats that make you look and feel great!
- Devkota S, Wang Y, Musch MW, Leone V, Fehlner-Peach H, Nadimpalli A, Antonopoulos DA, Jabri B, Chang EB. Dietary-fat-induced taurocholic acid promotes pathobiont expansion and colitis in Il10-/- mice. Nature. 2012 Jul 5;487(7405):104-8.
- Lee P, Smith S, Linderman J, Courville AB, Brychta RJ, Dieckmann W, Werner CD, Chen KY, Celi FS. Temperature-acclimated brown adipose tissue modulates insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetes. 2014 Nov;63(11):3686-98. doi: 10.2337/db14-0513. Epub 2014 Jun 22.
- Jeff S. Volek, Daniel J. Freidenreich, Catherine Saenz, Laura J. Kunces, Brent C. Creighton, Jenna M. Bartley, Patrick M. Davitt, Colleen X. Munoz, Jeffrey M. Anderson, Carl M. Maresh, Elaine C. Lee, Mark D. Schuenke, Giselle Aerni, William J. Kraemer, Stephen D. Phinney. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.metabol.2015.10.028.
- Raffaella Crescenzo, Francesca Bianco, Paola Coppola, Arianna Mazzoli, Margherita Tussellino, Rosa Carotenuto, Giovanna Liverini, and Susanna Iossa. Fructose supplementation worsens the deleterious effects of short term high fat feeding on hepatic steatosis and lipid metabolism in adult rats. Experimental Physiology, June 2014 DOI: 10.1113/expphysiol.2014.079632.
- Patricia Casas-Agustench, Donna K. Arnett, Caren E. Smith, Chao-Qiang Lai, Laurence D. Parnell, Ingrid B. Borecki, Alexis C. Frazier-Wood, Matthew Allison, Yii-Der Ida Chen, Kent D. Taylor, Stephen S. Rich, Jerome I. Rotter, Yu-Chi Lee, José M. Ordovás. Saturated Fat Intake Modulates the Association between an Obesity Genetic Risk Score and Body Mass Index in Two US Populations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.03.014.
- Kim J, Basak JM, Holtzman DM. The Role of Apolipoprotein E in Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuron. 2009;63(3):287-303. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.06.026.
- Weiss EP, Brown MD, Shuldiner AR, Hagberg JM. Fatty acid binding protein-2 gene variants and insulin resistance: gene and gene-environment interaction effects. Physiol Genomics. 2002 Sep 3;10(3):145-57. Review.
- Fawcett KA, Barroso I. The genetics of obesity: FTO leads the way. Trends in Genetics. 2010;26(6):266-274. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2010.02.006.
- Ivana Semova, Juliana D. Carten, Jesse Stombaugh, Lantz C. Mackey, Rob Knight, Steven A. Farber, John F. Rawls. Microbiota Regulate Intestinal Absorption and Metabolism of Fatty Acids in the Zebrafish. Cell Host & Microbe, 2012; 12 (3): 277 DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2012.08.003.
- Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Fava F, Knauf C, Burcelin RG, Tuohy KM, Gibson GR, Delzenne NM. Selective increases of bifidobacteria in gut microflora improve high-fat-diet-induced diabetes in mice through a mechanism associated with endotoxaemia. Diabetologia. 2007 Nov;50(11):2374-83.
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