Fats are perhaps the most misunderstood of all dietary substances. Over the past forty years, the media, as well as long-standing government positions on fats have inculcated into American society the idea that fats are unhealthy; they lead to weight gain and should be avoided whenever possible. When Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ”Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” and ”Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” first published his ideas stating that “Fats are good, processed carbohydrates are bad” the medical establishment accused the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud. Ironically, it is now clear that their very own dietary recommendations — eat less fat and more carbohydrates — are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. This dogma, however, is still strong. I have been astonished to find in my practice how very difficult it can be to convince patients that consumption of quality fats and significantly fewer carbohydrates (wheat, pasta, beans and starchy vegetables) will lead to weight loss, often to the tune of fifteen or twenty pounds in just 3 or 4 weeks.
While I am an admirer of Atkins, his point is only part of the story. Our society is steeped in a toxic food environment of cheap fatty food, large portions, pervasive food advertising and sedentary lives. We are at the mercy of the food industry, which spends nearly $10 billion a year advertising unwholesome junk food and fast food. On top of this our modern society has successfully eliminated physical activity from our daily lives. We no longer exercise or walk up stairs, nor do our children bike to school or play outside, because online gaming has become more important than physical play.
Why is it so necessary to promote consumption of quality fats, especially amongst the overweight population? Fats are molecules with long chains of small particles that can be broken off and transformed into substances that have many uses. Storage of energy, hormone production, cell membrane stability, waterproofing of our skin and provision of warmth are some of the primary uses of fat. Fat is also used to build new cells and is critical for normal brain development and nerve function. It is also needed to carry and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, e.g. A, D, E, and K, and as well as carotenoids. Depriving oneself of this essential nutrient in order to lose weight may therefore lead to serious imbalances. Further, low fat diets, especially programs containing high carbohydrate fat free foods, result in decreased satiety (so you eat more) and increased craving for more carbohydrates.
There are many resources to turn to when trying to lose weight. Here are some basics. Begin by consulting your friendly neighborhood naturopathic physician. We are skilled at uncovering the cause of obesity and in developing an individualized program unique to the patient’s needs. Next, consume dark leafy greens with at least two of your meals. In addition, decide on two vegetables to consume (of two different colors) before deciding on a meat to consume. Never buy salad dressings; oils that should never be heated (e.g. avocado oil) are high in beneficial fats that make tasty dressings. Eat two handfuls of raw nuts and seeds a day. Find a source of true free-range eggs. Chickens eat an abundant variety of fatty foods when permitted to roam. Their egg yolks tend to be more orange in color than yellow, a good sign of omega oils! Cook with olive oil and coconut oil. Try consuming no beans, grains or starchy vegetables for two weeks. If this is a challenge for tomorrow and not today, then limit yourself to grains such as amaranth, quinoa and wild rice. Be sure to soak the grains overnight before cooking them. An excellent resource for tasty, easy-to-prepare recipes is Jessica Black’s Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Books. Finally, there are many support groups available to those who are interested. Weight Watchers, for example, offers support meetings (both local and online), behavioral support and individualized programs (e.g. a different approach for a breastfeeding mom vs. an athletic young male). I personally recommend avoiding the packaged foods offered by these groups; however, I find the emotional and community encouragement provided by these programs to be invaluable.
Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic on 1012 E. Jackson St. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563.