When reading different viewpoints on a high-fat (ketogenic diet) versus a low-fat diet, it would seem the medical community is in disarray. One group advocates for a high-fat diet, while another for a low-fat diet. If you read what each group has to say, each may make sense. Each is also correct, but only to a certain extent. We are going to investigate in more detail and determine whether it may strike the right balance for everyone.
Fat – the Good and the Not so Good
Certain research shows an indication that a high-fat diet may have a negative impact on your brain, especially with regards to cognition and neurodegeneration. Their findings go on to mention that a high-fat diet affects the hippocampus in the brain (which is essential for learning and memory). In other words, according to the study, it causes damage to your brain.
On the other hand, they found that once taken off a high-fat diet, brain activity returned to normal after approximately two months. So the effects are not lasting if proper dietary measures are introduced.
What they found from this study was that a high-fat diet may trigger inflammation which, in turn, may trigger an autoimmune response in the central nervous system. Where this usually serves to protect the brain from a possible threat, a high-fat diet tended to block the process.
Similarly, another study looking at the effect of a high-fat diet on the brain noticed that it actually reduces the amount of glucose utilized by the brain. This situation has a negative effect on the hypothalamus, which controls your metabolism, as well as the cerebral cortex, influencing learning and memory.
Because the brain is not getting the glucose it needs, it actually stimulates cravings for sugary foods in an effort to meet its requirements. This has far-reaching consequences, e.g. you may end up becoming insulin resistant or put on weight.
Conversely, there is research that says that fat is good for you. That, in fact, it is essential for your continued health. This is also true. Fats play an essential role in the body, and too little fat may result in equally disturbing health conditions.
Research shows that fat in the diet is essential for the development of ‘good’ cholesterol, and that fat may have been given a bad rap over the years, being cited as one of the main reasons for heart disease and modern lifestyle health issues. Not all fat is bad for you. In fact, it may actually be good for you.
In the United States, more people are obese than ever before. The reason for this is simple. Diet has changed. People are eating a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet and picking up weight. The reason for so many health issues lies in the fact that carbohydrates are easily turned into glucose. Glucose that cannot be used by the body is stored as fat.
Also, the type of fat consumed is the issue, not fat in general.
There are different types of fat, some are good, while others are not so good.
Different Fats Have Different Effects on Health
There are, essentially, three types of fats. Each has its own function. Not all are deemed ‘good fats’. So how do you know the difference and what do you do about them?
Naturally occurring fats tend to be your best bet. In other words, those fats that have not been altered due to certain processes.
Most food, even healthy food, (e.g. chicken or nuts) has a certain percentage of saturated fats. Common sources of saturated fats are mostly from animal protein and products, e.g. beef, cream, or cheese. Some plants, however, also have a high saturated fat content, including coconut oil and palm oil.
Although saturated fats increase your cholesterol levels, too little-saturated fat lowers your levels of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. This is bad for the heart. Cholesterol is also the building block of the precursor hormone pregnenolone from which other steroid hormones are manufactured, primarily in the adrenal fatigue.
Saturated fats provide us with a number of health benefits, among these are:
- Ensuring cardiovascular health by reducing the amount of lipoprotein in the blood. High lipoprotein levels correspond with a higher risk of heart disease.
- Myristic and lauric acids found in coconut oil and butter play a role in immunity. When not enough saturated fatty acids are present in white blood cells, the immune system becomes compromised due to being unable to recognize foreign pathogens.
- Saturated fats play an important role in metabolism. For example, with the correct release of insulin.
- Saturated fat protects the liver from the effects of certain medications as well as alcohol.
- Saturated fat is essential for calcium incorporation into bones. Lack of saturated fats compromises the process and may lead to deficiencies in this regard, resulting in health issues such as osteoporosis.
- Saturated fats coat the lungs in a thin layer. When other types of fats replace fatty acids in this task, proper lung function is compromised and may lead to difficulty breathing.
- The two main components that make up the brain are saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. Too little fatty acid in the diet thus compromises brain function.
There are two types of unsaturated fats – polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are usually in the form of vegetable oil. Certain health conditions (e.g. heart disease) are linked to polyunsaturated fats to a large extent. Some polyunsaturated fats occur naturally, while others are processed. It is the processed form of polyunsaturated fats that are detrimental to your health as they worsen your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
Examples of processed polyunsaturated fats include processed cooking oils, e.g. sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and walnut oil, to name but a few more information.
Unprocessed polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, improve your cholesterol levels and include oily fish (salmon, herring, tuna), walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
Trans fats are usually only present in processed fatty foods. These may be natural fats that have been manipulated to allow for a longer shelf life. The processes these fats are subjected to change their chemical composition and can be linked to heart disease and high ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.