by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Like so many of my patients, for years I tried one low-fat, low-cholesterol diet after another. But after failing to lose weight — and feeling pretty bad despite my “healthy diet” — I did a panel of blood tests on myself. The results were shocking.
That fateful day was 25 years ago. It began my personal search for the truth about cholesterol and fat. What I learned at first surprised me, but now makes perfect sense. And I’ve proven it all in practice, both personally and with thousands of patients.
What surprises me today is that there is still so much confusion about cholesterol and fat. Over 70% of my new patients are still afraid of eating fat — any fat. They think eating fat will make them fat and raise their cholesterol. They think a low-fat diet will help them lose weight and help prevent heart disease.
Unfortunately, none of that is true. In fact the opposite may be true, especially for women. So let me share with you what I tell my new patients about cholesterol and fat. You may be in for a surprise.
Don’t feel guilty about cholesterol and fat
In my low-fat phase, I always used to feel guilty about enjoying fatty foods. But I learned that the human body is hard-wired by evolution to crave cholesterol and fat — so don’t feel guilty!
You crave cholesterol and fat because they’re essential to your health. When you eat real cholesterol and fat, you regulate insulin levels and trigger enzymes that convert food into energy. Cholesterol from food modulates your body’s internal cholesterol production and protects liver function.
What are essential fatty acids (EFA’s)?
Before we get into the role of fat in the body, let’s touch upon the most important type of fat you need to feed yourself. Without a doubt, essential fatty acids are just that — essential. They cannot be synthesized in the body and must come from dietary sources. However, while only two of the fatty acids are technically “essential”, all omega-3 fatty acids are in critically short supply in the average American diet for the following reasons.
Some fatty acids, in particular the omega-3s, lower triglycerides and soothe inflammation, helping the liver convert pro-inflammatory blood acids like homocysteine into anti-inflammatory agents. The omega-6s generally play a pro-inflammatory role, but there is evidence that at least one omega-6 fatty acid (gamma linolenic acid, or GLA), found in black current and evening primrose oils, also prevents negative inflammatory effects. Without getting into the biochemistry in too much detail, what is important to note here is that your body works as a seamless, well-greased system when the ratio of one type of fatty acid to another is in balance.