All this week, there is a scientific meeting of the minds taking place online, dedicated to the function of fat in our diet — and it's not too late to join in, free of charge. Called the Fat Summit, it is a project created by family physician and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Mark Hyman, as a prelude to his latest book, "Eat Fat, Get Thin," to be released in February. Both the Summit and book come on the heels of new U.S. Dietary Advisory Committee recommendations to remove previous limits on fat in diet and recent news that dietary fat can support weight loss, improve brain function, help to prevent dementia, and even reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes.
Though this is not necessarily an endorsement of the event and I have no affiliation with it, the participants represent more than 30 of the sharpest medical and clinical minds around sharing their thoughts on subjects from losing weight to reversing chronic disease.
The Fat Summit is further evidence of how expert thinking has shifted on a once closed-book subject and how more and more above-the-belt blows are being landed to the no fat, low fat movement. To set the table for this new line of discussion, I present the following as an introduction to new thinking on fat.
Fat is a macronutrient. It is one of the three Musketeers of macronutrients — along with protein and carbohydrates. Macronutrients are so named because they are the source of the largest amounts of both calories and energy we require to sustain life. The primary function of fat is as an energy reserve. According to the National Institutes of Health, during exercise, the body first uses calories from carbohydrates for energy. After about 20 minutes, it turns to calories from stored fat to keep going. Fats also help the body absorb important and necessary fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
"Fat plays a role in the diet and shouldn't be avoided," says Jim White, a registered dietitian, health fitness specialist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Your body needs healthy sources of fat, also known as essential fatty acids, because the body can't produce these fatty acids naturally."
But not all fats are created equally.
Saturated fats and trans fats (also called trans fatty acids) are commonly considered unhealthy. Saturated fats generally come from animal sources, such as red meats and poultry. Trans fats are sometimes found naturally in meats or dairy, but usually in small amounts. Most commonly they are found in processed food, added for the purpose of increasing the shelf life of the product. Saturated fats and trans fats are fats that are solid at room temperature and also include things like palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. Other examples are cheese and butter.
Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, are generally considered healthy. As a rule of thumb, fats found in plants, nuts and fish, (polyunsaturated fats) have been shown to protect the heart and dramatically lower risk of heart problems. Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fats commonly found in plant-based oils. Good sources include vegetable, corn, peanut, grapeseed and sunflower oils. Omega-6 fatty acid is known to promote healthy skin and hair growth and benefit a healthy metabolism. They also help maintain bone health and the reproductive system.
There is a growing body of evidence that emphasizes getting healthy fats and avoiding or reducing unhealthy ones rather than cutting fats altogether. It is also not considered necessary to cut all saturated fat from your diet, but to merely keep track of it. The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat.
While the right form of dietary fat is now considered the key to maintaining good health, here's where it gets tricky. Evidence suggests that either consuming too much fat or too little could impact health negatively. According to Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a registered oncology dietitian at Stony Brook Hospital Cancer Center in New York, eliminating too much fat can result in serious health consequences including mental health deficits like depression and vitamin deficiencies.
Because each of us is unique in the way we absorb and metabolize nutrients, scientific findings are beginning to lend support to a new approach to diet, one personalized to the individual. It has resulted in a new wave of nutritional advice now hitting the market aimed at looking at diet based on such distinguishing factors as genetic makeup, gut bacteria, body type and chemical exposures. It may result in an entirely new model not only for diet-counseling, but in the way we approach the problem of obesity.
No wonder why so many top experts and entrepreneurs are rallying around the Fat Summit.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.