Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Jun

Top 7 Most Common Reactions to Your High-Fat Diet (and How to Respond)

A couple weeks back, I wrote about the top 8 most common reactions you get when people hear you don’t eat grains, and I offered up some concise responses to those reactions. It was well received, so I thought I’d do the same thing for “your high-fat diet.” If you thought having to explain your grain-free diet was tough, explaining a high-fat diet – in particular, a high-animal fat diet – may seem even harder. At least with a grain-free diet, you’re merely removing something that many hold near and dear to their hearts. It’s “healthy” and “delicious,” sure, but at least you’re not adding something that will actively kill you. Fat is that deadly thing, for many people. It’s “fat,” for crying out loud. It’s bad for you, practically a poison. Everyone knows it. I mean, have you seen what fat down the kitchen drain does to your plumbing?

Actually, like the grain-free diet, explaining the high-fat diet is not that hard. I’ll even promise you that there are ways to do it, explanations and answers that don’t make you seem like a crazy person who hates his heart (I make no such promises for those of you with a stick of butter with bite marks and a tub of coconut oil with a greasy spoon beside it on your office desk, however). Now let’s get right to their questions and responses you can use:

“Isn’t all that fat gonna glom onto your arteries?”

That isn’t how it works. Atherosclerosis is caused by oxidized LDL particles penetrating the arterial wall, inciting inflammation, and damaging the arterial tissue. It is not caused by fat mechanistically attaching itself to the surface of the arteries like fat in a kitchen pipe. Also, it’s not like you eat some butter and that butter gets directed straight into your bloodstream. Your blood doesn’t have oil slicks running through it, or congealed droplets of grease gumming up the passageways. You are the product of millions upon millions of years of evolution, and I think our bodies can do better than trying to ape modern plumbing.

Response: “My arteries are not pipes. Fat is not solidifying in my blood like it can in the plumbing. Atherosclerosis is a complex process with dozens of factors beyond what’s in your diet, let alone the fat content.”

“Isn’t all that cholesterol gonna raise your cholesterol?”

If I were a rabbit, sure. When you feed cholesterol to an herbivorous animal, like a rabbit, whose only encounters with dietary cholesterol occur in a lab setting, their blood lipids will increase and they will usually develop atherosclerosis. For many years, the “cholesterol-fed rabbit” was a popular model for studying heart disease and gave rise to the now-popular idea that dietary cholesterol also elevates blood lipids in humans (thus immediately condemning them to a heart attack, naturally). Except it isn’t the case. Save for a select few who are “hyper-responders,” the vast majority of people can eat cholesterol without it affecting their cholesterol levels. And even when dietary cholesterol affects blood lipids, it’s usually an improvement, increasing HDL and the HDL:TC ratio while leaving LDL mostly unchanged. As for where all that blood cholesterol comes from, we make pretty much all the cholesterol in our blood in-house, and dietary cholesterol tends to suppress endogenous cholesterol synthesis. Boy, between “staying local” and “only making as much as we need,” our livers are downright green. I bet our HDL is GMO-free and organic to boot (not so sure about those sneaky LDL particles, though).

Response: “Dietary cholesterol does not affect total blood cholesterol. In fact, when we do eat cholesterol, our bodies make less of it to keep our blood levels in balance.”

“Isn’t all that fat gonna make you fat?”

Fat doesn’t make you fat. While you can technically overeat enough fat calories to accumulate adipose tissue, thus getting fat, this is a difficult feat, for two primary reasons:

Fat is very satiating, especially when paired with low-carb eating. Grass-fed pot roast, ribbed with yellow fat, connective tissue, and ample protein is far more filling than some crusty bread spread with butter. You’ll eat a decent slice of the former and be done, but you could easily polish off half a loaf of the latter with half a stick of butter and still be hungry. It’s difficult to overeat on a high-fat, low-carb diet.

Dietary fat in the presence of large amounts of dietary carbohydrates can make it difficult to access fat for energy, while dietary fat in the presence of low levels of dietary carbohydrates makes it easier to access fat for energy. Couple that with the fact that fat and carbs are easier to overeat together, and you have your explanation. In fact, studies have shown that low-carb, high-fat diets not only reduce weight, they also retain or even increase lean mass. That means it’s fat that’s being lost (rather than the nebulous “weight”), which is what we’re ultimately after.

Response: “No. Eating a high-fat, low-carb diet is the easiest way to inadvertently eat less without sacrificing satiation or satisfaction. It also improves your ability to access stored body fat rather than lean mass, which is helpful for fat loss.”

“But Dean Ornish/my mom/Walter Willet/the AHA/my doctor said saturated fat will give you heart attacks.”

They all may say that, and sound pretty convincing as they say it, but the science says differently. I tend to listen to the science, rather than what I think the science is saying:

  • A 2011 study found that “reducing the intake of CHO with high glycaemic index is more effective in the prevention of CVD than reducing SAFA intake per se.”
  • From a 2010 study out of Japan, saturated fat intake “was inversely associated with mortality from total stroke.”
  • A 2010 meta-analysis found “that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.”

That looks pretty clear cut to me.

Response: “The most recent studies have concluded that saturated fat intake likely has no relation to heart disease, contrary to popular opinion.”

“Where do you get your energy?”

I get my energy from fat, both dietary and stored body fat. At 9 calories per gram, fat is the densest source of energy. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but humans tend to store it on their bodies. That’s not just for show, you know. We actually store it in our bodies as energy for later, for leaner times, for when food isn’t available. Fat is the ideal energy source for life’s daily activities; walking, working, even going for a hike or a light jog all access the oxidative, or fat-based energy pathway. Carbs only really come into play when you’re doing repeated bouts of intense exercise, like sprint intervals or high-intensity endurance training. But for just about everything else? Fat is king.

Response: “Fat is the body’s preferred and most reliable form of energy, which is why we store excess energy as fat on our bodies. Unless you think we accumulate body fat just to make pants fit tighter.”

“But isn’t fat totally free of nutrients? How do you get your vitamins if you’re eating all that fat?”

The richest source of natural tocotrienols (vitamin E), potent antioxidants, is red palm oil – a fat.

One of the richest sources of choline, a vital micronutrient for liver function, is egg yolk – a fat.

One of the better sources of vitamin K2, an oft-ignored nutrient involved in cancer prevention, arterial health, and bone metabolism, is grass-fed butter – a fat.

The best dietary source of vitamin D, a nutrient most people are deficient in, is cod liver oil – a fat.

See what I mean? Also, even when you’re cooking with a fat that doesn’t contain many vitamins, that fat is still going to improve the bioavailability of the fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, K, K2) in the food you’re cooking.

Response: “Certain fats, like egg yolks, palm oil, extra virgin olive oil, cod liver oil, and grass-fed butter, are some of the most nutritious foods in existence. And without fat in your meals, you often won’t absorb all the nutrients that are present in other foods like leafy greens, since many of them require fat for full absorption.”

“Doesn’t the brain run on carbs, not fat?”

Yes, the brain requires glucose. That is true. However, the brain is more of a gas/diesel hybrid. It can run on both fat and glucose. Ketones, derived from fatty acids, can satisfy the majority of the brain’s energy needs, sparing the need for so much glucose. You’ll still need some glucose, as the brain can’t run purely on ketone bodies, but you won’t need nearly as much. And, best of all, your brain will run more efficiently on a combination of ketones and glucose than on glucose alone.

That improved efficiency means you can actually function without food. Since you have ample brain energy stores on your body (even the lean among us have enough body fat to last for weeks), and a high-fat diet allows you to access that body fat for brain energy, you’ll no longer suffer brain fog just because your afternoon meeting went a little long and you missed lunch. Instead, you’ll enjoy steadier, more even energy in mind and body.

Additionally, your body, through a process know as gluconeogenesis, can make up to 150 grams of glucose a day – more than the brain even needs (roughly 120 grams/day).

Response: “While it’s true that the brain requires some glucose for energy, using fat-derived ketones as well can make the brain run more efficiently and reduce its glucose requirements. On top of that, your body can probably create more glucose than your brain even requires.”

Compared to last week’s grains post, there were fewer entries today, the simple reason being that while grains are hyped beyond belief, people have but a few scant – albeit robustly defended – justifications for fearing dietary fat. The backlash almost always revolves around the visceral fear of “fat.” It’s a scary word, after all, but it shouldn’t be. No one should fear something so vital to life, so crucial for nutrient absorption and hormonal function, and so delicious with roasted vegetables.

Hopefully, these responses will help curb some of that fear.

So, what’d I miss? What else have you heard, and how did you respond? Let me and everyone know in the comments!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great article. I actually started using Udo’s Oil (local health food store exclusive) to get all my fats.. as it provides essential and non-essential fats.

    You really can’t say enough about the need for fats in a diet. All other variables the same and changing fat intake (both up or down), gives me results when I’m at a plateau.

    Thanks, Mark.

    Jeff wrote on June 8th, 2012
  2. Love the response to “Where do you get your energy?” The tight pants comment at the end had me cracking up. Will definately be using that one!

    Karla wrote on June 8th, 2012
  3. Started going Paleo about three weeks ago. Feeling AMAZING! Looooving the food.
    Thank you Mark and all the team for sharing this info.

    susanna wrote on June 9th, 2012
  4. I’m so glad the word is getting out, more people need to discuss this in the way that you have. I went to the Dr Oz and Food for your whole life seminar and it was the same old rhetoric on low fat low calorie. Dr Oz did try to impart that starving yourself to lose weigh is futile, but the other presenters were lame. I went to just day one, so maybe someone else was saying differently, but no one has yet to come out and say what you and a few other brave and scholar minds have been promoting.

    Keep the faith and keep informing.

    cts wrote on June 9th, 2012
  5. My family thinks its crazy that a girl takes protein shakes, ‘too much’ leafy vegs, loaded with high healthy fats but little carbs :( I’m suffering becos no one understands what I’m really trying to do. I feel so helpless looking at their diet.

    Carol wrote on June 10th, 2012
    • Too much veg… lol. Ain’t no thang, girl.

      Lisa wrote on June 11th, 2012
  6. I got told about this health/ fitness site by a friend and it really is very good. Keep up the good work. Training is my life so I love to read anything that relates to the fitness world

    Nick wrote on June 10th, 2012
  7. Are there concerns about long term ketogenesis?

    Ari Meisel wrote on June 13th, 2012
  8. Lately my mom’s been taking me grocery shopping and has been practically trying to force me to choose bread and granola bars. I used to love granola bars. Now I look at them with disdain. It’s kind of funny. We debate food in the store and I like to let other people hear.
    She seems to wonder how I can eat over a pound of steak for a meal and 200g of cheese for another.
    I showed her a letter from our family doctor stating that my drug test on May 20 at the local hospital was negative. (Really, it shouldn’t have been, according to convential wisdom).
    She says she will no longer take me grocery shopping because she thinks I need help: another psychiatric assessment and more counselling.

    Animanarchy wrote on June 15th, 2012
    • My god she wants to control you so badly she’d place you in ther hands of Big Pharma Psychs – move out if you are old enough!

      RJ wrote on May 13th, 2013
  9. You missed out on lard being high in Vit.D
    As with all this, the important thing is the purity of the food supply. Local, all natural, sustainably farmed foods are important, with store bought organic as the fall back position.
    I would not buy the lard from the store, I know what is in it, but render my own from pigs raised by a person I trust.

    Jeremy wrote on June 22nd, 2012
  10. Doctor Oz showed that a low protein intake with healthy diet reduced cholesterol and highblood pressure. It’s too much animal protein that causes high cholesterol. There is a good reason why someone has high cholesterol. When the blood is too acidic the body will increase cholesterol to protect the organs. If you lower your cholesterol with drugs you will damage your organ in the long run. Meat is very acidic that’s why a low animal protein is a must. Also it helps to drink a lot of clean water to flush out the toxins and incrase the blood PH.

    Mikek wrote on June 28th, 2012
    • you are incredibly misinformed. Eating is not a science you idiot. We eat when we’re hungry and drink when we’re thirsty. We eat natural foods that taste good. Meat and fat taste good. How could processed plants possibly be good for us?

      Lance wrote on January 26th, 2013
  11. I’ve been eating a high-fat/low-carb diet since 2008, lost 50+ pounds and my last cholesterol test showed 116 total with only 46 triglycerides!

    Michele Chastain wrote on July 1st, 2012
  12. A high fat diet is the way to go. The media is finally digging into it.

    Granted I don’t agree with a few statements with this vid, I do agree with a lot of their points.

    jq wrote on July 4th, 2012
  13. Just had an ultrasound scan done for my carotid, femoral and aortic arteries. Has anyone else here had one or are you just relying on some numbers from a lab? I’ve been primal for a long time with tot chol 220 LDL 130 HDL 60 tri 85. Am a competitive 60 yr masters sprinter. Unfortunately I saw the plaque that is growing in my arteries which is a real mind blower when you think you are doing good numbers wise. Have switched to a Ornish low fat diet to see if I can reverse this.

    SteveK wrote on July 30th, 2012
  14. Ironic. I lowered my lipid numbers on a high carb low fat vegan diet eating copious amounts of grains, potatoes, rice, beans, fruit and vegetables. I lost 100lbs, reversed early onset CVD. Brought blood glucose levels down to healthy levels.
    I’m not unique. Millions of people have reclaimed their lost health and appearance on a diet and lifestyle which Mark Sisson and all you sycophants ridicule. Where is our metabolic resistance syndrome? I don’t eschew dietary fat, I just obtain it from plant sources. Tahini, Peanut Butter, Nut butters. No refined oils, no animal fats, limited saturated fats(only what is found naturally in Nuts and seeds), avocados.

    Chris Ahmed wrote on August 13th, 2012

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