Most Americans have been advised to adhere to a diet low in saturated fats to promote heart health. However, the paradigm for what constitutes a healthy diet is shifting. More often doctors and scientists advocate for a diet that abounds in “good fats.” Steven R. Gundry, M.D., author of “The Plant Paradox”, says that diets rich in good fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols produce better overall health for most patients.
Gundry has studied and concluded that cultures with diets rich in healthy fats tend to live longer lives and experience a better quality of life than those western diets that advocate for low-fat foods.
“If you look at the Mediterranean diet, one of its strongest factors is the heavy use of olive oil,” Gundry says. “For instance, the Cretan diet includes about one liter of olive oil a week. That’s about 12 to 14 tablespoons per day. The same holds true for the Sardinian diet.”
While olive oil is considered a good fat, the important part of the equation is the presence of polyphenols.
“We’re beginning to realize that olive oil is not the miracle factor,” Gundry says. “It contains oleic acid, which is a carrier for polyphenols.”
Some foods rich in polyphenols include olive oil, cocoa powder, berries, plums, apples, almonds, pecans, walnuts, spinach and more. Gundry recommends his patients use food as a vehicle for polyphenols, which contain antioxidants.
“The more I have people think in this way, the more results I see in weight loss, diabetes reduction and blood pressure reduction,” he says.
Another source of good fat comes from Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, such as anchovies and tuna, fish oil, walnuts, rosemary and flaxseed oil.
“Good fats can actually help you lose weight,” Gundry says. “Not all fat calories are converted into body fat. What typically causes the body to store fat cells is an elevated level of insulin, also known as the ‘fat storage hormone’.”
The key to a diet rich in good fats is to avoid foods that raise insulin levels. This means avoiding refined carbohydrates.
“The most important aspect of our diet is knowing what foods to avoid,” Gundry says. “The more people begin to think of returning to the diet man ate 10,000 years ago, the more their health can improve.”
The issue of how much fat one should consume is still debated. In fact, while Gundry advocates for a high consumption of olive oil, the Federal Food and Drug Administration cautions those at risk for heart-related illnesses to consume only moderate amounts of unsaturated fats, such as those found in plant-based oils.
A person’s diet will ultimately be determined by individual needs, however, more and more healthcare professionals agree that a diet rich in good fats and oils will produce a wide range of health benefits for most.