Fat Fights Back: How Eating the Right Kind Can Battle Disease

Nutritional myths prevail, often leading many consumers to believe in the benefits of a low-fat diet. However, researchers are continuously discovering the advantages of consuming healthy fats, as opposed to avoiding all fat completely. Fatty acids present in fish oil, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and nuts can improve health and help combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Recent research conducted at the Salk Institute in California has revealed that consuming a high-fat diet may benefit individuals suffering from a variety of mitochondrial dysfunction-related diseases.

Mitochondria are crucial organelles found in cells that are responsible for fueling metabolic activity. Lab tests conducted at the Salk Institute have demonstrated that, when specific genetic diseases impair the function of mitochondria, a high-fat diet can help the mitochondria avoid damage and thus slow the aging process.

Diseases commonly associated with mitochondrial dysfunction include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Certain forms of deafness and blindness
  • Mental retardation
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease

Simultaneously, mainstream scientific journals are recognizing that the issue lies not in limiting fat, but rather in focusing on consuming good fats. For instance, both Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and David Ludwig, Director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, have published an article in the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) acknowledging that fat is not inherently unhealthy.

According to Mozaffarian, “Placing limits on total fat intake has no basis in science and leads to all sorts of wrong industry and consumer decisions.” Modern evidence shows that foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, fish, whole milk, and cheese have protective effects, especially for cardiovascular disease. However, some low-fat foods, such as low-fat deli meats, fat-free salad dressings, and baked potato chips, may be no better or even worse than their full-fat alternatives. Ultimately, it is the quality of the food, not its fat content, that matters.

So, what exactly are these “quality” fats? Some types of fats to prioritize in your diet are:

  1. Monounsaturated fats: Found in plant-based liquid oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil, as well as avocados, almonds, and pecans. These fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing the risk of heart disease.

  2. Polyunsaturated fats: Located in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, these fats can also help lower bad cholesterol, while being rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can support brain function and cell growth. Additionally, they are found in plant-based oils, including sunflower, corn, and soybean oils.

  3. Saturated fats: Although these fats can increase the risk of heart disease by raising bad cholesterol, incorporating small amounts of natural saturated fat sources into your diet can still be beneficial. For example, coconut oil, a saturated fat, contains medium-chain triglycerides that can boost metabolism.

While understanding and consuming quality fats are important, it is also essential to avoid consuming unhealthy fats such as trans fats, which can raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol. Common sources of trans fats include baked goods, snacks, fried food, and some types of margarine.

As a consumer, do not be misled by supermarket products that claim to be “low-fat.” Instead, it is necessary to differentiate between good and bad fats, opting for the former to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, heart disease, and other health problems. To identify quality fats and steer clear of processed food that may result in cellular damage, pay genuine attention to the food that you consume and its fat content.