Over the weekend, I watched “Fathead”, a documentary produced in reaction to Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”. This documentary completely challenged everything I knew about weight loss and heart disease, and was also incredibly informative and entertaining.
Tom Naughton, a stand-up comedian and computer programmer, set out to prove Morgan Spurlock wrong. Fast food can be part of a healthy diet. Tom decided that he’d eat fast food three times a day for a month, just like Spurlock…but he’d LOSE weight, not gain it.
According to the “Fathead” official site, the creators describe the film as a “delicious parody of Super Size Me…Naughton serves up plenty of no-bologna facts that will stun most viewers, such as: The obesity “epidemic” has been wildly exaggerated by the CDC. People the government classifies as “overweight” have longer lifespans than people classified as “normal weight.” Having low cholesterol is unhealthy. Lowfat diets can lead to depression and type II diabetes. Saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease — but sugars, starches and processed vegetable oils do.”
Naughton’s plan was simple: maintain a caloric intake of 2000 calories per day while eating only fast food (and a couple of “Carb Options” snack bars.) But you can’t just cut calories to lose weight. You need to be eating the correct types of food, and in the correct ratio. And you also need to take into account your hormones, particularly insulin. When insulin levels are up, you are more likely to store calories from food as fat, rather than burning them. And what increases insulin levels? The consumption of sugars and carbohydrates. So Naughton decided that he’d limit both calories and carbs, ingesting 100 grams of carbohydrates per day.
While Morgan Spurlock gained 25 pounds in his 30 day fast food diet, Tom Naughton lost 12 pounds in just 28 days. His BMI dropped from 31.2 to 28.2, and cholesterol also improved. And that number is even more impressive when you hear what percentage of his calories came from saturated fats: a whopping 54%.
But saturated fats aren’t as bad as we’ve been conditioned to believe. Mother nature isn’t stupid. We prefer fatty foods because our bodies crave these foods, because we evolved to eat animal fats over millions of years. The diets of our ancestors were mostly meat-based, with a few fruits and veggies, and very few carbs…and they didn’t have a lot of heart disease. It wasn’t until the advent of agriculture that wheat and grains became a big part of our diet, and it wasn’t until several decades ago (when we started eating processed vegetable oils) that heart disease rates increased.
According to the lipid hypothesis, “Saturated fat raises cholesterol, and cholesterol causes heart disease.” But this hypothesis was based on skewed, outdated research. According to the doctors interviewed for “Fathead”, the lipid hypothesis is “bogus”. No medical studies have proved that a high-fat diet causes heart disease. In fact, several major medical studies have proved that high-fat diets have no link to heart attack rates.
Eating a diet rich in saturated fats has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in your blood. And it isn’t cholesterol that causes clogs in your heart valves. Inflammation does. Cholesterol can build up on these inflamed parts of the heart as part of the healing process, but the root of heart disease is inflammation. And if you want to increase your HDL (good cholesterol), you need to eat more saturated fats. Bad cholesterol (small LDL) levels are increased by eating sugars and carbs.
Stress, elevated insulin levels, and smoking all cause heart disease. They also cause elevated levels of cholesterol, which is why people thought for so long that cholesterol caused heart disease, when really it is just a SYMPTOM of heart disease.
Processed vegetable oils and transfats are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids. And while your body needs a little of these fatty acids, too many cause stiffening of cell membranes and inflammation. You’re better off eating fries cooked in beef tallow or duck fat than fries cooked in vegetable oils.
So, in summation, here are Tom’s tips for losing weight and making your heart healthier:
1. Limit your calories to what is appropriate for your size and activity level.
2. Only eat natural fats, not transfats or processed vegetable oils (cook food in butter or coconut oil)
3. Limit your carb intake to 100 grams per day (not the 300 grams per day suggested by the FDA)
4. Get about 50% of your calories from saturated fats
5. Avoid foods with a high glycemic index (note that most unsweetened cereals still have a glycemic index rating that is higher than granulated sugar)
Follow these tips, and you’ll likely see the same success as Tom did.