How Fat Is Affecting Your Health…

Fat: What I Got Wrong, What I Got Right

Dr Hyman |


Other than politics and religion, nutrition is one of the most divisive areas of debate. I’ve dedicated my life’s work to finding and telling truth about what makes us sick and fat, and most importantly, to the study of food as medicine and to the science of creating health.

About ten years ago, I started to dig into the research about dietary fats. More and more studies documented the benefits of this once vilified nutrient. In the process of unbiasedly sifting through the research and digging deeper, I was forced to question everything I thought I knew about fat. I long viewed fat as the enemy responsible for obesity and disease, especially heart disease. But mounting evidence now makes it clear that in the absence of refined sugars and processed carbohydrates and starches, healthy fats shut down cravings, accelerate weight loss and can help prevent and reverse disease.

My book Eat Fat, Get Thin presents the case for eating dietary fats based on the latest research, my clinical experience and the remarkable results of thousands of people who have followed the approach in Eat Fat, Get Thin. The response to this book has been overwhelmingly supportive. The vast majority of my peers have enthusiastically rallied behind my central message that fat is not the enemy; sugar and starchy or refined carbs and a high-glycemic, processed food diet are the real causes of weight gain, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Even with all the support and success of my program, I knew my findings on dietary fat would be challenged by low-fat advocates. I was recently attacked by a small group of my peers because of my promotion of the beneficial role of fat in the diet, my challenge to the dogma that saturated fats are all bad and that meat is not the enemy we once thought. I expected and am grateful for this response; it provides the opportunity for deeper discussion and clarification. Science is always elevated by honest debate.

Before I do a deep dive into what I got right in my book, and what I want to clarify, I want to cover a few high level points about my central message in Eat Fat, Get Thin.

Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is not linked to heart disease in the absence of refined (starchy) carbs and sugar, and in the presence of omega 3 fats. And review after review after independent review of the research shows that there seems to be no link between saturated fats and heart disease. In fact, a recent large review of the research found that the higher the saturated fat intake, the lower the risk of stroke.

Butter: Is butter a health food? Probably not. Should it be shunned? For sure not. The review of the literature is included in my book. This is not my opinion but a growing consensus among a large group of leading scientists.

Low-Fat Diets: Some believe that low-fat diets are the only way to prevent or reverse heart disease or lose weight. However, the overwhelming scientific consensus does not support the conclusion that total fat or even dietary cholesterol are linked to heart disease. This is exactly why the 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed any limits on total fat, and dietary cholesterol calling it “no longer a nutrient of concern”. The expert panel that advises government on dietary policy after reviewing the evidence concluded that, “Reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk.… Dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat.”

Pegan Diet: The Pegan diet (see below) is what I recommend my patients and my readers follow for long-term health. A Pegan Diet, a term which I first coined as a parody of extreme diets, takes the best qualities from a vegan diet and combines them with the best qualities from a paleo diet. It focuses on fresh, ideally organic, low-glycemic, mostly plant-based foods. If animal products are consumed, they should be sustainably raised, grass-fed and treated as a condiment or “condi-meat.” The right fats work best when combined with a Pegan Diet.

What I Got Wrong

All studies are not created equal and good scientists often come to polar opposite conclusions, making it difficult for the average person to make sense of it all. Better studies in the space of nutrition will certainly help. I’m honored that I have been asked to lead a large initiative at Cleveland Clinic where we are conducting many randomized clinical trials on nutrition, Functional Medicine and chronic disease, and building a program to establish a new way to address chronic disease by using food as medicine.

Yes we need more research, but we have enough data now to understand the role of diet in health. I’ve reviewed this research in my book, particularly the data on low-fat vs. high-fat approaches to weight loss, heart disease and chronic illness. In this blog I dig into the controversies on fat. I apologize in advance for the length, but the truth is often not simple or obvious, and the flaws in the low-fat dogma demand a detailed review.

Now let’s get started.

Dr. Dean Ornish has been a proponent of the diet-heart hypothesis that all saturated fats are the cause of heart disease. He has been a passionate advocate of lifestyle changes that prevent and reverse chronic disease and his advocacy has, without question, profoundly and beneficially impacted many lives. Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle medicine approach has been a major pioneer in the field of lifestyle as treatment for chronic disease. His Preventive Medicine Research Institute has done extensive and impressive research on low-fat, plant-based diets, along with lifestyle interventions for heart-disease and prostate cancer reversal, and the lengthening of telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes), which typically shorten as we age and are linked to many diseases. Clearly, eating whole-foods, plant-based diet combined with exercise, stress reduction, smoking READ MORE:

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