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The Hampton’s Diet. The Fascination with Fat

We are quickly learning that the science of fats is fascinating and the science of weight loss needs to be married to the concept: to be thin, understanding fats is vital.

The Fascination with Fat

We are quickly learning that the science of fats is fascinating and the science of weight loss needs to be married to the concept: to be thin, understanding fats is vital.

It is only relatively recently that our society started to discuss fat and fat levels as a topic of everyday conversation. It has so pervaded our daily lives that even children can tell you if a particular food has fat in it or not. Many restaurant menus even go so far as to tell us how many grams of fat is in the food that we are eating. When did this fascination begin?

Ancient History
Years ago, no one thought twice about deep frying their foods, or spreading what is now considered “sudden cardiac death” size amounts of butter on their vegetables or toast. Also, red meat was considered an essential part of the diet and eating it showed that you had arrived and were able to afford to eat it. The twist to all this is that people were not fat then. Sure there were some overweight Americans – about 13 to 14 percent of the population. A level that stayed steady during those heady days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

During the 1980’s, the numbers of overweight people increased by 8 percentage points and by the end of the 1980’s, nearly 1 in 4 Americans was overweight or obese. This rise is very steep and has continued through the 1990’s and even through today. These figures are for adults. For children, the story is even worse. During that same time frame, the number of overweight children tripled in number.

This epidemic started when the low-fat dogma began to take off in earnest – when the food pyramid began to rear its ugly head.(to learn more about the food pyramid click here) We were told that we were fat because we ate fat – if you don’t eat fat, you won’t be fat. Fat caused heart disease. Eating cholesterol made your cholesterol levels raise. The mantras of the past twenty-five years all developed in the early 1980’s – not very long ago.

In fact, prior to that time, up to the 1970’s, it was generally accepted that fat and protein protected us from overeating because we were more satisfied and less hungry with those foods. This was an observation that had gone on for hundreds of years which was eliminated in the blink of an eye by a government and a food manufacturing industry that was and probably still are mutually dependent on each other.

If you simply look at this from another historical perspective, modern man has not evolved enough to be eating all the processed foods in our diet. Man did not eat sugar and refined carbohydrates until relatively recently in our evolutionary development, about 10,000 years ago. Until we developed into an agrarian society, there were no corner bakeries.

Another important thing to note about this low-fat dogma is that it has arisen from essentially a myth. There has been nothing but ambiguous science to support the fact that dietary fat leads to any of the health problems plaguing our population. So, in the late 1970’s, the government released a report advising us to significantly reduce our intake of fat if we wanted to continue living. The most frightening thing to me was that the National Institutes of Health even advised children as young as 2 to decrease their fat intake. This really infuriated me because the nervous system of a child is growing at an enormous rate and the nervous system, brain especially, is about 60% fat. By denying children the fat they needed, we were doing a huge disservice.

The Turning Tide and Profits
That governmental report was the turning point. The food manufacturing industry began to supply the market with low-fat everything. There wasn’t a food that wasn’t touted as having reduced fat, low fat, or no-fat. The funniest one for me is milk. Whole milk is 4% fat. Low fat milk is usually 2%. What is the big difference? Americans are simply suckers for large advertising budgets. Multiple billions of dollars are spent each year trying to influence our eating habits.

One of the most troubling problems with the low-fat message as it was portrayed was that we weren’t being encouraged to eat foods that were naturally low in fat, we were being encouraged to consume foods that were man-made atrocities that should never have been allowed to be called food in the first place. When fat is removed from a food, something has to be added for it to have taste or taste the way we think it should. To do that, sugar is usually what is added or high fructose corn syrup or some other variation on sugar – essentially causing our per capita consumption of sugar to rise dramatically. Cheap, over-refined oils and trans-fatty acids also pervaded these foods. So, when you look at a package of low-fat cookies for instance, there was hardly anything that could be considered real – something that has not been tampered with by man. Another marked derivation from our genetic programming and the way we had been eating for centuries.

The low-fat myth also encouraged unlimited consumption of foods as long as they didn’t have any fat. This led to a whopping increase in the amount of grain consumption which now stands at 60 pounds per person per year. It was only in the mid-1980’s when the fat-free mythology developed that unlimited portions were encouraged, which has led to the portion size problems facing us today. The 1980’s will not only be remembered as the me-decade, but as the dawn of the super-size era.

Sugar and refined carbohydrates are cheap foods – cheap to manufacture with good profit margins. They are also essentially empty calories. When we eat empty calories, we get hungrier in between meals and hungrier more quickly after eating. So, while the average portion size has increased recently too, I don’t think this is the main reason behind the obesity epidemic.

The reasons behind the obesity epidemic are quite multi-factorial. However, there are a few simple facts that bear repeating:
The obesity epidemic coincided with the low-fat message
There is no scientific evidence to support a low-fat diet
There is no scientific evidence to support eating cholesterol causes cholesterol problems
American have been eating less fat, smoking less, eating less red meat for the past couple of decades and the rates of heart disease have not decreased significantly
Feeding cattle grain fattens them up, why wouldn’t it fatten us up?
There has been a steep increase in the rise of Type II diabetes in this same time frame

Cholesterol Mythology
The federal government became so invested in trying to prove the low-fat mythology that they spent several hundred million dollars or even more on research into this dogma. While I admit that nutritional research is far from easy with many variables, including our lack of understanding of the multiple interactions all this plays in our body, they were never able to prove their point of, “eat fat, get heart disease.” Nor were they ever able to prove that eliminating fat makes us healthier. The one think they were able to show was that trans fatty acids are the worst kinds of fats and that by eliminating them we can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year in health care costs. But, more on that later.

Another thing that appears to have been proved is that cholesterol lowering medications lower heart disease. Now, I don’t think that has anything to do with lowering cholesterol levels. I believe it has something to do with lowering levels of inflammation in the body – inflammation that is caused by the consumption of the unhealthy fats (trans-fatty acids), sugar and other inflammatory components of the diet.

This inflammation triggers oxidative stress which in turn triggers cardiovascular disease. Increased glucose load, meaning a meal that is high in sugar or refined carbohydrates which are metabolized in the body just like sugar, will cause the oxidation of membrane lipids, proteins, lipoproteins, and activate inflammation. This increased glucose load will thus lead to lower anti-oxidant concentrations in the blood which is associated with increased blood pressure, accelerated clot formation and reduced blood flow.

So, increased sugar leads to increased inflammation which leads to increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This mechanism is partially influenced by insulin. Insulin helps the blood vessels to contract and expand. In overweight and obese individuals, this function of insulin doesn’t occur as well.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a better indicator of heart disease risk is a test called the C-reactive protein. This measures inflammation in the body – nothing else. My belief is that the cholesterol lowering drugs may influence insulin’s effect on blood vessels and decrease some of the other inflammation caused by our high sugar and high refined carbohydrate diets, and thus lead to cardiac benefits in that way, not because they lower cholesterol. Lowering cholesterol is more likely a marker for something else that is imparting cardiovascular benefits and not the cause of those benefits. Since those drugs may adversely impact the liver, they bear close watching and not accepting that mythology until further tested.

Does this sound like your patient?
Marge became a patient around the time of her menopause. She had slowly over the years gained some weight, especially around the mid-section. She admitted to being 35 pounds heavier than when she got married – a relatively common occurrence after the birth of two children. I explained the concepts of the Hamptons diet to her – that it was a lower carbohydrate approach with good healthy complex carbohydrates allowed, but in limited quantities; and unlimited amounts of very satisfying foods. She sat there and listened and then asked the question: how was this different than any other low carbohydrate diet?

I told her I could promise her something no other low carbohydrate diet could. I was going to make her rich by eating this way. “Go on,” she said. “Monounsaturated rich,” I countered. She liked the idea of eating more fat in her diet. She had tried all of those fat restricted diets and she was never satisfied and had to eat so few calories in order to lose the scantest amount of weight each week. She had tried the very low carbohydrate diets also, and found that there was just too much fat in those diets and she wasn’t comfortable after a meal. She couldn’t get it out of her head that all that meat was bad for you.

No one had ever tried to teach her the benefits of fat and the type of fat that she needed to eat in order to be healthy and to lower her risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers and one of the largest problems today, the metabolic syndrome. A monounsaturated rich diet can do all of those things. The Hamptons diet also emphasizes eating whole and real foods as much as possible.

She was intrigued. She revealed that her parents never used to worry about fat and ate red meat sometimes three times per day and lived to be in their 90’s. Why did she worry about everything and gained weight at the same time? After learning of the wonders of the Hamptons diet, she couldn’t wait to get started and after 5 months had lost all 35 extra pounds and she looked and felt terrific. She couldn’t believe that it was so easy. She never felt hungry and couldn’t believe how well she was eating.

The Hampton’s diet is not about lowering carbohydrates or low-fat or any other cliché that is currently out there. This diet is about eating in a healthy way by providing you with the knowledge you need to make healthy eating choices. It is a diet that is lower in carbohydrates, but teaches you how to eat healthy carbohydrates without gaining weight. It is a diet that allows you to eat fat, but not all the fat you can eat and only the correct fat – becoming monounsaturated rich in the process. The Hamptons diet is the 21st century evolution of dieting, so of course it is for you. Join in.

Moving On
The low-fat mythology has been quite beneficial for those lucky enough to be in the food manufacturing industry or heavily invested in those industries. It has done nothing to make us any healthier and has probably done more harm to our health in the past twenty five years than the good that the decrease in cigarette smoking has. It has been the largest non-funded, ungoverned test in the history of mankind – and we did it willingly.

The connection between insulin, fat metabolism, triglyceride and cholesterol levels have been well documented in various books and papers, including in my last several books. It is a confusing and still developing science into the actual mechanisms of how these factors all interact. It is encouraging to me to see that this science is now starting to progress again, after having been subjugated to the excesses of the low-fat mythology.

Despite the fact that the low-fat mythology has never been proven, there is still a long way to go to convince people that they will not die by eating more protein and far less sugar and simple carbohydrates. More and more people are beginning to trust this advice and thinking for themselves and for this I am grateful. But, even my patients will sometimes question that bacon and eggs breakfast and think that cereal or a bagel has to be healthier. It took only twenty five years for the low-fat mythology to become gospel. We have only been fighting the battle against it for a few years – perhaps we will win after all.

In the meantime, the Hamptons diet explores something that the low-fat mythology completely ignored – the fact the monounsaturated fats are good for you: they tend to elevate the good cholesterol (HDL), and lower the bad cholesterol (LDL). They are good for many other things which we will discuss in subsequent chapters. It is important to understand, and the reason behind this book is the simple premise: Now that we can begin to acknowledge that all fats aren’t bad for us, which ones do we eat and why?

The Hamptons diet is the new generation of diet books – making correct dietary assumptions about the balance between proteins and lower amount of refined carbohydrates; while exploring how to make that type of a diet even healthier – by only eating healthy fats.