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Eat Fat, Get Thin?

Dr. Mark Hyman is the founder of the UltraWellness Center and director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

By: Eric Newill

Today, Americans are heavier than ever—but this might partly be due to mass confusion. In our embrace of low-fat diets, we have inadvertently made ourselves gain weight by replacing good fats with refined carbohydrates like pasta, rice and cereals. So believes Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., the highly respected founder of The UltraWellness Center and director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. His new book, “Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health,” details the fats we now know we should be consuming, the foods we should avoid, and the reasons we were mistaken in the first place—as well as a 21-day plan to achieving renewed vitality.

Why are Americans today so heavy?
Americans still believe in the myth that fat makes you fat, but the latest government reports have stopped recommending a limit on dietary fat (apart from saturated fat). The public believes we should be eating low-fat to lose weight, but the truth is Americans have been consuming more refined carbs and sugar, which drive obesity. Science now recommends that the best way to lose weight is to eat more fat, not less, but in the absence of refined carbs and sugar.

Why are people so confused?
Until a month ago our own government recommended reducing fat intake. New dietary guidelines have taken away those recommendations, but they still promote eating low-fat dairy, so there’s a huge contradiction. People are getting mixed messages. I felt it was really important to address this issue head-on and talk about the biology of obesity to help people understand that it’s sugar, not fat, that makes you fat. The fact is, eating fat is not only okay but even necessary to help people lose weight—it turns off the switch that controls hunger.

What are the real problem foods?
Sugar drives the most weight gain. It’s like a fertilizer for your fat cells. It makes you hungrier and slows your metabolism.

What are the differences between fats?
Everybody agrees that trans fats are bad, and omega-3 fats are good. Omega-6 fats—soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil—are seen by some as healthy in terms of reducing the risk of heart disease, but these refined oils are very inflammatory. They actually promote heart disease when eaten in the absence of omega-3’s. And, in the absence of carbs and sugar, saturated fats may be beneficial. But everyone agrees that sweet fat—fat combined with carbs—is bad for you, and that’s driving most of the problem.

What can people do immediately?
People need an oil change—switch out the bad oils for the good ones. Cut out sugar and eat olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados, omega-3’s found in fatty fish, and then you can incorporate things like butter into your diet.

What do you recommend we eat daily?
We need five to six servings of fat a day. People think a 50-percent-fat diet sounds crazy, but that’s actually what the science is showing, especially for people who are overweight or prediabetic—which is 70 percent of Americans. When you go to the grocery store you want to buy good fats: olive oil, avocados, almonds and seeds, not peanuts but all the other kinds. Eggs that are pasture-raised as opposed to factory farm eggs. Grass-fed protein, whether it’s lamb or chicken or beef. You also want fattier fish like mackerel and wild salmon.

What about people’s embrace of gluten-free food?
Gluten-free cake and cookies are still cake and cookies. They still have sugar, and using rice flour instead of wheat is even more fattening because it has a higher glycemic load.

Tell us about your 21-day routine.
It really takes a very short time to reset your system. If you remove refined carbs and sugar and processed food and you eat all good fats, tons of vegetables and quality fruit, then your body resettles. Much of the reason people feel bad is because of the inflammation. Digestive issues, joint pain, sinus issues, headaches, whatever, their suffering is often caused by what they’re eating. In 21 days, if people eat a clean diet, whole foods and more fat, they’ll feel better.

You also point to the fact that Americans don’t cook for themselves.
We’ve raised the first generation of Americans who don’t know how to cook. That was deliberate on the part of the food industry to disenfranchise our kitchens. The ability to cook and feed ourselves is an essential life skill that everyone should learn to save us from a lot of suffering and illness and early death. The answer in America is in the kitchen, not the doctor’s office.

What are your favorite recipes in the book?
The key to feeling good is to eat what is delicious and what will help limit your cravings so you won’t feel deprived: almond pancakes with berries, which is a high-fat high-protein pancake; salad with Feta cheese; lamb chops and spinach salad with great pesto; coconut curry mussels with zucchini noodles; spicy seared salmon with zesty cabbage. Cauliflower rice is really great; it seems like a carb.

Can people ever splurge?
I have a 90/10 rule for a splurging, but it all must be real food, like coconut or avocado.


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