Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Lose Belly Fat with a High Healthy Fat Diet
Could consuming a liter of olive oil weekly actually help you lose belly fat? According to the latest study, it does.
Indeed, numerous recent studies are showing that replacing simple carbs with healthy fats can help to shrink belly fat.
This goes against everything the American Heart Association and our government taught us for years about eating a low fat diet to lose weight and avoid heart disease. Even the most recent dietary recommendations from our government recommend eating up to a half pound of carbohydrate loaded grains each day.
What would happen if we replaced some of these grains with healthy fats? The key take away from this article is that eating healthy fats will not make you fat but rather could help you to lose the belly fat. It may seem counter intuitive but please read on…
My Transition to a High Healthy Fat Diet
I was no different that the typical American kid growing up in the 1980s. In the 1980s my diet was about 15% protein, 15% fat, and 70% carbohydrates. I dutifully followed the dietary guidelines at that time and drank skim milk, used low or non-fat items, and ate my recommended 6-11 servings of grain each day.
During this period of time, and into the 1990s, I was extremely active physically. I regularly ran marathons and even started training for an ultra marathon. Despite these extreme levels of exercise I was still gaining weight on my high simple carb diet (lots of breads, pastas, and pastries).
Things only got worse in the 2000s when high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eosinophilic esophagitis, and an autoimmune disease, among other conditions, also developed. As part of my health turn around a few years ago, I dramatically changed my diet by increasing vegetables 4x and fully embraced a diet full of healthy fats.
Today, my diet is still about 15% protein but now my carbs have dropped from 70% to 40-45%, and my fat has gone from 15% to 40-45% of my diet. The simple carbs have mostly been eliminated and my nuts and seeds consumption have increased about 10x. Eventually, our government will be forced to acknowledge the ever growing body of scientific data that a diet higher in healthy fats can reverse heart disease, allow us to lose weight, and feel better.
A Balanced Diet
You can’t exclude one of the three macronutirents (fat, protein, carbs) from your diet and expect a healthy outcome. A healthy diet is a healthy balance among the three macronutirents. My 40-45% fat diet is much higher than the 20-35% currently recommended by our government.
At the same time, my 40-45% fat diet is much lower than the ketogenic diet followers who often target somewhere around 70% fat intake. For me, it is important to keep everything in balance and avoid the extremes until the scientific literature, based on long-term studies, can support these approaches.
From a historical perspective, it is interesting to note that in the late 1800s/early 1900s protein was considered unhealthy. In the late 1900s it was fat that was demonized. Now in the 2000s it is the carbs.
We absolutely need the right carbs for optimal health, nutrition, and energy. For example, from a scientific stand point, the data supporting fruits and vegetable carbs for long-term health, including cancer and heart disease prevention, are irrefutable.
The Most Recent Study on a High Healthy Fat Diet
In one of the most scientifically rigorous diet studies ever done, researchers have shown that once again people are healthier with a high healthy fat diet. In this study, researchers analyzed 5,801 people randomized to one of three diets. The three diets evaluated in this study were as follows:
- Mediterranean Diet with one liter of olive oil each week
- Mediterranean Diet with one serving of nuts daily (walnuts, almonds, and hazel nuts)
- Standard low fat diet
The Mediterranean Diet is one also high in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds. There was no exercise or weight loss goals with this study. It was purely a diet study for 5 years.
After 5 years, researchers found that those who ate the Mediterranean Diet, supplemented with either a liter of olive oil each week or a handful of nuts each day, had less belly fat and lower triglycerides. Not only this, the people eating the high healthy fat diet were also 35% (olive oil) and 28% (nuts) more likely to reverse the deadly metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a dangerous condition when at least three of the following are present in a person: excessive belly fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, or low good cholesterol (HDL).
While I do love olive oil, I am still amazed that the people randomized to the olive oil group in this study could eat a liter of olive oil each week and yet not gain weight!
Why are fats healthy?
Don’t be fooled by the fat free label you see in the grocery store! Healthy fats are part of a healthy diet.
Fats are healthy as there are essential fats that our bodies cannot make and that we must get from our diet. Healthy fats are also filling and don’t mess up our hunger hormones and metabolism like a high carbohydrate diet can. The right fats can even reverse heart disease and keep us healthy, vibrant, and strong.
Keep the Right Carbohydrates
In this article I do not want to demonize all carbs. The simple carbs, like sugar, wheat flour, white rice, processed foods, etc. should be minimized. The complex carbs, like fruits and especially vegetables, should be encouraged at all meals.
I fully support the current 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the American Heart Association. Of these nine daily servings, I would recommend that at least six be vegetables.
What are the healthy fats?
You may be wondering, what are some other healthy fats other than the olive oil and nuts mentioned in this article. Seeds are also loaded with healthy fats. Coconut, avocado, and olives are other great fats. Also, be sure to include the omega 3 fatty fish like Wild Alaskan Salmon, Atlantic Mackerel, sardines, or anchovies.
Dr. Day’s Personal Fat and Carb Rules
Here are my rules as to how I approach fats and carbs in my own diet.
1. I minimize simple carbs
2. I eat at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (healthy carbs)
3. I eat at least 1 serving of beans or lentils daily (healthy carbs)
4. I eat a variety of nuts and seeds every day (healthy fats)
5. I use organic extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil (healthy fats)
6. I eat Wild Alaskan Salmon at least twice weekly (healthy omega 3 fats)
7. I eat some form of omega 3 fats every day (salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds)
8. I do all I can to avoid hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils, and other “Franken oils” found in processed foods
Do you still find yourself afraid to eat fats, even healthy ones? Why is this? Have you found better health by liberally eating healthy fats? Tell us about it!
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.