When Fat is Phat

When Fat is Phat

I have not intentionally been sending you fewer blog posts in the past few months, promise.  Gosh I hope you noticed…!  What I have been doing is analyzing a ridiculous amount of data to compile a comprehensive research paper regarding saturated fat and heart disease.  I’m not ready to spill the beans on the finished product just yet, but I’m excited to give you a little glimpse of my findings so far.

I know saturated fat has gotten raked over the coals in the mainstream for decades due to being “artery clogging.”  However, the recommendation to eat a “low-fat diet” or “low-saturated-fat diet” is based on some seriously flawed research stemming from the 1960s and 1970s.  Which, I have to say, after having utilized technological resources to help me thumb through >500 studies for this project, I have no idea how those researchers were able to truly conduct quality studies.  But anyway…

Way back in the 1960s a fella named Ancel Keys led a revolution regarding saturated fat.  He found in his infamous Seven Countries Study1 (and derivatives of it) that people who ate the most saturated fat died quicker than those who ate less saturated fat.  However, these (Seven Countries and its follow-ons) studies were observational in design (click here for more on why that would matter), and cannot prove cause and effect.  Furthermore, one huge (or would have been huge) review analyzed >3,500 studies only to find that ZERO studies exist (as of 2011) to support the recommendation to consume a “low-fat diet” for prevention or treatment of high cholesterol. No, that wasn’t a typo:  ZERO studies support that.  But gosh, the American Heart Association (AHA) is so adamant about low-fat eating!  Here is something else super interesting.  The Presidential Advisory from the AHA3 that came out in 2017 to reassure everyone that saturated fat (including coconut oil) is still bad for us was a pretty shady publication.  By study design criteria, that publication is a narrative review, which means that it has the potential to carry a lot of people’s opinions.  No information was listed regarding how they chose studies for their review, which often means that they can selectively include/exclude studies that meet their agenda (this is cutely referred to as “cherry picking data”).  Furthermore, it would take me all day to type up all of the financial support the authors received from Big Pharma and Big Food, not to mention the COUNTLESS advisory boards for Big Pharma and Big Food on which many of the authors serve.  (But you can download the full text to see for yourself here.) Bias, anyone…?

Furthermore, without getting too deep into detail here, the interventions used in nutritional studies MATTER, yet often get ignored because many people just settle in on the conclusions found.  For example, one randomized controlled trial I analyzed in my project gave group A high saturated fat and white bread, group B high monounsaturated fat with white bread and tomatoes, and group C polyunsaturated fat with white bread, tomatoes, and walnuts.  You guessed it – the group receiving saturated fat and white bread had less desirable health outcomes than the other two groups.  No kidding?  Groups B & C were given a fighting chance with receiving fiber and antioxidants from the tomatoes and walnuts.  The real thing to take from that example, is that when you are trying to compare two things, you have to actually compare two like things.  A confounding factor is something that interferes with the trial in such a way that you no longer can determine cause and effect.  If you didn’t give the saturated fat group tomatoes and walnuts as well, then you can’t possibly make a determination in comparison to the groups that had that extra fiber and antioxidants.  HOWEVER, when the early morning news shows get ahold of the conclusion statement of these types of trials, they have no expertise or analytical skills to realize that this was crappy science; they simply report “latest study proves, yet again, that saturated fat is going to kill you.”


Ok, so when is she going to get to the point?  The real conclusion I have come to through 3 months of very little sleep and 53 glorious pages of results from the analysis of 349 peer-reviewed research studies (I only included 3 of them here today) on saturated fat and heart disease published since 2010 is:

  • Evidence supporting the limiting of saturated fat for the prevention or treatment of heart disease is limited at best, and evidence supporting a low-fat diet to prevent or treat high cholesterol is nonexistent.
  • Saturated fat, with the exception of specific types like stearic acid, do tend to raise both LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. The LDL from saturated fat intake are typically “large fluffy” in nature, and therefore less likely to “clog” your arteries.
  • Although high LDL is a risk factor for heart disease, high inflammation and/or oxidative stress has been found to be the catalyst causing the artery plaque to build, not LDL independently.
  • A low-fat diet should not be recommended for anyone, including those looking to prevent or treat high cholesterol or heart disease.
  • Future studies examining intake of saturated fat in the context of adequate omega-3 fat intake and/or fiber intake are critical to truly understanding the holistic impact of saturated fat as part of an otherwise healthy eating pattern.
  • Consumers should increase intake of whole plant foods rich in fiber as well as an increased omega-3 fat intake, as well as whole-food sources of all types of dietary fat in the spirit of prevention and treatment of heart disease.
  • Saturated fat can and should be a part of a holistic, moderate-fat-containing, eating style for most individuals, as the benefits of saturated fat cannot be disregarded.
  • US Dietary guidelines, historically and currently, seem to be based on limited and/or flawed literature surrounding the role of saturated fat in overall health as well as the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
  • Saturated fat should not be limited nor consumed in excess.
  • Whole-food saturated fat sources would be best; and use of saturated fat in cooking would be ideal to prevent excessive production of free-radicals from vegetable oils.

And there you have it.  What are some holistic sources of saturated fat?  Well, pasture-raised and/or grass-fed meats, butter (grass-fed preferred), ghee, extra-virgin coconut oil, whole-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, cheese), nuts, seeds, etc.  Including omega-3-rich fats like salmon, tuna, cod, sardines, halibut, mackerel, flaxseed, walnuts, etc., as well as TONS of whole, colorful vegetables in your daily/weekly eating routine are crucial to good health as is a little but of uncooked extra-virgin olive oil.  Have less vegetable oils and less carbs (you don’t have to give them up, nor should you; but reducing carb intake is typically beneficial for most people) and try to make your carb choices 100% whole grains, whole fruits, or starchy vegetables.

Until next time…xoxox




  1. Keys A, Menott A, Karvonen MJ, et al. REPRINT: The Diet and 15-Year Death Rate in the Seven Countries Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2017;185(11):1130-1142.
  2. Smart NA, Marshall BJ, Daley M, et al. Low-fat diets for acquired hypercholesterolaemia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(2):Cd007957.
  3. Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JHY, et al. Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;136(3):e1-e23.

Nutritional Nit-Picking and Why it Sucks

Hey!  Guess what time it is?  It’s National Nutrition Month time again!  That’s right, the entire month of March is devoted to celebrating the wonderment that is life-sustaining, nourishing sustenance, otherwise known as…healthy eating!  Furthermore, March 14th happens to be Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day!  I know; it is difficult to contain all the excitement, isn’t it?!

Nutritional Nit-Picking and Why it Sucks

Anyway, today’s topic was brought to you by the colors black and white, because those are the colors nutritional concepts are NOT.  Every single day someone asks me a point-blank question about some food or nutrient expecting a point-blank answer.  Those of you who have spent any time around me already know that my answers are never point-blank…they are loooong and probably annoyingly informative.  The reason my answers can typically never be “cut and dry” is because nutrition simply doesn’t work that way.  Nutrition is not “black and white;” it is not always simple; rather, nutrition concepts are sometimes gray and blurry.  Let’s get to some examples, shall we?

One of my most favorite and recent examples of gray concepts happens to revolve around the most delicious yogurt in the world, Noosa.  First and foremost, please know that I do not work for Noosa, nor do I receive any sort of compensation for what I’m about to say (but Noosa – if you’re listening – some coupons for free Noosa would be DOPE; just sayin’).  I often catch a lot of flack for eating Noosa, mostly because it is “high in sugar.”  But let’s dissect the situation and make it complicated for a second.  An average Noosa can have more than 20 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce container.  Ok, ok…peel your jaw up off the floor and hear me out.  Of that 20-something grams of sugar, a significant portion is lactose.  Lactose, if you’re unfamiliar, is simply “milk sugar;” it is a natural carbohydrate (aka sugar) found in milk.  Some of those grams of sugar do come from ghastly added sugar, sure.  But here’s an important aspect to consider:  the scant amount of added not-good-for-you added sugar is typically mixed into a real fruit puree that is the essence of what makes Noosa so amazing.  That little container of joy also has roughly 12-15 grams of protein, a boatload of calcium, and some delightful little gut germs, all of which keep your insides happy.

What’s the point of my droning on and on about Noosa?  Honestly, it’s just a detailed example of something I desperately try to help people understand each day, which is to stop missing the forest for the trees.  In other words, stop getting so hung up on tiny aspects of the food you eat that you miss the chance to get NOURISHED.  If I was given the choice between plain yogurt or no yogurt, I’d pick no yogurt.  (We could get into a debate about whether or not you can or should have dairy, but that is for another day.)  What I’m getting around to is the fact that one of my major sources of calcium is Noosa.  That tiny amount of sugar in Noosa makes it so stinking tasty that I have one nearly every single day.  And, because of Noosa, I have a protein-rich and nutrient-rich snack most days around 3 pm, which prevents me from eating my children and husband when I walk in the door due to being uncontrollably hangry after a long day of work.

Don’t pass up the avocado because it “has too many calories;” you’ll miss out on a TON of fiber, potassium, B-vitamins, and antioxidants.  Don’t pass up the Noosa because it has “too much sugar;” you’ll miss out on probiotics, calcium, vitamin C, and protein.  Don’t avoid the 100% whole grain bread because it’s got “too many carbs;” you’ll miss out on magnesium, fiber, and folate.  When you take a step back from all the noise about nutrition and start to refocus on eating real foods, you don’t need to count anything or measure anything.  Ask yourself how that food got to you (without a Google search), and if you can’t figure it out, don’t eat it.  If you don’t recognize the ingredients on the package, don’t buy it.  Food should be simple, pure, and wholesome.  Food should not be created by someone in a lab wearing goggles; food should be grown and raised.  But, occasionally, indulging in stuff that sucks nutritionally but makes you have a moment of joy…well, that isn’t terrible if done sparingly.  Be smart.

Don’t get so caught up in the details that you miss little opportunities to put nourishing, tasty, amazing nutrients into your belly.  Eat mostly vegetables, some fruit, some 100% whole grains, some protein-rich foods, some fats, drink LOTS of water, and get up and move around.  Despite all the talk about sugar today, try to consume less and less and less added sugar to the best of your real-life abilities.  But try not to overthink it!  And, as always, consult a local registered dietitian nutritionist to help you work out the details and optimize the best you there is.

Love ya – mean it.




Things I Learned From Becoming a Certified Personal Trainer

Things I Learned from Becoming a Certified Personal Trainer

Hello there, and welcome back to another edition of Casey talking about stuff.  I am stoked to announce that I have obtained another credential as of today.  I am now an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM CPT).  Eeek!  This is super exciting.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the “why” and the “how” surrounding my efforts toward getting this certification.  Today I’d like to explain a bit of what I learned along the journey of obtaining this relatively challenging certification, and why I did it.

  1. I felt it was necessary to add an exercise component to my expertise in nutrition in order to truly guide people to better health. I will still stand firm behind the fact that about 90% of weight loss happens as a result of the food you consume; but exercise is a critical part of strengthening your body, improving your metabolism, and making you a healthier person overall.
  2. I tend to thrive on a good challenge.  Studying for the ACSM CPT exam was no easy feat.  I lost track of the hours upon hours I studied some surprisingly complex exercise physiology dynamics and guidelines.  I spent about 5-10 hours a week for 2 months prepping for this beast.  This exam apparently has about a 50% fail rate, and during the exam that cold, hard reality sunk in big time.  It was pretty hard, and I like to think I’m decently strong in this [health and wellness] area.
  3. I wanted to determine firsthand what exactly makes the personal trainers I’ve encountered feel as though they are somehow qualified to spew out nutrition advice.  Guess what?  Not shockingly, the ACSM consistently emphasizes that a CPT’s scope is to inform the client of the importance of proper nutrition in a healthy lifestyle and training program.  The ACSM further emphasizes that a CPT is not qualified to give anything beyond basic advice, nor are they qualified to provide “diet plans” for anyone, especially in the setting of specific health conditions.  Isn’t that funny…every single personal trainer I’ve ever known seems to crap out “diet plans” for everyone…interesting, and not ok…OH!  And also very important:  the ACSM stresses that the ACSM CPT is not—I repeat, NOT—qualified to recommend supplements…seriously, it’s explicitly repeated throughout their own literature.  Shocked?  I’m not.
  4. Something that was pretty disappointing is that a decent amount of the nutrition component of the ACSM guidelines was completely inaccurate.  I actually tried to contact them because it was THAT big of a deal (no response yet).  I had to learn quickly that I needed to “study to the test” rather than answer the questions like I know them to be true based on current peer-reviewed literature.  One example is that corn oil is a “healthy fat.”  There were plenty of other snippets that were jaw-droppers for me, but I did not keep a log unfortunately (or fortunately?).  The point is, not only does an ACSM CPT not at all have any authority to be giving you advice on ANYTHING nutrition except for super-basic stuff, the little teensy bit that is taught by ACSM is not current nor accurate.  Please just be aware of that, because it’s kind of a big deal.

I do not feel confident that I will ever succeed at stopping the illegitimate nutrition-advice vomit that happens in the general public from well-meaning people who are probably trying to help.  However, this is my small effort at trying.

If you’re a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who is reading this, I hope you are at least a tiny bit inspired to achieve an exercise credential to add some dimension to your career also.  Yes, it is expensive, especially the study materials + the cost of the exam itself; no, you will likely not get a raise in your “regular” RDN job.  But you will expand your knowledge significantly with regard to exercise dynamics, and this is a really good thing for your practice and your clientele.

To end on a positive note, I hope that I can help one or many of you with your health-improving adventure one day.  It won’t be free, but if you’re nice to me I might offer a reduced rate 🙂