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A High-Fat Diet for a Low-Fat Body



NOT TOO LONG AGO, we both were advocating specific diets for weight loss and wellness. We weren’t just advocates of these plans—we built our professional lives around these two seemingly contradictory nutritional philosophies. As a practicing nutritionist, Jonny championed the ultra-low-carb Atkins Diet. Famous for its high-protein intake and its jump-start approach to weight loss, Atkins let people lose weight quickly, especially individuals with a lot of excess pounds to shed. But despite the diet’s short-term success, Jonny was troubled by its sometimes restrictive approach, as well as some of the highly processed foods on the diet’s “okay to eat” list, specifically deli meats, which were liberally allowed. His instinct was to add more variety, including additional plant sources of fiber such as beans and legumes, which are also great sources of protein, as well as low- sugar fruits like berries. Jonny preferred “clean” protein instead of the protein from processed, commercial animal products such as feedlot farmed meat and pro- cessed cheeses, all of which can be contaminated with additives, hormones, and pesticides. But these modifications didn’t always adhere to the rigid parameters of the Atkins Diet. Meanwhile, Steven—a physician, nutritionist, trained chef, and medical fellow with several prestigious health organizations—held the position of medical direc- tor at the Pritikin Longevity Center where he oversaw many aspects of healthy weight loss, including the center’s ultra-low-fat eating plan. Pritikin participants often struggled with serious conditions like life-threatening heart disease and dia- betes. After their stay at Pritikin—with its carefully regulated diet of whole, unpro- cessed foods high in fiber and complex carbohydrates—people would lose weight quickly, drop several of their medications, and leave the center in excellent shape. But Steven noticed a troubling pattern: After participants left the controlled sur- roundings of the Pritikin Center, they regularly returned to their old ways. They just couldn’t stick with the program on their own. Steven, who has spent years re- searching cardiac health and observing thousands of patients, knew that the Pri- tikin Diet lacked the healthy proteins and important fats that would have rounded out a truly nutritious and effective diet that a person could follow for life. But just as Jonny found out trying to experiment with the Atkins Diet, any kind of variety or modification, no matter how healthy, wasn’t allowed within the strictly regimented protocol of the Pritikin Diet.

fat, while limiting foods with refined carbohydrates in order to keep the glycemic load low. (We’ll explain later why properly identifying refined carbs and glycemic load—not glycemic index—is crucial to your success.) But the diet was deficient in fiber and certain nutrients, such as anti-aging plant pigments like carotenoids and flavonoids, and disease-fighting vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and K, as well as magnesium and potassium. These are all necessary for optimal health. Atkins also featured foods with potentially high amounts of factory-farmed beef, pork, and poultry and mass-produced dairy products—all of which are likely to be contaminated with toxic hormones, pesticides, and chemicals. Though neither plan was ideal, they were still vast improvements over the way most Americans were eating by the 1970s. By then, we were wrongly blaming fat for all our health woes, from heart disease to cancer. The Pritikin and Atkins diets, as well as many other well-known weight-loss programs, were finding a ready audi- ence among increasing numbers of people who were desperate to lose weight and regain their health. Though the dietary “solutions” to this crisis varied dramatically, the crisis was caused by one problem: the Standard American Diet (or, fittingly, SAD), which took hold after we banished healthy smart fats. The SAD actually featured the worst of Atkins (processed protein) and the worst of Pritikin (insufficient healthy fats and protein), combined with a heaping side of refined carbohydrates and processed convenience foods, prepared with so-called heart-healthy “vegetable” oils and deadly, artificial trans fats, used in shelf-stable convenience foods and fast foods. A day’s eating might include sugary cereal, toast slathered with trans fat–packed margarine, and juice for breakfast; a sandwich of processed deli meats for lunch (plus fries or chips and a package of cookies for dessert); more processed meat for dinner (or frozen fish sticks)—and maybe, just maybe, a tiny portion of vegetables, like ketchup.

Another starring component of the SAD besides processed foods and dumb fats was sugar—lots and lots of sugar, in many different forms and from many dif- ferent sources: from the usual suspects like candy, soda, and artificially sweetened drinks, and from packaged cookies, crackers, pretzels, chips, muffins, and other commercially manufactured baked goods—many of them made with high-fructose corn syrup. But these were just the obvious ones. The very basis of the SAD was large servings of starchy carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar in the body— foods like pasta, white rice and bread, and “healthy” items like sweetened fat-free yogurt and granola bars. From your body’s point of view, you might as well have swallowed the entire sugar bowl..

Now, after decades of the SAD, and fruitlessly searching for magic-bullet diets that we can use to eat ourselves out of being sicker and fatter, here is what we’ve wrought: Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in our country, claiming more than six hundred thousand lives a year in the United States. Fifty-nine percent of Americans are actively trying to lose weight every year, but only 5 to 10 percent manage to keep weight off. More than a third of our population is obese.


Diabetes and its many complications have ruined the lives of millions, includ- ing children. Metabolic Syndrome, or prediabetes—a lethal combination of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes (which we’ll explore in detail in Chapter 4)—is on track to become the Black Plague of the twenty-first century. One out of three people have it. Rates of Alzheimer’s disease are climbing, and not just because of better diag- nosis. Alzheimer’s shares deep metabolic roots with the top three diet- related chronic illnesses: diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. We followed the experts’ advice and cut the fat out, thinking we’d get leaner and healthier. But when we replaced the good foods with bad ones, we took a turn for the worse. So, how can we get—and stay—healthy? After years of working with two popular diets, and closely observing what worked—and more importantly, what didn’t—we’ve found the answer.


The optimal eating plan, we’ve both concluded, features high levels of bene- ficial fat and fiber and the right amount of clean protein for weight loss—all bound together with delicious, healthful flavor and ample nutrients. That’s the Smart Fat Solution. And here’s what it looks like. Fat The type of fat we’re advocating—smart fat—has two amazing properties, both of which contribute to effective weight loss and long-term good health. First, smart fat alters your hormonal balance so that you feel more energetic and less hungry while you burn more calories. And second, smart fat lowers your levels of inflammation, which benefits nearly every aspect of your health. In later chapters, we’ll explain these two concepts in greater detail, but for now, we want you to know that when you seek out smart fats and combine them with fiber, protein, and flavor, you’ll have a powerful weight-management tool that you can use for life. As a result, you’ll feel healthy and energetic. What you won’t feel is deprived. Protein The ideal diet has to have just the right amount of protein. This is particularly true when you’re trying to lose weight, because protein helps you feel full and helps the body burn calories more efficiently. Before we tell you about quantity, that is, how much protein you should consume, we first want to emphasize the quality of pro- tein. When it comes to protein, quality almost always trumps quantity. You will not lose weight (and be truly healthy) unless you choose clean protein—we’re talking organic plant protein, such as soy, beans, and protein powders; or animal protein that is organic, wild-caught, grass-fed, free-range, or pasture-raised, all of which are low in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Such sources of clean protein are great for you, unlike sources of “mean” protein, which in the case of animals means grain-fed and factory-farmed. Mean protein leads to inflammation, which makes us sick and fat—the opposite of what clean protein can do for us. Remember this shorthand: Always choose protein that’s clean, not mean. (And after we explain The optimal eating plan, we’ve both concluded, features high levels of bene- ficial fat and fiber and the right amount of clean protein for weight loss—all bound together with delicious, healthful flavor and ample nutrients. That’s the Smart Fat Solution. And here’s what it looks like. Fat The type of fat we’re advocating—smart fat—has two amazing properties, both of which contribute to effective weight loss and long-term good health. First, smart fat alters your hormonal balance so that you feel more energetic and less hungry while you burn more calories. And second, smart fat lowers your levels of inflammation, which benefits nearly every aspect of your health. In later chapters, we’ll explain these two concepts in greater detail, but for now, we want you to know that when you seek out smart fats and combine them with fiber, protein, and flavor, you’ll have a powerful weight-management tool that you can use for life. As a result, you’ll feel healthy and energetic. What you won’t feel is deprived. Protein The ideal diet has to have just the right amount of protein. This is particularly true when you’re trying to lose weight, because protein helps you feel full and helps the body burn calories more efficiently. Before we tell you about quantity, that is, how much protein you should consume, we first want to emphasize the quality of pro- tein. When it comes to protein, quality almost always trumps quantity. You will not lose weight (and be truly healthy) unless you choose clean protein—we’re talking organic plant protein, such as soy, beans, and protein powders; or animal protein that is organic, wild-caught, grass-fed, free-range, or pasture-raised, all of which are low in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Such sources of clean protein are great for you, unlike sources of “mean” protein, which in the case of animals means grain-fed and factory-farmed. Mean protein leads to inflammation, which makes us sick and fat—the opposite of what clean protein can do for us. Remember this shorthand: Always choose protein that’s clean, not mean. (And after we explain