Fats That Heal Fats That Kill: An Interview with Udo Erasmus. Part I: Good Fats and Bad Fats
Interview by Ori Hofmekler, January 2000 Premier Issue.
What began as a personal disaster – being poisoned on the job by industrial pesticides – was turned into the triumph of a best-selling book. (“Knowing that the poisons I had been exposed to were carcinogenic and that cancer often involves fats, I needed clear, accurate, factual information.”) Following is an exclusive interview with Udo Erasmus, Ph.D., author of Fats That Heal Fats That Kill. Erasmus is considered by many to be one of the most serious health gurus today, especially concerning fat metabolism, but also libido, aging, and beauty.
Says Erasmus in the preface of his book, “My health is my responsibility… Our drug-oriented medical approaches cannot lead us to health… Foods and nutrition are primary options for self-help in health.”
With this credo as a guiding thread, Erasmus has fashioned a thought-provoking, sometimes controversial – but always nutritionally sound – understanding of the role of fats (both good and bad) in our diet.
POWER: There seems to be a fat phobia in this country. Americans were never on diets the way they have been in the last couple of decades. And still people keep getting fatter and fatter. What do you think is the reason?
ERASMUS: There are several themes in your question. First of all, I think the reason for the fat phobia is that people have heard only half the story on fats. The complete story is that there are fats that heal as well as fats that kill. Everybody has been told to avoid the fats that kill, but the importance of the fats that heal has been neglected. Yet the healing fats are even more important than the avoidance of bad fats, because we cannot stay alive if we don’t get enough of the healing fats. If you know only half the story – if you think that all fats are bad – then it makes sense that you would avoid all of them.
The second reason people aren’t getting fats is industrial. The food industry likes its products to have a long shelf life. Like perishable groceries, the healing fats spoil easily and cause shorter shelf life.
POWER: What are the fats that heal – the good fats? And what do they heal?
ERASMUS: The fats that heal really involve three substances. One is called Omega-3 essential fatty acid, or alpha-linolenic acid. The second is Omega-6, or linoleic acid. If you take these in the right ratio – which is important – and you get enough of the both, the body makes several derivatives that are important for health. And some of these derivatives are turned into hormones called prostaglandins that are vital to optimal body functioning.
The third area that’s important is what we call “minor” ingredients. These are substances found in oils that are simply squeezed out of seeds or nuts and not further processed. They make up only 2 percent of an oil, which is why they are called “minor”, but they have major benefits for health. Among them are phytosterols, lecithin, carotene, chlorophyll, vitamin E, and many others. They are removed or destroyed in the usual processing of oils, in order to achieve a longer shelf life.
The healing fats heal everything that one suffers from getting less than optimal amounts of them. They optimize energy level and performance; improve brain function, mood, behavior, and intelligence; make skin soft, smooth, and velvety; improve digestive, gland, and organ functions; lower most cardiovascular risk factors; are anti-inflammatory, and dampen the over-response of the immune system in autoimmune conditions; help transport minerals and keep bones strong; protect our genes from being damaged; are required for hemoglobin production, cell growth, and cell division; have anti-cancer properties; and help in fat loss and weight normalization.
POWER: Can the body produce essential fatty acids on its own?
ERASMUS: The word “essential” means that they are substances the body cannot produce itself. By definition, essential fatty aids come from dietary fat; our body cannot make them but must have them to be able to live. Essential fatty acids must therefore come from foods. A no-fat diet cannot provide them, and a low-fat diet will not provide enough.
If you don’t get enough essential fatty acids, your health deteriorates. You pass through a progressively worsening set of degenerative deficiency symptoms, and if the deficiency is sustained long enough, you die,
Also part of the definition of “essential” is that if you are deteriorating from a deficiency of essential fatty acids, and you put enough of them back into the deficient diet, the deficiency symptoms are reversed and you recover your health. So they have great healing potential in all conditions that result from essential-fatty-acid deficiency.
The final part of the definition is that a nutrient cannot be called “essential” until researchers have identified at least one biochemical reaction in the body in which that substance is required, and without which that reaction cannot take place.
Many of the degenerative conditions on which traditional medicine has had a hard time getting a handle are the result of insufficient or suboptimal intake of one or more of the essential nutrients – some 20 minerals, 13 vitamins, 8 essential amino acids from proteins, and 2 essential fatty acids from fats. If you optimize their presence in the diet, you get reversals of all those conditions that result from deficiency. Which explains why the nutritional approach works so well today. Many modern illnesses (sometimes called the “diseases of civilization”, which really means diseases caused by food processing) result from not getting enough of one or more of the essential nutrients, or from toxic influences that interfere with our biochemistry – in other words poison us.
POWER: In your book you say that there are fats that make you actually lose body fat. Is this true?
ERASMUS: Yes. In fact, the notion that fats make you fat has never been true. Even the wrong fats help you lose weight, because they suppress appetite. High-fat, high-protein diets have been used for weight loss for the past 40 years. They work. If it’s the wrong kind of fat, it will be hard on kidneys and liver eventually, but it still works for weight loss. If you eat the right fats – the ones I call the healing fats or essential fats – they increase your metabolic rate. Your burn more calories and you feel more like being active because they increase energy levels.
Essential fats also work to curb food cravings. And they are anti-inflammatory, helping get rid of water in inflamed tissues, which can be part of the over-weight problem. As I said, they make your skin soft and velvety, elevate your mood, improve thinking ability, make you feel energetic and more like taking care of yourself. If your skin is lousy, your mood is low, you can’t think straight, and have no energy, your self-esteem will likely be affected in a negative way.
In the past ten years in America we have reduced fat intake from 42 percent of calories to 35 percent. In those same ten years the incidence of obesity increased from 20 to 33 percent of the population. Which means that eating less fat will likely make you fatter.
POWER: What kinds of fats make you lose fat? Is it the combination of Omega-3 and Omega-6, or is it just Omega-3? You state in your book that there is already too much Omega-6 in our diet.
ERASMUS: All fats have some weight loss benefits, because they suppress appetite, but Omega-3′s reduce weight far better than Omega-6′s or other fats. We use a ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 of two to one. We find that a ratio any higher than 2.5 times richer in Omega-3 runs the risk of making people Omega-6 deficient, which can lead to degenerative deficiency problems.
POWER: Is there any connection between fat and libido?
ERASMUS: Fat and libido are connected in several ways. First, essential fats increase energy levels, because they increase the body’s ability to use oxygen. That means they increase stamina, improve performance, and speed recovery from fatigue – all of which are certainly helpful to libido.
Second, Essential fats are required for hormone production. Animal studies show that hydrogenated fats – found in some margarines, shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – lower testosterone levels, and essential fat deficiency impairs testosterone production.
Third essential fats improve the functions of liver, thyroid, and other glands and organs. They improve general health, which can result in increased libido.
Fourth, essential fats make skin really nice. Because of this effect, we sometimes call them the “essensual” or “essexual” fats.
POWER: Do monounsaturated fats like olive oil or almond oil increase testosterone? And is it true that cholesterol increases testosterone increases testosterone levels?
ERASMUS: Our body makes testosterone from cholesterol. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to consume cholesterol, because your body can also make cholesterol, and it makes however much you need.
If testosterone levels are low, then stimulating cholesterol production is good. Essential fats help to accomplish this by giving our glands the energy they need to their job better, and longer.
Regarding olive oil which is low in Omega-6 and contains almost no Omega-3s at all, I haven’t seen an increase in libido, unless the person had previously had low energy levels from being on a low-fat or no-fat diet. Extra-virgin olive oil does have some minor ingredients that are very good for health. Good health is a very powerful aphrodisiac, especially if you are also in love.
POWER: I just encountered some research which said that when people eat high amounts of monounsaturated fats, such as occur in nuts and olives, they increase testosterone more than other oils. Is this true?
ERASMUS: I don’t think so. Your body can make monounsaturated fats out of sugar and starch, so if monounsaturates were the key testosterone production should not be a problem. Many researchers also state that monounsaturates are good for cardiovascular disease. But in extra-virgin olive oil it is the minor ingredients, which make up only 2 percent of the oil, that carry most of the cardiovascular benefits.
POWER: People are being exposed to increasing amounts of estrogen from the environment. Both males and females suffer from too much estrogen in the body as a result of aging, as well as the hormones in beef, chicken and dairy products, from plastics, petroleum fertilizers, and pesticides that pollute our water and food. Too much estrogen in the body creates stubborn fat, and can cause breast cancer and other hazards.
ERASMUS: Not to mention fat deposits on men’s pectoral muscles, what some people in body building call “*** ***.” A study in Canada found that men who eat a lot of (inorganic) chicken actually grow female-shaped breasts from estrogen hormones fed to chickens to make the birds grow faster for commercial reasons.
POWER: Can proper fat metabolism protect you from this estrogen syndrome?
ERASMUS: Optimal testosterone production, encouraged by optimal essential-fat intake, can help because men produce some estrogen, just as women produce some testosterone, but the normal ratio of testosterone to estrogen is much higher in men than in women. So higher testosterone levels in men can help prevent the feminization of their chest. Optimal testosterone production helps muscular development. Essential fats also improve insulin function, which also plays a role in muscular growth.
POWER: Is it true that lignans in flax act like an estrogen blocker? Can they mimic estrogen?
ERASMUS: Yes. The lignans in flax are phytoestrogens, which have weak estrogen activity. They can raise low estrogen levels and lower high estrogen, because they occupy the estrogen-activity sites.
POWER: So you could say flaxseed oil has an estrogen-balancing effect?
ERASMUS: It’s possible. That’s interesting, but not likely, because almost all of the phytoestrogens in flax remain in the seed cake and don’t end up in the oil. I ascribe the benefits of flax oil to the fact that the Omega-3s in flax oil help to build muscle. Omega-3 deficiency causes weakness. When people use flax oil (properly balanced with Omega-6), they can work out longer; their muscles grow quicker; they recover quicker. And there’s the testosterone production effect.
I ascribe these effects to the Omega-3s. But remember that flax can make you Omega-6 deficient, and then every tissue in the body falls apart. So flax should be enriched with Omega-6-rich sunflower and sesame oils to get the Omega-6s up.
POWER: Is it true that flaxseed oil, if eaten with starches, can offset or reduce the weight gain that’s associated with eating starches? If so, what is the reason? Is it the effect on the glycemic index?
ERASMUS: There are a couple of reasons. One is that Omega-3s, not the flax, can increase the metabolic rate and help increase oxygen metabolism, so you burn more of the starch calories.
Fats generally can lower the glycemic index by slowing stomach-emptying time, so you absorb the carbohydrates more gradually.
I would be really cautious, though. Slower stomach emptying also means more time for digestion, which may result in absorbing more calories from starch, so some people who put flax oil on their potatoes actually gain a little weight. It’s the potato that makes them fat. Any starch that, when digested into glucose and absorbed, is in excess of what is needed for fuel is automatically turned into fat by the body. In other words, overweight people are wearing extra fuel as fat, waiting for a famine.
People who have major weight problems – the seriously obese – are fat-phobic carbohydrate junkies.
POWER: So there is no difference between complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates in terms of how much we should eat?
ERASMUS: You get worse effects from simple carbohydrates (sugars), because they are absorbed so rapidly, flood the bloodstream, and must then be turned into fat. You’ll also get more hypoglycemia and diabetic problems with sugars than with starches. But too much complex carbohydrates (starches) can also turn to fats.
The key issue is not to eat more fuel than you burn. Carbohydrates are good fuel. They burn clean. The problem is the too much. Only the excess turns into fat.
We tell people who want to reduce excess weight to lower their intake of carbohydrates and raise their intake of greens/vegetables.
POWER: That’s approximately the philosophy of Barry Sears, author of The Zone, who advocates a diet of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, 30 percent protein. What do you think? Is this the ideal diet?
ERASMUS: No, it’s not. If you’re an athlete, you may be able to eat 60 to 70 percent of your calories as carbohydrates and burn them off and not get fat. If you’re sedentary, 40 percent might be too much. It’s different for different people. You cannot make one diet that works for everybody, because everybody’s metabolism and lifestyle are different.
Carbohydrates are good fuel. We should not malign them unfairly. It is the excess carbohydrates that we don’t need, the excess fuel we don’t burn and which the body must turn into fat, that causes weight problems.
Look, it’s not complicated to figure out how much carbohydrate a person should take in. Your body tells you. How? If you’re getting fat, you’re eating too many carbs.
POWER: So there is no one formula that is good for everyone?
ERASMUS: That’s correct. All people need the same essential nutrients – fewer than 50 of them – but everyone’s optimum is different. Optimums can vary by a factor of ten among individuals, sometimes even more. Genetic, climatic, activity, lifestyle, and toxicity factors all play a role in determining optimums.
POWER: What is your opinion of Dr. Atkins’s diet, which is extremely high-protein, high-fat, almost no carbs?
ERASMUS: Atkins’s diet works for weight loss. I pay more attention to getting the right kinds of fat in the diet, rather than just any fat, because the wrong kinds of fat eventually have detrimental effects on liver, kidneys, and other organs. The right fats will not cause such problems, and in fact they improve the functions of the inner organs. But Atkins’s diet has helped many people normalize weight, simply because it addresses the excessive carbohydrate intake that leads to fat production in the body.
POWER: People who attack Dr. Atkins’s diet mostly do so regarding the side effects of ketones in the body. Do you agree with this criticism – or with Dr. Atkins, who feels ketones are good for you?
ERASMUS: Atkins is right, in that ketones suppress appetite. His critics are right as to damage caused by ketones in the long term. The Atkins diet would work better if it emphasized oils rich in the right ratio of essential fats.
The difficulty is that such oils have to be made with care, need to be used with care – not for frying – and need to be richer in Omega-3′s, which help in weight reduction for several reasons. They increase energy and calorie burning; they decrease inflammation, thereby releasing water held in inflamed, swollen tissues; they lift depression, a common reason for overeating; and they suppress appetite while reducing cravings for carbohydrate junk foods and sugar.
Oils made with health in mind should be stored in brown glass bottles, in a box that will protect them from light, in the fridge. They can be found in health-food stores, gyms, and the dispensaries of natural healers. Part of the problem has been the need for re-education on the right oils.
POWER: Do you think that people can live in high-protein, high-fat diets with no carbs?
ERASMUS: For a time, yes. But long term, we need carbs. I prefer that people get their carbs from greens, rather than starchy vegetables like potatoes, grains, or fruit.
Greens are the most important food on this planet. They provide minerals, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, fiber, as well as enzymes and friendly bowel bacteria if they are eaten raw. They are also rich in antioxidants, and provide healing phytonutrients. They provide water, hold water in the soil, and make oxygen. They even make our beef (cows are made from grass). For weight management, greens are also exceptional, because it is almost impossible to get fat on greens.
POWER: So carbohydrates are connected to metabolism – gaining fat or losing fat?
ERASMUS: Yes, they are the key factor.
POWER: And they’re also connected to the glycemic index, which is tied to insulin response?
ERASMUS: Yes. They are the foods with the highest glycemic index, which is an indicator of the insulin activity required to deal with them. When the body turns fats into carbs they block insulin activity, which makes you insulin resistant. Sugars also remove minerals like chromium and magnesium from your body. These, along with zinc and essential fats, are required for insulin to be able to function.
POWER:People who have high insulin sensitivity might not gain weight at all, even if they ate excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Is this true?
ERASMUS: No. People with genetically based high metabolic rates do burn carbs readily, and don’t get fat on them because they burn them. People with more muscle mass can also can also eat more carbs without getting fat, because muscles burn a lot of carbohydrates during activity, and activity is what makes muscles grow.
Whatever stimulates insulin to put glucose into cells will not be helpful to weight loss. The relationship of insulin to carbs goes like this: Carbs are digested into glucose, which is absorbed into the body. Glucose stimulates insulin production. Insulin gets glucose into the cells, where they enter the cell furnace (Krebs cycle), which “burns” them to make energy. If you don’t need all the energy that comes from burning glucose, the body turns glucose-breakdown products (acetates) from the cell furnace into hard (saturated) fats. Hard fats interfere with insulin function, as do sugars and other carbs that the body turns into hard fats.
If insulin does a good job, you end up with stored fat as well as low blood sugar. Low blood sugar has two results. One, you get hungry again and eat more, which can trigger the above fat-producing cycle. Two, your adrenals kick in to make glucose (gluconeogenesis) from proteins, so you lose muscle mass, lowering your metabolic rate and making you even more sugar-sensitive.
The short answer: Limit carbohydrate intake if you want to avoid losing muscle and gaining fat.
POWER: What other things can you suggest to increase the insulin sensitivity?
ERASMUS: You can reverse most cases of insulin-resistent, type-II diabetes if you ensure optimal intake of zinc, chromium, magnesium, and essential fats; reduce intake of sugars, sweets, carbohydrates, and hard (saturated) fats; and increase your intake of green foods. That is, provided that no permanent damage has been done to vital tissues. Make sure you get enough good proteins and good fats, because these supply essential nutrients that the body must have but cannot make. Be active to build muscle.
END OF PART 1