Give me just one second while I climb up onto my soap box….
Y’all. We’ve been lied to. For decades. We have the WRONG impression about dietary fat. Like, really, really wrong. Ready for the cliff notes version of the truth? EATING FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT. In fact, not eating ENOUGH fat might be a big part of the reason you’re gaining fat. No joke. I’m totally serious. I’ve gotta clear this up. These common misconceptions make me so crazy.
It’s really unfortunate that fat on our body is referred to by the same word as dietary fat in foods we eat. That, and a lot of misinformation, has led us to believe that dietary fat leads to an accumulation of body fat.
I’m going to ask you to think about something differently. So, a gram of fat has more calories than a gram of carbohydrate or protein, right? A gram of fat has 9 calories whereas a gram of protein or carbohydrate has only 4. That’s one of the big reasons people think fat is “fattening”. More calories = more weight gain (misleading, but a common thought nonetheless). The problem is that we’re thinking about it alllll wrong. Bear with me while I attempt to clear this up. A calorie isn’t some magical thing that piles up and makes you look fatter. Calories are how we measure the energy potential in food. One more time just because its worth repeating: calories are how we measure the energy potential of a particular food.
So what, right? Basically, dietary fat delivers more than twice as much energy to our bodies than protein or carbohydrate!! That’s a GOOD thing! That means that we can fuel our body for longer on less than we can if we just stuck to protein or carbs.
Research has shown that when you eat a low fat diet you actually increase the activity of certain enzymes that encourage your body to store more fat. On the flip side, ample dietary fat has been shown to increase the activity of enzymes that help you burn stored body fat! How’s that for a twist on what we’ve been taught? Not only that, but a lower fat diet is going to make it much harder to manage your hunger and cravings!
We need fat in our diet if we want to be healthy. Do you realize that your brain is about 60% fat? In addition to being an incredible fuel source and critical component of cognitive health, fats are components of every single cell in your body, they are required for the manufacture of hormones and they are essential for the utilization of many vitamins and antioxidants. If that’s not enough, you need fat for the proper growth and calcification of your bones, they keep your skin soft and supple, they support your immune system and help control your body’s inflammatory response. And that’s just the beginning!
For political and financial reasons we won’t go into (today), ignorance and greed led to the vilification of fat beginning in the 1970s and 80s. The food industry seized the incredible financial opportunity and flooded the market with low-fat and fat-free alternatives. These alternatives were loaded with artificial ingredients and sugar to replace the flavor and mouth feel the fat had been providing. It’s no coincidence that between 1980 and 2008 obesity in adults more than doubled and extreme obesity more than tripled.
We’ve been told to avoid dietary fat and cholesterol to reduce our risk of heart disease. People in positions of authority in medicine and politics have insisted that fat consumption increases the risk of heart disease and dietary cholesterol increases serum cholesterol. We’ve been convinced that dietary fat triggers inflammation and disease. Fat intake is not to blame for any of those things.
So if dietary fat isn’t to blame for heart disease, what is? The short answer is inflammation and oxidation, which are most significantly influenced by insulin (a result of excessive carbohydrate consumption) and cortisol (a result of chronically elevated insulin and physical or emotional stress). I promise, I’ll talk much more about this part another time…
There’s no doubt that there are in fact good fats and bad fats. The bad fats, however, are not saturated fats from animal products. The bad fats are these toxic, plastic fats (trans fats) made in factories and highly unstable fats from crop oils like canola and soybean. They are chemically altered, foreign to our bodies and wreak havoc inside us. They have been linked to just about every disease you can think of. The FDA is now requiring that trans fats be labeled on food products, but there are loopholes. One of the biggest loopholes is that if a product contains 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving it can advertise and label the product as “trans fat free”. That is an issue not only because it’s an outright lie, but also because most people don’t limit themselves to one serving of these foods! They’re designed to make us eat more!
I have SO much more to say on this topic and of course you’re going to hear about it, but this is already getting long and writing this has made me crave bacon (so I’m gonna make some).
But to get you started, a great way to get started is to move away from low fat, chemically altered, processed food choices. When you emphasize whole foods direct from nature you’ll naturally increase your intake of quality, healthy fats. Let go of your fear of butter. Eat a fatty chicken thigh instead of always opting for the super lean breast. Have some bacon, for crying out loud. Add fat. Embrace it. Love it. And while you’re at it, please, please, please lay off the processed garbage!