For years the health industry has touted fat as the cause of all our ailments. High fat causes atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity etc.
The food industry, ever keen to make a buck, jumped on board with this notion, with the food aisle quickly filling with row upon row of “guilt free” fat free products, aimed at the seemingly “health conscious” low fat dieter.
Many weight-loss corporations have made millions upon millions on the low fat industry, corrupting the minds of desperate dieters with empty promises of weight loss, all the while greedily taking their weekly membership fees and selling their own branded low fat products.
The issue with these low fat products is that the food companies must replace the fat content of the food with something – usually sugar. We have it all wrong. We should be removing the sugar and including fats, not the other way around. Your “healthy” low fat meal or snack bar is now nothing more than a combination of sugars and chemically laden food like substances. Yum.
You would think that after decades of low fat dieting we would all be healthier right? Wrong. The reality is that we have never been fatter or sicker. We have got it all wrong and we need to reintroduce fat to the equation, but the right types.
Will Fat Make Me Fat?
This is the most common misconception when we deal with fat. We have all been taught to fear fat, and although things are moving away from this perception, it is very slow. The fact is, your body actually loves fat, and runs very well on it. If we think about our ancestors and what they would have consumed, they would have been eating feasts of locally caught meat complete with organ meat and fat- their bodies thrived on it.
Fat does not make us fat. While in theory consuming too much calories versus what we burn off may lead to weight gain, consuming too much fat is actually quite difficult, especially when paired with a diet low in refined carbohydrates such as the Paleo diet.
Overeating fat is quite difficult due to it satiety levels, especially when combined with a low carb diet. If we are to think of a fatty cut of steak like a rib eye, you would become full quite quickly eating it, you are not going to gorge on a quality piece of fatty meat. You get full and you stop eating. The same cannot be said for sugar or refined carbohydrates. With these types of foods you could eat forever and never get full!
Fat Doesn’t Make Us Fat, Sugar Does.
The problem with most people is that they are eating far too many refined sugars and carbohydrates while fearing fat. The reality is that avoiding the thing they think will make them fat, is in fact adding to the problem and making them fatter.
Furthermore research shows that low carb, moderate fat diets like the Paleo diet actually retain or increase lean body mass which is what many of us are after. We want to be preserving lean protein (muscle) whilst burning fat.
Heart Disease & Cholesterol
The first thing people exclaim when hearing us speak of consuming more fat is the risk of developing heart disease. For years doctors and cardiologists urged us to eat less fat because of its implications for developing atherosclerosis and cholesterol. This is not true. What people need to be made aware of is that there are many more relevant markers for developing heart disease than just focusing on cholesterol.
Cholesterol has received a lot of bad press in recent years. It has been blamed for the large increase in heart disease with doctors throwing out statins like they are going out of fashion. What people do not realise is that cholesterol is an important component for the development of hormones such as progesterone and testosterone. In the recent past people suffering from fertility issues were told to eat a healthy low fat diet, but if you think about it logically someone who has unregulated hormone levels NEEDS fats in order to make hormones efficiently.
Heart disease can be attributed to chronic inflammation in many cases, with cholesterol merely being PRESENT at the site of the issue, rather than the actual CAUSE of the issue. Consuming cholesterol rich foods will not cause an increase in cholesterol readings (except in those very sensitive). In fact, pairing increased fat consumption with a low carb diet such as Paleo will actually improve cholesterol ratios in the majority of cases.
Chemically speaking fats are made up of different amounts of the atoms hydrogen, oxygen and carbon bonded to two other atoms. The more carbon atoms there are in a fatty acid, the longer it will be. Fatty acids with longer chains typically melt at a higher temperature and yield a higher energy output when metabolized.
In the case of saturated fat, all its carbon atoms are bonded to two hydrogen atoms, making it saturated with hydrogen. For monounsaturated fats there is only one carbon bonded to a hydrogen atom, in a polyunsaturated fatty acid there are many double bonds along its chain.
Functions of Fats
Fat is needed in the body for a whole host of very important reasons.
- Fat is used as energy – by doing so, it allows protein to be saved from energy use. Saving protein is very important as it allows protein to carry out its most important roles – repair and building of tissues and cell walls.
- Fat has an important role to play in the formation of structural material of cells such as the cell membrane (which is a semi-permeable membrane surrounding every cell in your body). The quality of the fat you eat actually determines the quality of our cell membranes. This is why we must avoid nasty trans-fats found in the likes of margarine and processed foods.
- Fats also play a role in hormone regulation and fertility. Cholesterol, though feared by many, is fat soluble and is crucial for the production of hormones such as progesterone.
- Fat is a source of fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K.
- Nervous Health – fat makes up 60% of your brain and is a major component of your nerves. So feed your brain good fats!
How To Include The Right Fats In Your Diet
- Saturated Fats – These fats are the ones we are urged to eat less of by dietary advisors. Recent evidence is showing that saturated fat has been wrongly accused as the cause of heart disease. People heard the “reduce fat” mantra and replaced it with refined carbohydrates, making the issue worse! Include saturated fat which are found in foods such as red meats, lard, ghee, tallow, duck fat, eggs, coconut, meats, and full fat dairy (if tolerated) and butter which all have health promoting benefits when used as part of a healthy low carb diet such as Paleo.
- Monounsaturated fats – Generally the most accepted fat within medical fields, this group of fats also contains many of the not so healthy fats like peanut oil. Stick to the best versions such as those found in foods such as olive oil, olives, avocados, flaxseed oil, nut oils and seed oils and never heat the oils – use them for cold uses instead as heating can cause them to oxidise and go rancid.
- Polyunsaturated fats – This category is home to most of the undesirables such as vegetable oils, canola, soybean etc. These fats are unstable at high heats where they can become rancid and create free radicles in our bodies. They can also become rancid while in storage at which point they are oxidised and not easily used by the body and can also be known as hydrogenated fats. Avoid these wherever possible.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)– Includes Omegas 3,6,9. You have probably heard of these before – they are becoming more recognised by medical professionals and within the fitness industries. Where EFAs are concerned, it is all about balance between Omega 3:6. In an ideal world we would be aiming for a ratio of approx. 1:1. However a 3:1 ratio is probably more achievable for most. Omega 3 are anti-inflammatory and contain the essential fats EPA and DHA which are very important for brain development, skin health, heart health and hormone regulation. Found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Consume 3 times weekly to ensure a good Omega 3 balance.
- Trans-fats – These are the fats to avoid at all costs! These are the bad types found in processed foods, margarine, crisps, pretty much all the foods we should not be eating. These fats can actually enter our cells and cause structural problems – avoid at all costs.
To summarise, fats play an important role in our body’s metabolism and our bodies run very efficiently on this type of fuel. We need to ensure that we include fats but in the correct forms.
Use saturated fats from quality meats, butter, coconut oil, avocados and nuts.
Use Monounsaturated fats cold only as salad dressings and avoid if damaged in anyway. Ensure they are stored in dark bottles and keep in the fridge after opening.
Polyunsaturated fats including trans-fats, hydrogenated and should be avoided at all costs.
And remember, fat does not make us fat, refined carbohydrates and sugar do!