Does Fat Make You Fat?
Are you eating a low fat diet because you have been told that it’s better for you? Don’t feel bad if you are. We have been led to believe that eating fat will not only make us fat but will lead to high cholesterol levels and cause heart disease. This is faulty science. There are whole books written on the subject but I am going to boil down some of the information and give you some healthy tips to improving your all-around nutrition. The good news is that you get to enjoy some of the foods that you thought were bad for you.
If you have been a reader of my blog or if you follow me on Facebook you will know that I encourage eating real food and plenty of it. I don’t believe that restrictive, temporary diets are the right way to fuel your body. I believe that foods that we eat should provide the most nutrients possible and that includes high quality fats. For some simple guidelines on general nutrition you can check out my post Making Nutrition Simple.
Fats are Necessary.
Fats are a necessary part of our diet and limiting them can actual cause some detrimental health effects. You need adequate amounts of good, high quality fats to absorb many of the vitamins that your body needs like Vitamin A, D, E and K. These are known as fat soluble vitamins and among other things help to regulate your immune system. Deficiencies in some of these vitamins are implicated in autoimmune disease. The membrane of your cells are made from fat and fats are also necessary to make your body’s steroid hormones- cortisol, estrogen, testosterone). Your body’s communication mechanism – neurotransmitters, need a fatty layer in order to transmit their signals.
Fat breaks down into fatty acids. Some of these fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids. They are known by that name because it is essential that we get them from the foods we eat. Our bodies cannot manufacture them. Essential fatty acids are known as Omega-6 and Omega-3. The recommended ratio of these fatty acids are between 1:1 and 4:1. Higher ratios than this can result in increased inflammation which can lead to numerous problems in health. Most Americans have a ratio between 10:1 and 25:1.
A diet rich in nutrient-dense, high quality fats can actually help you maintain a healthy weight.
When we increase high quality fats and decrease the starches and sweets in our diet our blood sugar levels can stabilize. This results in less cravings and better satiety (feeling satisfied). Our hormones are better regulated and our body can synthesize vitamins better. When we eat a low fat diet and eat more starches and sweets it sets up a vicious cycle of insulin spikes, fat storage and cravings. I will be writing a future post on that subject soon.
Good sources of whole food fats:
Nuts and seeds
Flax seeds (milled)
Organic, grass-fed and grass finished meats
Fatty Fish – such as sardines, mackerel, herring and salmon
So do so many people say that low fat is the way to go?
This myth has been perpetuated since the 1950’s when a study called the Seven Countries Study was released. This study conducted by Dr. Key examined heart disease risk a it relates to lifestyle and dietary habits. He concluded that countries where people ate more fat had more incidences of heart disease. However, this was faulty science on several levels. The study showed a POSSIBLE correlation but that does not necessarily prove causation. The big problem fo rme is that he did not release ALL the results. The study was actually conducted in twenty-two countries, not just seven. He intentionally chose the seven countries that proved the point that he was trying to make. He did not release the data on countries like Holland and Norway where they ate more fat but had lower heart disease rates. He also did not release the data on countries like Chile which had lower fat consumption but high heart disease rates. It is a flawed study when you pick and choose the results that you release. Unfortunately this study had a major influence on our dietary guidelines.
What are we to do?
Don’t be afraid of eating fats but make sure you are getting fats that will provide the most nutrients like those listed above. I’ll post some recipes in a future post with delicious whole food fats added.