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Food for Thought: Fat and Your Body

Does the very word, “fat” make you squirm and think of exercise and cellulite?

Today I’m practically begging you to release your fear of fat.

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to release your fear of fats.

What’s Your Fat History?

Fat Full Fall

I was the kind of teenager who sopped the grease off her pizza with a napkin.

I used to rail at my dad when he would slather (seriously, multiple tablespoons) butter on his toast or use half a stick on his baked potato. Once I was on my own in college, I always drank skim milk, bought fat-free dairy products and reduced fat treats, and I always trimmed every bit of fat and skin off my chicken breasts.

I’ve come around a bit.

Our family drinks and eats only full-fat dairy now. I leave the fat in my chicken stock and relish the fact that I can throw in the skin. I put fat in my oatmeal instead of sweetener.

It’s been a fat full year for us (but no one is getting fat). Now let me share a Fat Full Fall with you!

There’s a Lot to Learn about Fat

This challenge may not be accomplished this week. It may take some convincing.

That’s why I’m not asking you to stop being afraid of fat…just begin to release your fear and be open to learning some new information in this series.

As I’ve accepted this challenge, I’ve taken it slowly to the other end of the spectrum, where I actually seek out fats and add more fat to foods instead of running away from it.

I know which fats will hold up to a high heat saute, why saturated fats are NOT bad for you, and why olive oil should not be stored in clear glass containers. Slowly but surely, you too can achieve this fat-full equilibrium.

But first, you have to release that fear of fat. You can do this!

What Is the Role of Dietary Fat in the Body?

“Fats…provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet…and are the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones. [They]…slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. …They act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.” (Nourishing Traditions, p.4)

You cannot live without fat. Folks who tried in the first fat-free diet, recommended by Nathan Pritikin, ended up with low energy, difficulty in concentration, depression, weight gain and mineral deficiencies.

Digestion is also impossible without fat (Real Food, p. 165). There are documented cases of people in the Arctic who ate plenty of food, but their only source of protein was very lean winter game. They were well-fed, but not well nourished, and they died of starvation. They didn’t have enough fat in their bodies to survive.

How Fat Is Metabolized

…I simply cannot find my source. Here is what I was going to say, based on the information in my head:  “The idea that eating fat will make you fat is a big myth, plain and simple. When fat is digested, much of it is used for energy, and any excess cannot be stored as fat. The body just doesn’t work that way.

Carbohydrates (sugars, starches, grains) on the other hand, are metabolized quite differently. If the body ends up with an excess, they are converted to insulin, which is stored as fat.

Now I can’t find the book I got the information from, and my searches on the Internet are bringing up the opposite information: that fat calories are broken down, passed through cell walls and rebuilt as fat, that fat is easily stored as fat and carbs are not. Hmph. There goes a great argument. Does anyone else know my source? I read The Schwarzbein Principle lately, but I didn’t take detailed enough notes.

I’m wondering if perhaps our creative, sometimes wily Creator put this info in my head JUST to make sure I would research it to give you all a balanced perspective (finding the balance ever my goal). Fats are incredibly confusing because there are so many conflicting studies/articles/hypotheses/myths out there. Who to trust? For me, I’ll check out all the information, go crazy for a while, then settle down and pray on it and go with what feels right. (Then if I get fat I’ll do the other thing!)  😉

milk-jar-2

Here are some sources that say “Eating Fat Makes You Fat”:

  1. How Fat Cells Work – fat is stored, carbs can be but it takes more work.
  2. Or at least that fat is bad for you:  Mayo Clinic says that unsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats. They advocate a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet
  3. The U.S. Government Food Pyramid:  says that kids should have more grains than proteins. This site says that my 4-year-old should eat 4-5 slices of bread (or equivalent grains) per day, 2 cups milk, only 1.5 cups each of fruits and veggies, and 3-4 oz. of protein. That’s the size of the proverbial deck of cards. I’m not on board!
  4. The USDA Dietary Guidelines, Fats:  this document says to keep them low, especially saturated and trans fats, and focus on unsaturated oils. It is being revised for 2010 right now, and you can actually comment and view others’ comments here.
    **My suggestions? Zero trans fats, lower the polyunsaturated oils and increase certain saturated fats. Retain the focus on monounsaturated fats.

exclamation_32x32An interesting balance: WebMD explores the “intriguing” functions of fat in the body and how we store good and bad fat.

Here are some sources that say “Eating the Right Kinds of Fat WON’T Make You Fat”:

  1. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig:  This is as close as I’m going to get to the false claim I made above. “Most fat in our bodies and in the food we eat is in the form of triglycerides…Elevated triglycerides in the blood have been positively linked to proneness to heart disease, but these triglycerides do not come directly from dietary fats; they are made in the liver from any excess sugars that have not been used for energy. The source of these excess sugars is any food containing carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar and white flour.” Aha! Fat isn’t stored as fat, but carbs are. There you have it. If you believe it. 😉
  2. See most of the info from NT at The Skinny on Fats at the Weston A. Price Foundation. They poke lots of holes in the lipid hypothesis and cite a wealth of research.
  3. Eat Fat, Lose Fat Here is quite a list of research studies done on fat. The conclusion? Saturated fats are good for you, polyunsaturated and trans fats are bad.
  4. Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Does Fat Make You Fat? You should still go visit the page, but the answer is…no.

But Won’t Too Much Fat Give Me a Heart Attack?

More importantly, (because our health ultimately trumps our weight) although the government and medical community are STILL telling us to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet to avoid heart disease and other maladies, here are some excellent sources, based on real studies and solid research, that contend that claim. Consuming saturated fats and dietary cholesterol does not, in fact, increase your risk of high serum (blood) cholesterol or heart disease.

  1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan:  He cites a 2001 article by Harvard’s nutrition scientists, who found that “total levels of fat in the diet apparently have little bearing on the risk of heart disease” and “that replacing fats in the diet with carbohydrates (as official dietary advice has urged us to do since the 1970s) will lead to weight gain.”  Pollan explores the question I’ve been plagued with since opening the Pandora’s box of traditional diets and discovered the crumbling of the lipid hypothesis and the low-fat mantra:  Why won’t the government and the medical community admit that they’re wrong? His perfectly scripted theory leaves me satisfied:  they’re afraid “we’ll come to the unavoidable conclusion that the emperors of nutrition have no clothes and never listen to them again.”  I, for one, have started to seriously doubt the naked doctors and government health officials. How ‘bout you?
  2. Anything written by Mary Enig (Know Your Fats is one example, Eat Fat, Lose Fat another). Dr. Enig has been fighting trans fats since the 1970s and will tell anyone who will listen to look backward at history and look inward at biology. She and others will tell you that the fats eaten for millennia (lard, beef tallow, cream/butter, coconut oil, olive oil) are the fats that keep our systems going strong, and the new “industrial” fats are killing us from the inside out.
  3. Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck is one of the most readable academic-based food books out there. Planck does her research thoroughly and explains how fats work in the body and the causes of heart disease (excess of omega-6 fatty acids, oxidized cholesterol, trans fats, and sugar).
  4. Virgin Coconut Oil by Brian & Marianita Jader Shilhavy presents research and personal stories to back up the claim that polyunsaturated oils and trans fats cause heart disease, and that the saturated fat coconut oil can actually improve one’s health because of its medium-chain fatty acids and other unique properties.

Don’t Be Afraid of Fat!

A quick glance at statistics on countries with the longest life spans puts Japan, Switzerland, Austria and Greece at the top. All of these countries have extremely fat-filled diets, especially saturated fats. Many of the countries with the lowest incidence of heart disease have diets very high in fat as well.

eggs

Your vegetables won’t help your body as much if you don’t eat some fat with them. Vitamins A, D, E and K are carried by fat, and in the absence of fat, your body can’t assimilate these important nutrients.

The Bottom Line

Fat is not bad for your body. Your body requires fat to survive. Fat can give you energy and make you feel full. However, there are good fats and bad fats, and they may not be what you think. Don’t let a “low-fat” label trick you into translating it into the word “healthy”.

Read up on Kitchen Stewardship®‘s past coverage of healthy fats:

Catch all the juicy scoops during a Fat Full Fall!

The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. See What I Learned This Week at Musings of a Housewife. This fat stuff is definitely part of my Real Food Journey. See Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more! It works for me – Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family. Ann Kroeker hosts Food on Fridays for all things food.

Photos from flickr.com

Interesting info on fat and our country at Stuffed Nation and check out the Foodie Blogroll (link no longer available).

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

34 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Fat and Your Body”

  1. Pingback: “Foods” We Avoid | Live the Real Life

  2. Thank you so much for your article, especially for citing sources on both sides of the fat debate, for us to read for ourselves. I really respect that.

  3. Pingback: Sour Cream Muffins

  4. Pingback: 7 reasons to eat more fat | Health Impact News

  5. I’ve just found your site via “Once a Month Mom” and I am intrigued! We already make our own yogurt and have tried making mozzarella (with full fat milk!) I’m definitely going to try sprouting our grains/legumes. We also enjoy full fat cheese and sour cream. Whole milk…hmmmm…not sure. We’ve been on skim milk for so long, but I would consider moving up to 1 % or 2% especially for my daughter ( who enjoyed whole milk until she was about 3.) Thanks for the info!

    1. Yvonne,
      Welcome aboard! I was a skim girl for a really long time too, but now I just relish the thick, creamy milk we drink. It’s not as hard a transition as I thought! 😉 Katie

  6. it is hard to grasp this fact. i grew up being taught that these food are yummy but very bad for you. people around me directly link eating alot of butter, lard, coconut oil and milk to being fat. even my mum squirms at the thought of eating vegetables sautéed with butter. all this while, doctors and the government have been telling us to limit our fat intake from these sources. especially in tv programs like the biggest loser, the emphasis is on low fat everything. which is why i’m finding it hard to tell fact from myth. :/

    1. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

      Oh believe me, I know how hard it is to get over the “fat phobia” – it took me a while, too. As Jo-Lynne said above, rent Fat Head! The 2nd half especially will really help you. You’ll see how the whole myth began and why it’s so wrong. 🙂

    1. Tracy,
      The very, very simple answer is: carbs. Either that or: TOO MUCH food. Does that help? 🙂 Katie

      1. LOL. so fat is good for u but too much of it, like anything else, is bad am i rite? i dont really know how much fat should i take daily. how much is too much?

        1. Tracy,
          I would check out what Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Cheeseslave have to say about fats. They are more up on the subject than I and super resources.
          Have fun eating!
          🙂 Katie

          1. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

            Tracy,

            If you’re eating healthy fat (butter, coconut oil, tallow, etc.), then you don’t need to count fat grams or worry about how much you’re eating. Just enjoy it on your veggies or fry your food in it or whatever you’d like and enjoy your good health!

            I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, after YEARS of being told to limit our fats, but we don’t limit them at all around here. We feel great and I can’t remember the last time any of us were sick. (I’m not superstitious but I certainly hope I don’t regret that statement!)

            Kelly
            .-= Kelly the Kitchen Kop´s last blog ..Chicken Lettuce Wraps like P.F. Chang’s and Lower Carbs, too! =-.

  7. The Schwarzbein Principle was probably your source on the metabolism issue. That sounds familiar.
    .-= Rachel R.´s last blog ..Quotable – housework =-.

  8. Pingback: More on Fats, Particularly Coconut Oil and Lard | Musings of a Housewife

  9. Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen

    I really like that you are showing all sides, so that people can use all this info as a stepping stone for more research on their own! Great job, and very important topic!

  10. Pingback: Food on Fridays: Quick Marinara Sauce «

  11. Musings of a Housewife

    You must watch Fat Head. When you find out how the government came up with their infamous food pyramid and low-fat recommendations, you’ll want to scream. It’s all a big bunch of bologna. I can’t wait for it to come out in the mainstream media. It’s bound to eventually. For now, I’ll try to restrain myself from yanking the low-fat foods out of my friends’ hands. 😉
    .-= Musings of a Housewife´s last blog ..The State of the Blog =-.

  12. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    I just stumbled this great post, Katie, and thanks for the link, too. 🙂

    Kelly
    .-= Kelly the Kitchen Kop´s last blog ..Real Food Wednesday 9/30/09 =-.

  13. The main thing that worries me about the fats in meat especially, but also dairy products and eggs, is that environmental toxins, drugs and hormones fed to animals, and pesticides in their food tend to concentrate in the fat. This is another reason to eat the more naturally-raised animal foods!

    About the food pyramid: The whole idea is problematic because it’s based on the assumption that each food belongs in exactly one group and that all foods in that group are equal. That’s just not how it is: Carrots are a vegetable but also a carb, whole milk is both a protein and a fat, beans are a protein but also high in fiber like veggies, etc. The main reason they have dairy in a separate group is the calcium, but people allergic to dairy see the pyramid and think they need that many servings of milk substitutes, when really they’re better off choosing high-calcium vegetables.

    The latest issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter is about how to balance foods in an ideal diet. The most important point IMO is that fruits and vegetables should cover about half your plate and you should eat a variety of them to get a variety of nutrients. They do suggest limiting fat more than I think is really necessary.

    My personal take on fats is that since I eat almost no meat, I have no reason to worry about the AMOUNT of fat and cholesterol I eat because it tends to come out just fine! I do worry about the SOURCE of that fat, so I avoid eating a whole lot of the animal fats I can’t afford to buy in anything but factory-farmed form (like butter) and chow down on the ones I can get organic (like yogurt) or at least free of antibiotics and hormones.
    .-= ‘Becca´s last blog ..Lentil Rice =-.

    1. Becca,
      You’ve definitely pointed out something that wasn’t in the forefront of my mind about the food pyramid. Balancing the meals isn’t as simple as the gov’t makes it seem…

      Your point about “good” fats from healthy sources is a good one: it’s why many sources say to focus your money for “organic” foods on meats and milk. Our family is changing where and how we buy foods bit by bit. I never thought I’d be able to afford the expensive, properly produced meat, milk and butter, but we’re managing b/c of other changes we’ve made in our food budget. I still don’t do “good” cheese, though. Maybe some day!

      Thanks for the great comment and food for thought for me!
      Katie

  14. Sorry Katie. I just realized I didn’t comment on your wonderful fat article. We’re not afraid of it here! I’m eating an uncured bacon sandwich on homemade sourdough toast, slathered with raw grass fed butter! YUM! 🙂

  15. Yes, I think that Good Calories Bad Calories might have some information like your missing quote, although I haven’t finished it yet. Jen, thanks for a great statement on soy, it’s sad how many (myself, too, once upon a time) consume soy for its’ “health benefits.” Another great post Katie- I can’t wait for more Fat Full Fall articles.
    .-= Shelley´s last blog ..Start Your Household Binder =-.

  16. Eating some free-range scrambled eggs and toast dripping with raw butter as I read this…:)
    .-= leah´s last blog ..over the top =-.

  17. Longevity in Japan is not only due to their fat diet. They eat a lot of fish, which contain omega 3. They also have a diet rich in soy and seaweed.
    Unfortunately, with the Americanization of the Japanese diet there is now a high rate of cancer, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

    1. Kanmuri,
      You’re right, of course – the point is mostly that the fat doesn’t kill them, and yes, omega-3 fats are a super source of good health!
      Thanks for the note!
      Katie

    2. Isn’t it true, though, that the soy intake of the Japanese is only a few teaspoons or tablespoons a day per person (as a condiment), and most importantly… isn’t the soy fermented? Fermented soy in Japan is usually consumed with fish broth, and/or sea vegetables (high in iodine), which protects the thyroid.

      In the US, all sorts of processed, fake soy products are proclaimed to be health foods. These are NOT traditional Japanese foods (non-GMO and fermented), and served with fish broth and sea vegetables. Instead, these products are made from GM soy industrial waste, then processed and pasteurized beyond belief.

      I literally cringe, and am SO sad when I read or hear of people consuming all this GM industrial soy waste! In particular, I feel sad for the infants and children, whose parents think they’re doing the right thing for their kids, due to misleading information from our government and the health care industry. :/

      1. Yes, yes, and yes Jen! I think what Kanmuri is saying was partly just that the fat isn’t the only good thing about the Japanese diet. I’m happy that our family is consuming LESS soy than we were a year ago, but it’s still in so many things that we rely on… A topic for another day!
        Katie

      2. The Japanese eat soy in many different shapes every day: tofu, soy sauce, miso, natto (fermented beans) and sometimes soy milk. They also eat the soybean themselves, as a vegetable.
        .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..A Korean Tale, Part1 =-.

  18. Another good resource, which goes into much more depth, is Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

    You HAVE to read his article that inspired the book: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html

    He also has some great video lectures.

    http://www.foodrenegade.com/truth-and-lies-about-fats-and-obesity-with-gary-taubes/

    1. Marcy,
      Thank you for the links; Taubes’ article is often quoted, so it’s nice to read the original!
      –Katie

  19. melissa from girlymama

    GREAT post!!! We’ve been embracing good fats over here and its terrific!
    i’m so over ‘no carb’ or ‘low-fat’ or ‘south beach’ or whatever. real food is where its at!
    .-= melissa from girlymama´s last blog ..no spending. i mean it this time. =-.

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