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?
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.
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!) 😉
Here are some sources that say “Eating Fat Makes You Fat”:
- How Fat Cells Work – fat is stored, carbs can be but it takes more work.
- 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…
- 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!
- 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.
An 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”:
- 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. 😉
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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:
- The Awesome Egg
- Health Benefits of Monounsaturated Fats: peanut butter, avocado, olive oil
- The Dish on EVOO
- Power Packed Omega-3 Fats in Salmon and Flax
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