DOES FAT MAKE YOU FAT?
Let’s start with the basics – It is a huge misconception that “fat makes you fat”. This massively misinformed blanket statement that took the world by storm in the late 1970s when Americans were told that a low fat diet was heart healthy, good for weight maintenance and weight loss. On the surface, sure. I get how that is easy to believe – America wanted to lose fat, and what more intuitive response other than to cut out “Fat” from the standard diet?
I won’t delve into this now (because we will be here all day) but interestingly enough, the obesity epidemic coincided perfectly with the “low fat” product craze. This is because when brands lowered the fat content, they hiked up the sugar to make up for the loss and depth of flavor that fat supplies. Don’t believe me? Anyone ever tried low-fat mayonnaise? Or low fat salad dressing? That stuff tastes like freaking PUDDING or JUICE it’s so sweet… Point being –
when products try to seem healthy because they are “low-fat” PLEASE turn that package around and check out that sugar content. You will be surprised.
WHAT TYPE OF FAT AM I EATING?
Alright, let’s talk TYPES of fat – There are TONS of different types of fats out there – all of which share the same basic building blocks, but differ extensively in how our bodies digest and utilize them. I’ll be the first to say that fat digestion is confusing to grasp. This is part of the reason why fat is so misunderstood and partially what I want to discuss today.
I won’t get all ~science~ on you here but for our purposes it will help if we all know what the basic building blocks are. This will clarify why certain types of fat are labelled as “bad” because they’re stored as fat in our bodies versus “good” fats which our bodies are more likely to burn as energy. Fats are made up three parts
- a methyl group (we don’t need to worry about this right now)
- a carbon chain (important)
- and an acid group.
The carbon chain is a long chain of linked carbon atoms to which, hydrogen atoms attach. A “saturated fat” means that every carbon is linked to 2 hydrogens – meaning it is “saturated” with hydrogen. Whereas “UNsaturated” fat is lacking those hydrogens and instead, the carbons link to each other twice, forming “double bonds”.
So! To recap – saturated = carbon chain full of hydrogen, unsaturated = carbon chains missing one or more hydrogens. (monounsaturated fats are missing one hydrogen and have one double bond, and polyunsaturated fats are missing more than one, therefore they have multiple carbons “double bonding”!) That’s it – we did it! we got through the science together.
Fats that are both saturated and long chains on the other hand, are harder on our body to break down and therefore get stored as fat. Examples of these would be animal fats (like bacon fat), and milk products. GOOD types of saturated fatty acids would be coconut oil or butter. These are shorter chains so they are more readily used as fuel for our bodies. Further, as butter breaks down in our bodies, it helps to restore good bacteria in our guts – acting like regenerative fuel for our intestinal cells. All this being said, it is important to get a variety of fats in our diets.
Only eating unsaturated fats which are prone to rancidity can have its flaws as well. In general, its best to eat mostly monounsaturated fats (like olive oil), some short chain saturated fats, and try to limit our intake of saturated long chain fatty acids and trans fats.
WHY THE STANDARD DIET IS REALLY S.A.D.
The S.A.D. or “Standard American Diet” is really what is plaguing our health. I am not saying that everyone has to be a vegetarian or vegan, but if we look at the standard diet / what people are eating, we see that it is extremely high in animal and dairy fats and very low in flax oil, fish oil, nut and seed oils. Therefore, most of the fat we are eating is being stored in our bodies as fat rather than being burned as energy. We need to try to incorporate better fats into our diets – especially those that are used for energy, brain and nerve function, anti-inflammatory action and cell function.
These types of fats would be flax oils, fish oils, nut and seed oils, or any fats higher in omega 3 and 6. If you chose to eat saturated fats, opt for those that are short-chains like coconut oil or butter rather than animal fats or margarine.
THAT FOOD PYRAMID NEEDS A MAKEOVER
Here’s the kicker – fats are GOOD FOR YOU. You heard me. GOOD. FOR. YOU. (Everybody rejoice!)
But in all seriousness – that food pyramid which groups “fats and sweets” together and tells us to “use them sparingly” makes my blood boil. With carbohydrates, animal meats and dairy products as the foundation for what the food industry deems “healthy” (coupled with minimal vegetables and too much fruit in relation) we are consuming mass amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars which, in excess, get stored as fat.
Fat on the other hand will help us function in day to day life, improve brain function, heart function and energy levels. Curious about what fats do in our body? Stay tuned for Part II and Part III of this fat series