Does fat make you fat?
It is time to bust the myth. And we’ll come right out of the gate with straight facts: fat does not make you fat. Saying that eating fat makes you fat, is like saying eating blueberries make you blue. Even more; if you don’t eat fat, you’re probably fat.
It is a misconception that has grown a belief for many and still affects our food choices to this day. Don’t we all know that person that purchases low-fat yoghurt or other 0% fat dairy products? Maybe that person is even you? Let’s explain where this mistaken belief comes from and what fats you can and should eat.
Fats vs sugar
There was a pivotal moment in the 1970s when two men stated two radically different ideas about nutrition. Ancel Keys believed dietary fat caused heart disease. A scientist named John Yudkin, on the other hand, understood that it was really sugar - “pure, white and deadly” - that lead to inflammation and obesity.
Ancel Keys, charismatic as he was, promoted and passed his findings to the top health experts at the time. The experts bought into his theory even though there was a lack of data that fat was the real culprit behind heart disease. Key’s research only tested bad fats and the findings were picked so they would fit the hypothesis of his theory.
John, unfortunately, did not have the connections or the means to push his theory to become the dominant one and have the chance to change the global food policy. The wrong guy won and the world chose Mr Key’s diet-heart hypothesis. People did not ask questions and it has eventually lead to the world of obesity, bloated consequences and cardiovascular epidemics we know today.
Fat is your friend
When we decided that dietary fat and the associated cholesterol were bad for our health, we started removing fats from our foods and replacing them with sugar and vegetable oils to make up for the flavour. There have been multiple studies that have continued to show how wrong the diet-heart followers really are and there has been no evidence that saturated fat increases heart disease. And it is not only related to heart disease; research has shown that people eating most cholesterol, most saturated fats and most calories, weighed the least and were physically the most active.
This is probably not what you grew up hearing and it is a hard reality to accept for many. At the surface level, it makes sense that something called fat in food would create fat in the body. Fat is fat, right? Wrong. There is a problem with semantics here; it would be better to rephrase dietary fats as lipids or energy. Because of the same wording, it has lead to the enduring belief that eating fat will end up as fat on the body. You want a lot more fat with your food intake than you think, despite everything that you have heard about saturated fat and its unfairly accused companion cholesterol.
What fats should you eat then?
Not all fats are created equal; there are bad fats such as fried oils, refined fats and trans fats (like the ones you find in potato chips or margarine). Try to avoid or limit those, as they will drive inflammation and make you feel sluggish. The good fats like saturated fats, cholesterol, triglycerides and omegas of all sorts are the ones you can find in unprocessed meats, dairy, fish, butter, egg yolks, olives, avocados, coconuts, and raw nuts. Here are five of the favourites that we reach out to, especially for our first meal of the day:
Let’s be clear: non-fat dairy of any kind is simply bullshit. Dairy consists of three parts: protein, sugar (lactose) and fats. The fats and protein are the only good parts for an adult human. The lactose is not, as it is just another word for milk sugar. If you cut out the fat, you are basically increasing the percentage of sugar relative to the other macronutrients. Fats make dairy taste good and they make dairy good for us.
Avocados are the creamy, fatty, delicious, time-sensitive and perfect for on-the-go goods from heaven. They are packed with saturated fats and other vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. Plus, it has fiber too.
Risen in popularity recently, bone broth is good for you. Cook it like a soup and you will get a nice layer of fat that rises to the top of the broth, full of vitamins and minerals from the marrow in the bones. It does not contain sugar and is one of the easiest foods to digest.
Bacon worshipping has reached new heights, partly because of the paleo movement which put it back on the menu. Another reason is that fats are good for the body, including animal fats like bacon. As long as your bacon is not pumped full of hormones or antibiotics or cured with artificial preservatives, delicious slices of bacon are a heavenly way to get your fat and protein on a plate.
Butter is great to work into your diet, especially grass-fed butter which is a great serving of fat to fuel your day. Cook your scrambled eggs in it, blend it into tea or coffee (additional benefit: the fat will slow down the caffeine intake) or add it to your vegetables with a little bit of sea salt.
Shift your mind, the food will follow
The longer you carry an idea and the more times we access it, the deeper that idea will settle in our psyche. If you talk to the people of your father’s or mother’s generation and try to get them to understand dietary fat is not going to make them fat, you are up for an incredible challenge. They have heard and believed the contrary for decades, and showing them all the science or your toned abs will still leave them unconvinced.
How can nutritionists have been this wrong? It happens all the time, as scientists are just people. When your career is at stake and your theory can become the dominant theory, you have all the more reason not to be wrong or admit you are. Flexibility of thought is one of our greatest assets, scientist or not. You have the ability to look at your opinions and overwrite them with new and better information. Make the change in your mind first and your plate second.
Dietary fat and cholesterol have been unfairly villainized - we need fats back into our diets, as it is essential for restoring metabolic health and optimizing weight management. Without good fats in your diet, you are setting yourself up for some serious problems. Problems that will get worse when sugar and refined carbohydrates have taken their place. Make a simple substitution - fat for sugar - and you will have the sustained, balanced energy to power you through the day.