“Don’t eat fat! It causes heart disease, high cholesterol and worst of all, it makes you FAT!” How many times have you heard this? How many times have you gone down the aisles at the store, seeing row after row of “healthy” “low-fat” or “no-fat” options? If they say healthy on them, they must be, right?
The problem is, this is too simplistic of a view of how we digest foods and that’s not the way it works. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If low fat eating was the key to healthy weight, then why was there a surge of obesity following the USDA recommendations to eat as little fat as possible?
And if fat was the culprit, why are so many people hooked on eating styles like the Atkin’s Diet and Paleo, which both involve consuming high amounts of fat on a daily basis? One would think these types of eating would cause immense fat gain and thus nobody would ever recommend them, yet as we all know these are two very popular forms of eating. Fat doesn’t make us fat. In fact, no type of food inherently makes us fat. Too many CALORIES, compared to the amount of calories we burn, are the ONLY thing that makes us fat.
The word “FAT” is the single most powerful marketing word in all of health and fitness next to Sex. Today, with all the technologic and scientific advancements, society on a whole is scared to eat fat.
It’s true that excess body fat is bad for your health, but we all need at least a little fat. Experts note that fat plays an important role in maintaining good health, so we should all understand how fat cells function in the body in order to keep our own fat levels in a healthy range.
Fat, believe it or not, is essential to life. It protects our organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. It also serves as a back up source for energy. If you were to ever get very very sick and were unable to eat, your body would use up stored fat to nourish your body and provide it with energy.
Fats, just like carbohydrates and proteins, provide calories or energy. Fat is required to transport vitamins A, D, E and K, produce hormones, store energy, maintain healthy skin, and protect organs. Fat also gives flavor and texture to foods. Although every person needs fat in their diet, the type and amount of fat eaten can influence one’s health.
Body fat represents stored energy. You might have heard of the law of conservation of energy—that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. Laws of physics (such as thermodynamics, gravity, motion, etc) are unique in that they are irrefutable statements of fact—not theory (like most of physics and science in general). In other words, anything that is a law is true, ALL the time.
Fat cells have several other roles, as well. They cushion and protect vital organs, insulate the body against heat loss, secrete chemicals that play a part in appetite and other processes, protect nerve tissue, and help regulate women’s menstrual cycles.
A healthy diet contains approximately 20-35% of calories from fat. This translates into about 40-70 grams of fat per day for college-aged women on an 1800 kcal/day diet and 45-77 grams of fat per day for college-aged men on a 2000 kcal/day diet. Although too little fat in the diet can cause serious problems, most individuals in the United States need to be concerned with eating too much fat rather than too little.
One of the main morphological differences between men and women is the greater amount of fat that women carry; this softens the outline of the muscles, more or less erases the osseous indicators, and rounds out the surfaces while creating characteristic folds and grooves.
Fat in normal women represents between 18% and 20% of body weight, whereas in men it represents only 10% to 15%. The reason for this difference is that women at some point in their lives may nourish a fetus and then a baby from their own reserves, so women have to stock energy in the form of fat in anticipation of future pregnancies (and must stock even more energy during the last two trimesters of pregnancy).
For various reasons, different fat distributions occur in women according to climate. In hot countries, the fat is localized on the buttocks (black Africans), on the hips (Mediterraneans), and around the navel (certain Asians). This distribution avoids covering the woman with a hot coat of fat that would be difficult to bear and inefficient for thermoregulation during hot periods.
In cold countries, the distribution of fat is more uniform, which provides for better protection during rigorous winters. However the fat is distributed, its main function is for the survival of the species as it provides for survival of the woman and her offspring during times of scarcity.
It is important to note that all healthy people have fat reserves necessary for the proper functioning of their bodies. Obsession with obesity or the need to follow deviant aesthetic fashions should not lead to the complete elimination of fat.
In fact, the almost complete disappearance of fat can lead to serious hormonal problems involving the cessation of the period (amenorrhea, which is a temporary absence of ovulation and therefore momentary sterility), as this means has been put in place during evolution to avoid bringing progeny into the world that the female could not nourish with her own organic reserves.
A healthy balance is best. Each person’s protein, fat and, carbohydrate requirements are unique based on his or her individual biochemistry.
Eating fat doesn’t make you fat provided it comes from a natural source. The consumption of natural fats has been a part of a healthy diet predating back to before modern civilization.
In fact, we now know that the human brain evolved on an Omega 3 rich diet. Cultures that were lacking Omega 3’s were “dumber” than cultures that consumed Omega 3 rich diets. This can be sited through anthropology texts and is often referred to as either “the stone age diet”, “caveman diet”, “hunter-gatherer diet” or the “paleo / paleolithic diet”.
Some parents mistakenly believe that they can prevent their children from developing fat cells by restricting food in the child’s early years. This is a dangerous practice. Children need a certain amount of fat in the diet for brain and nerve cell development. In some cases, children on restricted diets have suffered from failure to thrive.
Most people actually need upwards of 50-70 percent healthful fats in their diet for optimal health!
In their “News in Health” newsletter, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) got one thing right — they note that you need a certain amount of fat in your diet to stay healthy.
But when it came to what kinds of fat you should eat, they got everything completely wrong.
This is particularly shocking since they are considered one of the leading expert health institutions in the world and their mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone.
But they missed the truth big time on this issue.
They once again demonize saturated fats, including the healthy fat found in coconut oil, spreading the old canard that such fats will lead to cardiovascular disease.
Meanwhile, they promote corn- and canola oil as “healthful.”
Let’s face it- dietary fat has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it’s a holdover from the popular diets of the 90’s where low- or no-fat diets were touted as the way to prevent heart disease and lose weight. Nutrition experts agree that this was likely worse for our health in the long run.
Twenty years ago everyone was sure fat had to be gone, done, absent from our meals; then someone realized it helped hormones, cushioned our body necessarily, and helped store fat-soluble vitamins. Ten years ago the Atkins Diet was in full force and removing carbs from many tables; then, the Doctor himself had a heart attack, red flag!
Despite common misconception, not all fats are bad! Fat, as a dietary ingredient, does not cause obesity; instead, it’s the excessive consumption of non-nutritive calories primarily from refined sugar—combined with a sedentary lifestyle—that causes weight gain and the development of chronic conditions.
“Good” fats are crucial for good health. The human body cannot survive without fat, since many body processes rely on fat.
Don’t eat any fat for a couple weeks and you’re dead, son.
Low-fat diets simply don’t work. They’re not palatable or satisfying and may have lead to eating more simple sugars to replace the fat in our diet. Research now suggests that fats can support health- it’s all about the balance.
Together with protein and carbohydrate, fat is an important source of calories. We need essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, or Omega 6 and Omega 3 for many important functions, namely:
1) To keep us warm, especially in the winter, as the breakdown of fats creates heat. The diet of the Eskimos gets about 60% of its calories from fat, and on their native diets they don’t have heart disease.
2) For proper hormone function, especially for women.
3) To keep our cell walls strong.
4) To absorb and store the fat-soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin D, needed to help absorb calcium from the intestines. Women who don’t get enough good quality fatty acids may end up with low Vitamin D stores and therefore bone thinning.
Even saturated fats have a role in our health: according to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, good quality saturated fats enhance the immune system, protect the liver from alcohol ingestion, have antimicrobial properties, and play a major role in bone modeling by protecting the calcium depositing mechanism in bones from free radical disruption. Fats also affect the nerves, as a low fat diet may contribute to depression; there is a high-fat medical diet (the 80% fat “ketogenic diet”) used to control seizures, which works better than drugs.
At the chemical level, food is the brain’s primary link to its environment and to its evolution. Your diet affects the brain chemicals that influence your mood and behavior, the thought processes and emotional reactions that ultimately create the story of your life.
About two-thirds of your brain is composed of fats. But not just any kind.
Your brain cells require very specialized fats – the same ones that built the brains of your prehistoric ancestors and enabled them to learn and evolve at such a fast rate. These same fats are even now being incorporated into the very structure of your brain.
The membranes of neurons – the specialized brain cells that communicate with each other – are composed of a thin double-layer of fatty acid molecules. Fatty acids are what dietary fats are composed of. When you digest the fat in your food, it is broken down into fatty acid molecules of various lengths. Your brain then uses these for raw materials to assemble the special types of fat it incorporates into its cell membranes.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid) are both crucial to the optimal development of the brain and eyes. During pregnancy the mother supplies the developing fetus with these fatty acids, and she continues to provide this important brain food to her infant through breast milk.
Specific deficits of essential fatty acids in fetal umbilical cords at birth correlate to low birth weight, small head circumference, and low placental size. This is significant, because birth weight and head size are associated with growth factors that influence later development of the central nervous system and cognitive ability.
Just as excess causes problems, so will a deficiency, and it is entirely possible to become fat deficient. Among the health problems associated with a lack of fatty acids we can count: dry skin, eczema, low energy, impairment of kidney function, slow wound or infection healing, vision and learning problems, depression, even miscarriage. A low fat diet is also associated with a higher suicide rate.
Some fats are definitely unhealthy. Among them are: heated, bleached and deodorized oils, and hydrogenated fats such as margarine and shortening. These contain trans fatty acids, which can double the rate of heart attack and raise the LDL, or bad cholesterol.
Fat cells, also known as adipocytes, store excess energy from foods as fat. Fat is stored in the form of fatty acids called triglycerides. Adipose tissue, or a group of fat cells, is found between the skin and muscle (subcutaneous fat) and around the organs in the main body cavities (visceral fat), primarily in the abdominal cavity.
Some people may have more fat cells than others, but the number of fat cells isn’t the main factor determining whether a person becomes overweight.
Fat free eating does not insure weight loss. Fat in foods delivers a feeling of satiety, the sense that we’ve had enough to eat. If there is no fat in the meal, we can keep on eating and eating until we’re truly stuffed, ending up with many more calories than we would have had with a little olive oil in the salad. The women who liked the fat free cookies can easily eat a whole bag of them. This is not because the cookies are so good, but because the women never feel that they’ve had enough.
In other words, they’re still hungry. Therefore, they will continue eating these high-carbohydrate cookies (all the fat calories have been replaced with carbohydrates!) and end up with many more calories than they intended. Thus, no difference in weight!
Take a walk down any aisle in your local supermarket and you’ll see fat-free desserts, low-fat biscuits and calorie-counted ready meals. But while our shopping baskets are full to bursting with these guilt-free foods our waistlines keep getting bigger.
During the 1990s, the low-fat craze changed the way Americans eat, and yet they got fatter than ever. By 2001, one-third of the American population was overweight.
There’s no question that Americans are heavier than ever before. In fact, food is everywhere at any time, and advertising is an additional lure.
Understandably, you may be confused by all the hype and conflicting information about dietary fats. Organizations like the American Heart Association and the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA)—who developed the Food Pyramid—recommend a “low-fat diet” to prevent such conditions as obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
There’s a problem with “fat-free” food labels. Major food manufacturers, in an attempt to profit from the “low-fat” message, have developed all kinds of “low-fat” and “fat-free” food alternatives.
According to USDA and FDA labeling laws, foods labeled fat-free do NOT have to be fat-free. They just have to have less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving. Low-fat foods must have 3 grams or less per serving. Reduced fat must have 25% less fat than the full fat versions, and Light must have 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat than the full fat version.
For most of these products, the fat is taken out and replaced with unfavorable non-nutritive alternatives such as refined sugars, chemical “fat substitutes” like Olestra, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Splenda®, etc. As a result, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes have been increasing dramatically, because fat is being replaced with unhealthy ingredients.
Basically, to make foods fat free, light, etc. the manufacturers take out NATURAL ingredients that contain the fat and calories, and replace them will modified or chemical ingredients in an attempt to achieve a flavor that resembles the original version. Do you agree that if something is NATURAL, it has to be better for us than a chemical? Your body knows what to do with the natural ingredients; it was made to process them. When you eat synthetic foods your body doesn’t know what they are or what to do with them, so it has adverse and sometimes toxic reactions to them like creating free radicals that damage healthy cells or are being broken down and stored as fats.
So now you can see how the labels can be misleading.
Also, many times people tend to eat MORE of the food because of the label, and may end up inadvertently eating more calories and fat than they would have with a standard serving of the original.
Actually, Americans are eating more fat than ever, but they’re eating even more simple carbs. So the relative percentage of fat in the diet may be lower, but the actual amount of fat is higher than ever. The goal is to eat less fat and fewer simple carbs, and then you can do so in a way that enhances your health rather than one that may harm it.
Low-fat versions are supposed to reduce the amount of calories that people eat, and in an absolute sense, they do. A cup of low-fat milk contains fewer calories than a cup of whole milk. Reduced-fat foods and drinks may not be as filling, so consumers may end up compensating for the lack of calories and eating or drinking more. In a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood in March, scientists found that kids who drank lower-fat milks were actually more likely to be overweight later on.
“Our original hypothesis was that children who drank high-fat milk, either whole milk or 2% would be heavier because they were consuming more saturated-fat calories.
We were really surprised when we looked at the data and it was very clear that within every ethnicity and every socioeconomic strata, that it was actually the opposite, that children who drank skim milk and 1% were heavier than those who drank 2% and whole,” study author Dr. Mark Daniel DeBoer, an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the chair-elect for the AAP Committee on Nutrition, told TIME in March.
Unfortunately, most (if not all) of mainstream nutrition needs to be discarded. Mainstream nutrition is auctioned off to the highest bidder be it Monsanto, Nestle, Coke, Pepsi or fast food chains; they control what you see on T.V and magazines.
Mainstream nutrition created the ridiculous food pyramid, which recommends having the majority of your calories come from refined or processed carbohydrates, such as wheat and wheat products. There are only a small percentage of people who have the genetics to eat what the food pyramid outlines and not become fat.
If you ask me, this pyramid was designed with profits, not health, in mind.
It also bears mentioning that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate yet the food pyramid advises people to consume the majority of their calories from something that is scientifically non-essential.
On the flip side, there is such a thing as essential fat. Understanding the significance of this makes you wonder why the food pyramid was ever created.
The public holds widespread misconceptions that minimize the complexities of obesity and how difficult it is to reverse, including that it is a temporary condition that is within the individual’s control.
The hysteria against fat has gone out of control.
The condition of one’s body can be a status symbol. In times past, when most workers did physical labor outdoors under the sun and often had little food, being pale and fat was a status symbol, indicating wealth and prosperity (through having more than enough food and not having to do manual labor). Now that workers usually do less-physical work indoors and find little time for exercise, being tanned and thin is often a status symbol in modern cultures.
Our society views thinness as a symbol of hard work, self-discipline and willpower—values we have come to revere above all else in the Western world.
People who are overweight are presumed to be lacking these virtues. In one study, two in five women said they would trade three to five years of their lives to achieve their ideal weight.
Sometimes weight loss doesn’t stick because we don’t compensate for not being fat. We are so busy cursing our fat that we fail to recognize its benefits. Our “fat” speaks for us with symbolic meaning, saying things we are afraid to say. But when we learn to translate our experiences into the language of “fat”, we open the door to say for ourselves what our fat has been trying to say.
We understand that emotional eating fills a void or numbs a pain, but few of us appreciate our hidden desire to be fat. Experts maintain that overeating is an intentional act done for the purpose of being fat itself. Our “fat” says to the world, “I am safe” or “I am powerful“. But beneath it all, being fat is simply a way to cope.
The obesity epidemic also can be explained, at least in part, by people’s response to changes in their environment. Reductions in manual labor, greater density of fast food restaurants and accessibility of inexpensive foods, heavy advertising of processed foods by the food industry, and safety concerns that make neighborhoods less walkable are a few examples of environmental contributors.
This campaign to reduce fat in the diet has had some pretty disastrous consequences.
Food manufacturers are changing their tune. Have you noticed that food manufacturers are changing their labels? As the latest food marketing trend changes, “Fat-free” is being replaced with “No trans fats.” It’s about time!
It’s true that trans and processed fats should be avoided at all costs, however saturated and monounsaturated fats have a place in every balanced diet.
The truth of the matter is that living the “low-fat” or “fat-free” lifestyle is actually very damaging for your health.
Understanding dietary fats and making good, natural choices are the only real ways to preserve your waistline, and protect yourself against chronic conditions.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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