Fat is healthy? Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t have believed you either when I was younger.
During my college days I felt like I was always trying to get control of my weight. I danced 8+ hours a day. I avoided junk food. And I did what the world told me to do: Eat a low fat diet. From what the nutritional world told me I should have been a lean-mean machine. But I wasn’t. I was still battling my weight and hungry all the time.
Over the past couple of years I’ve changed my approach drastically, especially with regards to fat. After lots of research about the nutrition behind real fats and learning about the facts behind the low-fat campaign, I went full force into a diet full of good natural fats. Lots of fat. It wasn’t long before I noticed the difference:
- I lost weight (easily and without trying)
- I had more energy
- I had way less cravings for sugar and salty snacks
- My digestion improved
Turns out the low-fat theory is a big fat lie.
If fat is healthy, where did the low-fat idea come from?
It’s a fairly long story and one that you can read in a number of places including here, here, and here. But in a nutshell a man by the name of Ancel Keys put forth the hypothesis that eating animal fat leads to heart disease. Unfortunately, his sloppy (and cherry-picked) data really didn’t prove anything (not to mention the fact that he didn’t look at any other factors like sugar or refined flour intake, lifestyle, exercise, etc.). But he was able to get the American Heart Association on board (an organization that depends on cash donations from people like the margarine and vegetable oil companies), and somehow convinced the people on the street that his theory was fact.
We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980’s, and that this was coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma. (Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, also rose significantly through this period.) They say that low-fat weight-loss diets have proved in clinical trials and real life to be dismal failures, and that on top of it all, the percentage of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades. Our cholesterol levels have been declining, and we have been smoking less, and yet the incidence of heart disease has not declined as would be expected (1).
Calories and fat
Part of the reasons people are afraid of fats is because per gram they have more than double the calories than their macronutrient friends: protein and carbohydrates. With a “whopping” 9 calories per gram (instead of the 4 calories per gram for the other guys), a lot of people steer clear of fat because they think they can eat more without gaining weight.
Not so, my friends. Not so.
Sure, if food was just about energy (or calories) then this might make sense. But did you know that food’s primary function is not about energy?
Yeah, you heard me right.
The first and most important function of food is to build and repair the tissues of which the body is compose (2).
Food is about cell health. Nutritious real food helps to replenish and heal tissue. Real food can guard against disease. Yes, our bodies also need fuel but more than just energy they need right kind of fuel.
For example, say you pick up one of those “100 calorie packs.” And say you even try to find a low-fat or no-fat version (because you are trying to be healthy). Those 100 calories of processed food offers you little (if any) nutritional value. In other words, you just ate a worthless 100 calories.
Let’s say that instead you grabbed a hard-boiled egg for about 70 calories (with a good deal of fat). Instead of an empty 100 calories, you will have just consumed some awesome nutrients that can help heal your body.
(Side note: Did you know that food producers can’t legally say that food has any sort of healing properties? Yeah, this infringes on the “rights” of the pharmaceutical companies. So in other words, according to our government drugs give us health and food is only about fuel. Disturbing, no?)
This is one of the reasons why we really need to rethink the whole “calories in calories out” mentality. It’s also the reason I never count or even look at calories. Instead I look for food with nutrition and avoid empty calories as much as possible.
Your body craves nutrient dense foods. No matter how many calories you consume, if they are full of junk or empty calories you body will still trigger hunger responses to get what it needs. The obesity epidemic would have a major turnaround if people started eating nutrient dense foods, including full fat foods. Currently we are over-fed and undernourished, but when we supply truly nourishing foods our bodies feel satisfied.
So, now that we have a little understanding behind the “why” of the low-fat mentality, it’s time to about why your body needs fat. Say it with me: Fat is healthy. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!