Don’t be afraid of the F word!
The F word. FAT. We’ve been programed to fear this nutrient. But why? First, there’s the seemingly logical fear it could make us fat. And second, we’ve been told for years that it could increase our risk of heart disease. But guess what? They are both wrong! Research has consistently shown that fat doesn’t make you fat, and we need healthy fats to keep our hearts and minds strong! So how and why was this myth planted in our brains? Let me tell you a quick story that surfaced a couple years ago.
It all started back in the 1960s. In an effort to increase profits, the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between sugar, heart disease and obesity in a series of misleading studies! They needed to point the finger somewhere, and poor fat became the culprit. As Americans adopted a low-fat diet, they began to eat more simple carbohydrates that are loaded with added sugar.
This fabrication took a firm hold in the scientific community and quickly began to shape America’s dietary recommendations. Decades of research manipulation carried on, and health officials continued to discourage fat intake, leading to the consumption of low-fat, high-sugar foods and a sick country.
By the 1980s, the low-fat craze was omnipresent. However, a peculiar chain of events has followed this change. As we began eating less dietary fat, we grew fatter and our rates of cardiovascular disease have gone up (not down). As a society, we weigh 25 pounds more than our counter parts did 25 years ago!
Today, it is becoming more known that the added sugar present in highly-processed foods is a risk factor for heart disease and is the key culprit for obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Fat, as it turns out, has been falsely demonized. Let’s find out what we’ve been missing out on and take a deeper look at our new friend, FAT.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF FAT
First, we need a crash course on the four different types of fat:
- Saturated fat
- Unsaturated fat — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
- Trans fat
1. Saturated Fats
This fat is found mainly in animal products and a few plant sources.
· Dairy — milk, cheese, butter
· Meat — beef, pork, sausage, chicken with the skin
· Coconut oil and milk
· Palm oil
· Fatty snacks, fried foods, pastries
Decades of dietary advice warned us to restrict saturated fat, linking its intake to heart disease, but new research has dismissed this warning. Countless studies have shown that diets high in saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease after all. Certain types of saturated fats are actually good for you.
It all comes down to cholesterol and the ratio of LDL (the “bad” one) to HDL (the “good” one). Saturated fats mildly increase LDL, but they also raise HDL, which lowers your risk of heart disease. Many foods that contain saturated fats are nutrient and vitamin-rich, such as coconut oil, so there’s no need to avoid them. You just have to steer clear of the unhealthy ones such as processed meats and fried foods.
2. Unsaturated Fats — Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated
When you hear “healthy fats,” these are the ones they’re talking about. Unsaturated fats come in two forms: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
· Olive oil
· Almonds, pecans, and other nuts
These fats can help you lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and lose weight. Additionally, several studies have shown that monounsaturated fats have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer.
· Salmon, tuna, or other fatty fish
· Flaxseed, corn, soybean
Polyunsaturated fats are where you’ll find the infamous omegas (i.e., omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). Omega-3s reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol, and support hormone health. And Omega-6s support brain and muscle functioning. Your body can’t make omegas, so it’s critical that we get these essential fats from food.
However, like saturated fats, it’s important to get them from the right sources. Corn and soybean oil, for example, are high in Omega-6, but they are anything but healthy. These oils, which are pervasive in nearly all packaged foods, are unstable, meaning that when they’re fried and/or baked, the oils oxidize resulting in inflammation in our bodies — the foundation of all diseases. Second, 95% of soy and corn oil is derived from GMO seeds that are drenched in pesticides known to cause cancer! So steer clear of these oils and opt for healthier options such as flaxseed oil, fish, and walnuts.
3. Trans Fats
There isn’t a gray area with this one. It’s just bad. Period.
While some small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in animal products, the majority of these fats are industrially made and then put into the following products:
· Fried foods
· Baked goods
· Frozen foods
· Packaged foods
Trans fat is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation which is when oils are turned into solids to prevent them from going bad. Heated with hydrogen and heavy metals, this manufactured creation helps food last longer and gives it a satisfying taste and texture. The biggest offenders of these are, again, corn and soy oils, which are typically soaked in a “Round-Up” type substance before their transformation. If you want to look out for this garbage, it’s typically listed as “partially hydrogenated oil.”
BENEFITS OF FAT
Now that we’ve discussed the different types of fat, it’s clear that it’s all about choosing the right ones. Current research proves that incorporating healthy fats into your diet can result in immense health benefits.
Here are our top 5 favorite reasons to EAT FAT!
1. Fat keeps you full and energized.
Unlike refined grains, fats are incredibly satiating. When you incorporate fat into your meal, you feel fuller faster thanks to the release of a hormone that tells your brain to stop eating once you’ve had enough, so you’re less likely to overeat. Additionally, you feel fuller longer because fats take much longer to digest compared to carbs, so you aren’t reaching in the fridge shortly after. Studies also show that we have significantly more energy after we eat fat. Our blood sugar remains stable, and we’re armed to tackle the day without those pesky cravings.
2. Fat is good for your heart!
For decades, we were told that low-fat was the way to go for a healthy heart. However, this hypothesis has never been proven. Reputable studies continually fail to suggest a clear link. We now know that eating the right fats can actually lower your risk of heart disease given its ability to lower your LDL cholesterol levels. For the best heart-healthy options, look for foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, flaxseed, and walnuts.
3. Fat helps you absorb essential vitamins
We all know the importance of getting our daily vitamins, but our bodies need help absorbing some of them! And guess what helps them do that? Fat! This is because some vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they need fat to be absorbed by the body. When you consume foods full of these vitamins, such as spinach and kale, you need fat to carry the vitamins through the bloodstream and into the liver and body fat where they are safely stored until your body needs them. Without the presence of fat, these lonely vitamins don’t get a ride, and they’re wasted. So don’t forget to add a little fat to get the most of your vitamin-rich foods.
4. Fat = brain food
The brain is made of 60% fats, and it needs fat to stay sharp! Brain cells are covered in a fatty layer of insulation called a myelin sheath. This sheath allows electrical impulses to travel quickly along the nerve cells. When this sheath is weak, communication between your cells is slower. Simply put, everything takes longer — calculating a math problem, formulating a thought, or returning a tennis serve. So how do we keep our processing time quick and efficient? Feed that myelin some fat!
5. Fat keeps you fit
Finally, fat helps you keep the fat off. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true! Fat has a major metabolic advantage — it doesn’t trigger the release of insulin like glucose does. As discussed in our blog titled “Sugar 101”, when insulin levels are high, our bodies store more fat. Alternatively, when insulin levels are low, we become fat-burning machines. When fat is removed from food, it’s often replaced with sugar to add flavor, but you’re much better off keeping the product in its natural state.
Fat is the cornerstone of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Sadly, we’ve been missing out on this gem due to propaganda generated by food industries. But fortunately, now we know that it is not only safe to consume; it is vital! When we consume healthy fats, our whole-body benefits — our heart, brain, hormones, immune system, and waistline. So don’t fear the F word. FAT is your new best friend!
Julie Martin, one of my Co-Founders in SANS contributed meaningfully to this article. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org