Yes that’s right, you read correctly, most of what you have been told is a big fat lie. Pardon the pun! This article was written to put to bed some of the myths about Fat and to defend what has generally been demonized over the last 50 years due to misleading information released by government bodies sponsored by industries that would have been most harmed had better information been available. I apologise now as its quite a long read, but I felt that everything included in here was vitally important in conveying a message, so grab a cup of coffee (full fat milk, no sugar), give yourself 30 minutes and enjoy.
Low fat industry – why we have been mislead
So firstly I’m going to look a little at how we came about in the position we are today, what happened and why…a little history lesson, so if you aren’t too bothered on the whys then skip to the next section for the bit where I tell you fat is ok!
In the mid 1950’s there was a rising level of Heart disease and saturated fat was apportioned the blame by Ansel Keys, a top US research scientist. This information was, over the following years contested by certain individuals but repeatedly discredited by the food industry, keen to deflect the attention away from the increasing levels of sugar in the diet. A good read and still to this day relevant, even though written and first published in the 70’s is Pure White and Evil, by John Yudkin http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pure-White-And-Deadly-killing/dp/0241965284/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362050801&sr=8-1) one of the main challengers to Ansels findings and who put the blame squarely at the foot of sugar.
In the late 70’s the US government put together a committee to create and set the first nutritional guidelines there had ever been to guide US citizens on healthy eating, this report was pretty basic and recommended moderate reductions in fat, sugar and salt. But the food industry and particularly the sugar association got wind of this and were not happy. The sugar industry lobby set about to make sure the information that was given would in no way hurt the sugar industry, and after a few letters from those lobbyist the guidelines were published with little or no mention of sugar reduction just the recommendation of lowering fat intake.
And hence the fat free industry was born and sparked a boom that really took off in the late 70’s and 80’s. Since then this fat free or low fat industry has become a billion dollar industry with every supermarket shelf offering thousands of low fat / no fat/ fat free products with the message that this will improve our health and help us stay slim. And why shouldn’t we believe that eating things with less fat in will help us to keep that ugly layer of jelly off of our belly, thighs and arms because as the name states surely fat will make us fat?
The first issue – over-consumption
The problem with this whole premise is that for most of those foods, when taking the fat out we lose the flavour and have to do something to make it taste as good as the full fat version, so what is usually added…sugar or variations of.
The first issue with is that taking out fat to replace it with sugar for taste purposes means we are getting a whole load more sugar in our diets. The actual calorific value of the food can be just the same or even higher than it was before, and most people believing the fat free cookies they are eating are not going to end up on their hips will eat more than they would have normally!
Fat, due to the fact of its difficulty in breaking down, remains in the digestive system longer , keeping us feeling full. It also helps to slow down the absorption rate of carbohydrates, therefore assisting with insulin management and sugar crashes. Both of these help with prevention of over consumption or the management of cravings to eat more. We take out the fat and what we consume doesn’t fill us as much, we eat more, the fat is replaced with sugar…we get fat! Not a great way to keep the nation slim now, but a great money making scheme.
Secondly fat has some important qualities which are beneficial when in our food and when removed has consequences that lead to more over-consumption and poor nourishment.
Why fat is good and what we need it for
So let’s firstly look into why we need fat, what it’s good for and why the removal of it (and replacement with sugar) is a bad thing.
Fat, as carbohydrates and proteins are, is a macro-nutrient that’s hugely important to us. Not only do we use it as a source of energy we require it for a multitude of bodily functions including the endocrine system (hormones) and Structure (building).
Fats and oils belong to a family of organic compounds called lipids and the role they play throughout the human body/ physiology makes them an essential component to the diet.
Key Physiological functions of lipids
- Structurally found in virtually all cell membranes,
- Used in the nervous system,
- Synthesis of steroid hormones and reproduction,
- Regulation of enzymes,
- Transportation, storage and utilization of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
- Assisting in calcium uptake for formation of bone,
- Lung lining for efficient breathing.
- Keeping your skin and hair healthy and smooth
- As well as protecting our internal organs.
So we need fat for all the above functions in the body, which should be reason enough to include it but there some other factors that should be taken into account when discussing the inclusion of fat especially with regard to losing fat.
Fat burns fat
So fats keeps you full longer, fat helps with a functioning hormonal system and with vitamin system both of which play a part in fat loss, eating less, feeling satiated (full up) and getting the right nutrients. As well as this when we consume lower carbohydrate levels and higher fat levels we set the body into a state of fat oxidisation, utilising the fat in the blood stream as a primary source of energy. This also puts the body in the correct state to burn the fat accumulation on the body (subcutaneous fat) as a source of energy – LIPOLYSIS, providing there is adequate calorie deficit.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is an essential fatty acid found naturally in meat and dairy products and has been proven to reduce fat in humans by preventing fatty acids being stored into tissue cells as well as enhancing the breakdown of fat stored in fat cells by the enzyme lipase. It has also been studied for its anti-carcinogenic properties.
Omega 3’s found in oily fish or in supplement form have also been proven to assist fat loss in the same mechanism and also been shown to assist with Leptin levels, a hormone that signals the go ahead for burning fat and decreases appetite.
For example a study into nut consumption and body weight in 2003 by Sabate (considering nuts have a high fat content of up to 80% fat by weight) showed that populations where nut consumption was higher were not heavier, didn’t gain weight and in fact showed weight loss.
Different types of Fat and where to find them
There are really 3 kinds of fats, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated and saturated.
Unsaturated Fats which come in two types:
These have been found to raise HDL Cholesterol – the Good Cholesterol, Lower LDL Cholesterol the Bad one thus helping to prevent the buildup of plaque in your arteries, helping fight Coronary Heart Disease
Found in Olives. Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Organic Peanut Butter, Sesame seeds and Avocados
These should form the base of the fats in your diet
Found to help lower LDL Cholesterol, containing essential omega-3 fatty acids which have been reported to boost brain function, strengthen immune systems, and help with mental health. They also contain omega- 6 fatty acids.
Omegas 3’s are primarily found in cold water oily fish such as Salmon, Herring and Mackerel. Also found in Canola oil, Flaxseed, Walnuts and Tofu.
Omega 6’s are found in Meat, Corn oil and Soya bean, and due to a change in dietary habits are eaten almost 20 times as much as omega 3’s. The correct ratio should be much lower at about 4 times, so substituting fish into the diet and getting more omega 3’s can help to balance out this problem.
Now with most things in life there are the good and bad versions, the ying and the yang and this goes for fat too. As with the examples above and the diet I recommend to most of my clients, natural will always be better for you and the same goes for fats.
Trans fats or hydrogenated fats that we are concerned with are basically man made fats that have been altered from their natural state to assist in some way with production or with preservation of certain foods. They can occur naturally in some foods but not to the extent we see them in food today.
Here’s the science bit so again skip it if you want to get to the bit where I tell you what not to eat!
Trans fats from hydrogenated oils were created to turn healthy unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temp into a solid, for example making olive oil into a spread. It has superior baking qualities when compared to butter, increases product shelf life and is cheaper so is used in processed foods and commercial baking.
So a perfect solution for our diet then? Definitely NOT! trans fats are alien to our bodies, we can’t metabolise them and they are stored in our subcutaneous fat as a means of protection, especially in the belly area. Not only this but they lower the HDL cholesterol levels and raise the LDL levels….bad times, leading to inflammation and ultimately coronary heart disease.
If this wasn’t bad enough they are linked with a whole host of other diseases and medical problems and for this reason have been banned in a handful of cities around the world.
Trans fats from hydrogenated oil are found in baked products, margarine, French fries, processed foods, crisps, biscuits, cakes, fried foods, snacks, deserts, pizza’s, shortening, doughnuts and pastry.
You should aim to reduce the amount of these fats in your diet as much as possible, limiting your intake of foods that have been processed wherever you can.
Margarine over recent years has been promoted as the healthy alternative to butter, claims that it lowers cholesterol or cuts the rates of heart disease were freely touted, but recent studies questioned these claims. The process of hydrogenation is so enhanced that the final product is more closely related to plastic in structure than the butter it replaced.
Manufacturers have now been forced to change their production process after they were made to report any hydrogenated oils used in the product and growing evidence of the harmfulness of them started to get reported. Look out for partially hydrogenated/ hydrogenated oil and shortening, all aliases for this harmful product. Although manufacturers are allowed to put zero trans fats if there is under a certain amount in the product.
And last but not least look at saturated fat.
Saturated fats – Wrongly Accused?
Saturated fat was one of the reasons trans fats found popularity as a healthy alternative. This fat found in meat, dairy and some plants was reported to have raised cholesterol levels and therefore the rates of heart disease by the very same Ancel Keys and again for over 50 years we have stuck rigidly to this rule. But a recent study in 2010 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was proven to show that consumption of saturated fat could not be linked to increased chances of heart disease. Although consumption of saturated fat does lead to total cholesterol levels increasing, the ratio of good HDL to bad LDL increases. Considering we have evolved eating saturated fats this as makes sense in that we should be adequately adept at processing it. There have been numerous studies backing this up (women’s health Initiative study) as well as research into certain indigenous tribes such as the Massai tribe in Kenya, with a 66%saturated fat diet and low levels of coronary disease. And finally the fact that breast milk, the perfect nutritional food for infants contains 54% saturated fat should point us to the decision that maybe just maybe we were a little too harsh in judgement. More and more evidence is emerging that’s seems to contradict the link between saturated fat and heart disease/ atherosclerosis/ high LDL to HDL levels and again points the finger towards trans fats and carbohydrate consumption.
Cooking with saturated fats is also thought to be better for you as the high temperature in cooking can damage fats and oils causing free radical formation which can be a cause for concern when it comes to your health. Vegetable oil/ canola oils seem to be the worst for this and its recommended that you cook with coconut oil or butter which are a lot more stable and nutritious.
Saturated fat enhances the immune system, enhances liver function, the brain and nervous system (up to 25% of the brain structure is made up of saturated fat), cell function, lung function
Saturated fat is found in meat – Beef, Pork. Poultry, Dairy – cheese, butter, sour cream and milk, Coconut, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds.
So the best advice with regards to saturated fat is to consume moderately, there is still a lot of research being done but it appears it isn’t quite as bad as first thought. All of the above in natural forms can be consumed as part of a healthy diet just not too much of them as they still contain energy.
So my advice here is pretty much the same as my general view of nutrition. Eat NATURAL, from scratch. Avoid pre-made/ processed/ convenient food and you will be on the right path. Fat isn’t the bad guy and is really important for us humans; we have been eating it a long long time, we need it and are adept at digesting it. So natural fats from meat, fish, poultry, dairy, coconut and oils from olives, coconut and other natural unprocessed sources are all better than manufactured.
A healthy diet along with a structured training programme can get you the body you want and keep it that way for life. myfitnesspro will educate you on both so you can make lifestyle changes that will have you not only looking great, but feeling amazing.
Paul @ myfitnesspro
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