The word undoubtedly elicits a visceral response from most people; one ingrained in our culture to be avoided and detested – both in our diets and on our bodies.
“Low fat,” “no fat,” and “fat-free” have dominated food labeling, marketing, and media, only solidifying and exacerbating our country’s “fat phobic” mindset.
Ironically, just one hundred years ago, fat was coveted for nourishment, fertility, and survival!
How has conventional wisdom made such a drastic shift from something so revered for life to something so feared to death?
My “Fat Phobia” Stage
With firsthand experience, I developed a serious case of fat phobia myself.
It stemmed from gaining the glorious “Freshman 15” in college, which led me to read and research fastidiously about how to lose weight. I had to eat less – especially FAT – and move more.
I began a long 8 years of calorie counting and a very low-fat diet… and a lot of misery.
I threw away egg yolks and ate the whites only; I stuck to chicken breast, chicken breast, chicken breast, or lean tuna fish; used the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter toxic margarines, drank non-fat milk, and even questioned how much olive oil my mom put in homemade soups, for fear of gaining fat.
Initially, it worked. I lost some weight.
And then… well, I got 5 stress fractures in 5 years (also due to overtraining), had constant fatigue, constant hunger and cravings, some belly fat, and hypoglycemia (shakiness from low blood sugar).
I tried harder. I ate even LESS and moved even MORE, and things certainly did not get better.
Thanks to Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, which I read the summer of 2011, I dumped my fat phobia for GOOD and woke up.
Oh, life is SO much more vibrant with delicious, nourishing fats, isn’t it!!??
Thank GOODNESS I finally woke up from my fat phobic nightmare.
Ironically, I now get gawked at in restaurants when I order 4 eggs, because – shock! – aren’t I concerned about high cholesterol and saturated fat?
If fat phobia still pervades your everyday eating, which is definitely not uncommon in our American culture, I want to help shed some light on this controversial topic in a three-part series.
Sifting through controversial opinions and conflicting research, the truth about fat emerges:
Quality fats are a vital part to thriving health, with optimal amounts varying based on each person’s biochemically unique needs.
The Role of Fats
Fat is nature’s preferred energy source, providing storage of excess energy for later. It is essential for the brain and nervous system, as it surrounds the nerves and provides an electrical insulation that helps the transmission of nerve impulses (Bartholomy, 2008).
- Helps synthesize hormones and tissues
- Protects organs
- Insulates the body
- Aids in blood sugar and weight regulation
- Promotes satiety
- Enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
The Different Types and Benefits of Fats
In order for you to understand WHY certain fats are good and bad, I’m going to get a little geeky on you.
You see, fats – classified as saturated or unsaturated – vary in length of carbon atoms and number of double bonds. Each food has a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats, but is classified based on the most prominent fat within the food (Bartholomy, 2008).
With no double bonds between carbon atoms, saturated fat is “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Thus, it is solid at room temperature, very dense, and ideal for cooking.
As the most universally controversial fat, saturated fat is a vital component to the body, comprising 50% of the brain, about 45% of breast milk, and 50% of all cell membrane structures (Enig, 2001). Providing energy and structure to cells, it also protects the liver and is even the preferred food for the heart (Enig, 2000).
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and include monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) with one double bond, and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) with two or more double bonds.
With two or more double bonds, polyunsaturated fats collect and deliver nutrients to cells, and clear wastes relatively easily (Bartholomy, 2008).
Because they are relatively unstable and have more double bonds where oxidation can occur, PUFAs (corn, canola, safflower, cottonseed, sunflower oils) are not recommended for cooking.
The Importance of Omega-6 : Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The essential fatty acids crucial for health include linoleic acid (Omega-6), found in most vegetable oils and nuts, and alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3), found in foods like egg yolks and salmon. These essential fatty acids:
- Decrease inflammation
- Lower total cholesterol
- Provide crucial nutrients to the brain and body
They also increase the metabolic rate and transfer of oxygen throughout the body by helping to efficiently burn fats (Bartholomy, 2008).
In healthy traditional cultures, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids is 2:1 or 3:1.
Currently, the typical American diet provides a ratio of 16:1 or greater, and this excessive Omega-6 fat intake is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease (Simopoulos, 2002)!!
When heated, these PUFAs transform from a natural cis configuration to an unnatural trans fat configuration, where hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the double bond. These PUFAs become a stiff, fat-like butter substance, like margarine, helping to prevent spoilage and add texture.
This dangerous substance is unrecognizable by the body, and can cause damage at the cellular level (Bartholomy, 2008).
Did you catch that, people? All of the margarines, Earth Balance spreads, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter tubs are inherently dangerous trans fats!
Still don’t believe that canola oil isn’t “heart healthy?” Watch this video starting at :54 seconds to see all the high temperature heating, pressing, and mixing (with solvents). If that isn’t a processed, refined, unnatural oil, I don’t know what is.
Does any of this strike a chord with you? Have you ever had “fat phobia,” and did you notice an increase in cravings or a decrease in energy from eating low-fat?
Next week, I’ll touch on the different views and research to uncover the truth about saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart health!
Bartholomy, Paula. (2008). Overview of Fats. Lecture conducted for Hawthorn University, Whitehorn, California.
Enig, Mary G. “Fat and Cholesterol in Human Milk.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. 31 December 2001, http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/fat-and-cholesterol-in-human-milk.
Enig, Mary G. “The Oiling of America.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. 1 January 2009, http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-oiling-of-america.
Simopoulos, A.P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct; 56(8): 365-79. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909