You’d think that by now everyone knows that fat doesn’t make you fat but despite all the research that has been done around this concept, there are still some of us who don’t really believe it. Even the Harvard School of Public Health titles their page on fats with “It’s Time to End the Low-Fat Myth.” . But apparently this is one piece of misinformation that just won’t die; And I get it. It’s hard to change a mindset of 30 years rapidly. Big changes, new beliefs require time.
When did we start believe that Fat makes us Fat?
Nikolay Anitschkow was the first one to demonstrate that there is a link between cholesterol and arteriosclerosis by feeding rabbits pure cholesterol. Anitschkow’s research is often cited among the greatest discoveries of the 20th century; But despite that a lot of scientists disregarded his discovery for almost 40 years because the study was done on rabbits and rabbits are considered herbivores.
Eventually some scientists got an interest on the effect of diet on health. In 1958 a nutritional scientist, Ancel Keys published the Seven Countries Study which compared the diet of people in different countries to health. The study is considered flawed by many researchers because Keys deleted the countries whose results did not match his pre-conceived conclusions, leaving him with only Japan, Italy, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the US. Essentially what he did was cherry-picking the data from the 7 countries which supported his theory that animal fat was the main cause of coronary heart disease. (i)
By 1977, a recommendation was issued by government to all Americans to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the diet. Which is interesting to see that the obesity epidemic in America started at the same time.
” The food industry spends $30 billion a year on advertising to convince us to eat foods that include bad carbohydrates like fast food, sodas, snacks and candy bars.” – Dr. Mark Hyman
Another hypothesis behind the ” FAT lie” is how the pharmaceutical and food industry work together to keep this unhealthy belief that Fat makes you Fat, for financial gains. Many researchers are now saying that a lot of the studies on fat were in fact funded by the Big Pharma and Big Food. Take out fat from foods and you are left with basically no taste which is why low fat products are very high in sugar. And as we can see now after 40 years of eating low fat products the US is facing an obesity epidemics. Since this whole trend started the obesity rate has tripled. And with it come a lot of ailments, to name a few – diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndromes, insulin resistance.
” In our attempts to avoid fat we began to replace “fatty foods” with easy-to-access carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, pasta, potatoes, and sugars are examples). These carbohydrates help temporarily replace the feelings of hunger that are left by a lack of fat in the diet. In addition, they are incredibly easy to produce and distribute, so the food industry has invested a great deal of money and energy in doing so. Now they are nearly ubiquitous in our culture. These types of carbohydrates raise insulin levels, which, in turn, promote weight gain. It is also easier to eat a lot more of them because while fat makes you full, sugar just makes you hungrier. ” – Dr. Mark Hyman
Conclusion: We have been brainwashed to believe that if we eat fat we will get fat. In reality there is absolutely no scientific evidence that supports this idea.
What happens in your body when you eat CARBS vs when you eat FAT?
When we eat refined carbohydrates or a very large amount of carbohydrates at once, we experience a blood sugar “spike” and our pancreas immediately secretes insulin as a response to the carb intake.
Insulin is a hormone that enables sugars in our blood to be absorbed into cells and used for energy. It literally acts like a key on the receptors of the cell which open so that sugar can enter the cell. Without insulin, sugar cannot enter the cell which is why in diabetes people are left with high levels of sugar in their blood and cellular fatigue ( cells are not being provided with energy). Insulin also triggers fat storage in the body ( lipogenesis – sugar is converted to fat).
On the other hand fat does not promote insulin secretion at all. Fat can enter cells to provide ready energy without the help of insulin or any other hormone. This means that fat is allowed to circulate in the body and be used for energy for a much longer period of time. Excess carbohydrates are converted to fat and stored rapdily.
Are all fats the same?
No. There are certain types of fat that are good for you and others that are lethal. As you might know by now food is information to your genes, it talks to your genes ( nutrigenomics). Good fats turn on genes that increase your metabolism, help you burn fat, and make you more insulin sensitive -Insulin resistance is a condition where you develop a tolerance to insulin. Generally this is because you eat too many sugars or bad carbs. Insulin resistance is one of the earliest if not the earliest sign of diabetes and it can silently begin 10 years before you get a diagnose of diabetes. (ii)
Bad fats turn off your fat burning genes, making it much harder for you to lose weight.
Which FATS promote good health and which FATS don’t?
Fats that promote good health are monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monosaturated FATS – This type of helpful fat is present in a variety of foods and oils. Research has consistently shown that eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. These foods include:
-nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)
-vegetable oils (olive oil, peanut oil)
-peanut butter and almond butter
Polyunsaturated FATS – These fats are also known as “essential fats” because the body cannot make them and needs them from foods. Plant-based foods and oils are the primary source of this fat. Like monounsaturated fat, they can also decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Especially a certain type of this fat, called omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be particularly beneficial for your heart. These foods include:
-flaxseed, walnuts, almonds
-seeds – sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
The two types of FAT that have been identified as potentially harmful to your health are Tans Fats and Saturated Fats.
Saturated Fats – should be eaten sparingly
-margarine, conventional butter
-dark chicken meat and poultry skin
-high fat dairy foods ( cream cheese, whole milk, ice cream)
-tropical oils ( coconut oil, palm oil)
Trans Fats – must be avoided completely! You might find them in:
-fried foods (French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods)
-margarine (stick and tub)
-baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
-processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)
Did you know that FDA allow food companies to round down to zero and claim “no trans fats” or “zero grams of trans fats” even if the product has trans fats? Anything below 0.5g is not on the label so if you eat 10 cookies that’s 5g of trans fats.
How do I know if I am eating enough Healthy Fats?
Your body actually sends you signals when you don’t. Learn to tune in and listen to your body messages, every single thing means something. Here are some warnings: (iii)
-Dry, itchy, scaling or flaking skin
-Soft, cracked or brittle nails
-Hard ear wax
-Tiny bumps on the back of your arms or on your torso
-Achy and stiff joints
-ADD and memory problems
Conclusions and Takeaway
New research (iiii) has revealed that fats are more good then bad, a theory that is opposite to what we used to think.
While trans fats are harmful to one’s health, saturated fats are not currently linked with increased heart disease risk. However, they likely aren’t as healthy as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can be.
It’s important to moderate your consumption of fats because all fats are high in calories – 1g has 9 calories. But despite the fact that fats are high in calories, they keep you full longer comparing to carbohydrates.
In conclusion the consumption of monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats promotes health and improves the quality of life.
Ranim Salame, MD, CHC