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Jan 5 / Jeremy & Kim

The Overstated Fear of Fat

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One of the things we constantly hear when talking to people about diet and weight loss is that fats Healthy fatare bad and should be avoided at all costs.  We know quite a few people who refuse to buy anything but non-fat foods and will resort to a meal of plain toast before they would even think about adding butter!  But, when it comes down to it, fat is an essential macronutrient, necessary for our bodies to function properly. So, why does fat get such a bad rap?  Why does the mainstream demand that we try to take the fat out of everything?  Let’s take a closer look at the different types of fat and what you need to know about fats in order to make the healthiest decision for you and your family.

What are Fats?

Fats are an essential macronutrient generally made up of glycerol and fatty acids.  They can have both a solid and/or liquid form and are categorized by their levels of saturation.  The different categories of fat are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fat.

Here is why you need to be eating fats!

Healthy fats are essential to good health!  Here are some of the health benefits:

  1. Your lungs require a high concentration of saturated fats in order to work properly and this fat helps prevent your lungs from collapsing.
  2. Your brain is made up of 60% fat and your brain needs fats to function properly (e.g., memory retention, learning abilities, etc.).  Furthermore, pregnant women should be consuming healthy fats to support fetal brain development.
  3. The majority of your hearts energy comes from burning fats and certain fats help your heart maintain a regular rhythm.
  4. Fat insulates and protects your nerves and facilitate a speedy transmission of electrical impulses through your nervous system.
  5. Fats are vital for creating, maintaining, and repairing cell membranes.
  6. Fats in a meal aid with the absorption of nutrients.  In fact, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, and K can only be absorbed if fats are present during digestion.
  7. Certain fats ease inflammation which helps to keep your metabolism and immune system healthy.
  8. Fat cushions and protects your internal organs so that you do not bruise them when bumping into someone or falling down.
  9. THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT: Fats have little to no impact on your insulin levels which means eating fats actually promotes the use of fat as fuel!  That is right! Unlike eating carbohydrates (which spike insulin telling your body to store fat), eating fats will allow your body to continue to use fat as fuel.  Eating a healthy amount of fats will help you burn more fat!

So why does everyone make fat out to be public enemy number 1?

Fat definitely gets a bad rap.  Don’t get us wrong.  Too much fat, especially the unhealthy fats, can be detrimental to your health, but not all fats are created equal and no one benefits from the attitude that all fat is bad and that it should never be consumed.  We think one of the reasons that fat is so detested is because we associate it with obesity.  It is, after all, what we are trying to get rid of when we want to lose weight.  We are trying to lose fat, so there is a negative association with fat that is inherent in our attitude towards weight loss.

Also, there has been a lot of press about how saturated fats increase your likely hood of heart disease, obesity, and other illnesses, which has led to an almost unhealthy attitude towards fats.  What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you; however, is that the research shows only a correlation between saturated fat consumed and heart disease.  To our knowledge, no research has shown a direct causal link. In fact, there are more than a few outliers in the research we’ve read which might suggest that there is no causal link at all.

[This video is a bit long but it is well worth your time to watch as it reveals quite a few flaws in the science that established our current overstated fear of saturated fats. This is the second part of a 5 part series. We recommend you watch it all when you have time.]

What are the Healthy and the Unhealthy Fats?

Below is a list of fats by category in order of ‘healthiest’ to ‘unhealthy’ with some primary food sources of those fats.

Monounsaturated Fats: Healthiest
-Primary sources: olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds

Polyunsaturated Fats: Healthy especially because they are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but can easily go rancid when heated which releases free radicals.  Not recommended for cooking.
-Primary sources: peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn, soybean, flaxseed, walnuts, and fish

Saturated Fats: Unhealthy if too much is consumed
-Primary sources: red meat, whole milk dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, poultry, and fish

Trans Fats: Unhealthy
-Primary sources: vegetable shortening, some types of margarine, crackers, candy, cookies, fried foods, anything make with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Some additional thoughts on saturated fats

Everybody knows that trans fats are terrible for you with absolutely no redeeming value.  Unfortunately, many people also look at saturated fats in a similar light.  Here at the Self Health Atlas we believe that saturated fats are only unhealthy if you consume too many of them too often. Unlike trans fats, saturated fats in and of themselves are not unhealthy.  In fact, when your body stores energy as fat, it converts that energy into saturated fat!  We’ve seen some websites who use this as an excuse to eat all of the saturated fats you want; their logic being if it is the primary type of fat created by your body then how could it be bad?  Well, it can still be bad, because if you eat copious amounts of saturated fat then you are consuming copious amounts of excess calories your body doesn’t need causing you to gain weight.  Also, since your body is able to convert energy into saturated fat, then you actually never have to eat saturated fat.  Your body can make all that it needs as long as you are consuming enough healthy fats.

Another reason not to eat copious amounts of saturated fat is that grain-fed meat is loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which when consumed in abundance can lead to inflammation.  (if you want to learn more about inflammation and why it is so unhealthy, then you should check out Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat).

Our point being, saturated fats are not something you should fear (like partially hydrogenated oil), but you should be aware of how much of them you consume.  If you are not currently at high risk of cardiovascular disease, then you can eat red meat and for heaven’s sake you can put a little butter on your toast!  Just try to make a habit of eating very lean cuts of meat and don’t drop two sticks of butter into everything you cook.

Now please pass the butter.

Unhealthy fats

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  1. Raymond-ZenMyFitness / Jan 5 2011

    I use to be the same fearing “Fat makes you Fat” but thankfully the truth comes through good on you for keeping the right message up in front of everyone.
    Sugar is my main worry and when you look at 98% fat free its usually compensated with heaps of sugar which I think is the problem.
    Maybe if we rename fat something else like Macro A ..then less people would associate fat with being fat.

  2. The Underwear Body / Jan 9 2011

    If only I had read this years ago, it would have saved me a lot of stressing over the low fat option! Seriously though, this is a useful post, thanks.


  3. The fear of fat has been around for a long time. As the saying goes, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks and this myth has been around quite a while. Obviously certain types of fat can be detrimental, but as you note, certainly not all…not even saturated fat is entirely detrimental. The real tragedy in all of this is that people tend to compensate by eating more carbs. Sugar is a bigger enemy than saturated fat will ever be in my opinion!

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