Let’s face it… eating fat will make you fat; the hypothesis doesn’t hold water. Dietary fat has been vilified since Ancel Keys conducted his Seven Country Study in the late 50s, where he tried to prove the correlation between heart disease and eating saturated fat. Interestingly, Key’s study did find a correlation between eating saturated fat and heart disease. Still, his experiments used saturated fats made from artificially processed vegetable oils using a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenated vegetable oils contain saturated fat, trans-fat, and a whole host of other unnatural molecules. Trans fat does indeed raise blood cholesterol, as well as lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Let’s get to the meat of why eating healthy fat doesn’t make you fat. Dietary fat is least likely to stimulate an insulin response of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Remember, insulin is the queen hormone of weight loss/gain. In a non-diabetic person, insulin is produced in the pancreas and allows the body to use glucose (from carbs) for energy for future use. When insulin is elevated, it tells the body to store sugar for later, and any excess is stored in fat.
So, how does eating fat make you fat? While fat is higher in calories, fat is very satiating; therefore, you don’t require as much food and won’t be hungry within 30 minutes. If you consume a donut for breakfast, the insulin is released in response to the high sugar surge. The body says I better hang on to this energy for later and store it just in case.
The “eating fat makes you fat” hypothesis makes sense if you eat nothing but bacon all day, but I imagine your satiety hormones would kick in to stop you from overdoing it.
I’ve experimented with trying to overeat fat, and I failed. One morning, I cooked up four strips of bacon, three eggs fried in bacon fat, and added an avocado. I couldn’t get past eating two pieces of bacon and one egg when the feeling of fullness set in. Did I poke a hole in another theory that eating fat makes you fat?
Fats are essential to health at every level, beginning at a cellular level; however, decades of misinformation regarding the health benefits of saturated fat have meant that many people go out of their way to avoid fatty foods. Unfortunately, low-fat diets are still popular today, with many people believing they eat healthy. Many mainstream healthcare professionals, government guidelines, and official nutrition authorities also think low-fat diets are healthier. I want to add that eating a high-protein, low-carb, and low-fat diet can help with rapid fat loss while maintaining lean body mass. This is a short-term dietary protocol.
Fats are essential for the very structure of our cells. Within the plasma membrane, cholesterol molecules help the cell maintain its shape and structure, and without this cholesterol, the membrane fluid would not remain smooth and consistent. Our bodies can produce some cholesterol via the liver and some fatty acids; however, to support healthy cell structure and metabolism, we must consume plenty of fat from healthy sources.
In addition to fat being essential for cellular structure and health, certain fatty acids and structures play other critical roles in the body. Fat also helps regulate blood sugar and appetite as it has a satiating effect and can lower insulin and blood sugar responses to certain foods.
There have been many misleading studies and powerful food manufacturers who have convinced so many people that saturated fat is evil and should be avoided at all costs. Polyunsaturated fats are unstable and prone to oxidative damage due to the release of free radicals. These fats are particularly problematic when heated because heat makes them even more unstable.
Unfortunately, polyunsaturated fats (oils) are more commonly used in commercial kitchens because they are cheaper and more convenient. Many people also choose to cook with these fats because they have been convinced that they are a healthier choice that will actively lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Instead of polyunsaturated fats, we should choose saturated fats, such as bacon fat, for cooking as they are the most stable and taste delicious!
Also detrimental to human health are hydrogenated fats. Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans-fats, were developed in response to demand for an unsaturated fat that would remain solid at room temperature. This causes havoc with our cell metabolism because trans-fats prevent our cells from performing certain critical functions.
In summary, polyunsaturated and hydrogenated fats should be avoided for good health. What would you rather eat: butter, bacon, or plastic? I’ll let you decide.
Pat Garner is an accredited Nutritional Therapy Practitioner or NTP.