There is a wildly popular misconception that “if you eat fat, you’ll get fat.” This is an incredibly damaging myth based on reductive and blatantly false science, and it has actually contributed to the obesity epidemic.
When the concept of fat making people fat became popular, there was a fundamental misunderstanding of digestion and how macronutrients work to balance each other in the body. Research done on this topic was selectively interpreted to support the hypothesis that it was fat we should eliminate from our diets, and this has done us a disservice ever since.
We need fat to properly assimilate fat-soluble vitamins and to keep our bile cycling through our digestive tracts. When we don’t eat enough good-quality fats, our intestines do not absorb nutrients vital to our health and the “good foods” we are eating basically get wasted. When the bile stored in our gall bladder is underutilized to break down fats, it backs up and becomes more viscous. This can eventually lead to gall stones and blockages of the bile duct.
When companies remove fat from their food products, they must add sugar or chemicals to achieve the palatable taste that is usually provided by fat. When restaurants and food companies replace supposedly “unhealthy saturated fat” such as lard and coconut oil with canola oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and the like, we are becoming inundated with oxidative stress and our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is also put out of balance.
The problems caused by the onslaught of chemicals, sugars, bile build-up and free radicals mentioned above are numerous. They tax our detoxification resources, steal nutrients from other functions (including but not limited to the strength of our teeth and bones), impact the amount of nutrients we get from our food, and increase our risk for allergies, cancers, autoimmune diseases and much more.
Removing fat from the diet or replacing it with rancid oil substitutes is actually what makes us fat, not the opposite. The stress placed on the body by disease, blood sugar dysregulation and poor digestion causes increased cortisol levels which encourage fat storage. Increased insulin demands due to blood sugar dysregulation also increase fat storage. When we aren’t absorbing nutrients from our food, we are “full” but left hungry for more nutrients so we overeat. Fat is incredibly satiating, so when we eliminate it we have to eat more of the other macronutrients to become satisfied. Fat keeps us full and happy and is essential to our health. I could not have been happier when I started eating (well-sourced) butter again, and I am excited to tell others to do the same in the name of health.
I highly recommend the book, The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz, which delves into the wonders of fat and all its mighty benefits. Below is my book review that I completed while in NTP school for an assignment.
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet
Nina Teicholz is a determined, balanced and patient writer who depicts the history of our society’s relationship with fat in a way that is thorough and yet easy to understand. She was able to review an extensive amount of nutritional research and provide a timeline for what could be the greatest fallacy in nutritional history: that fat is bad for you. The world would be a healthier place if this book was required reading for all those who give nutritional recommendations.
The reader can appreciate that, while the writer does not support the diet-heart hypothesis touted by most nutritional researchers over the past century, she came into the project truly wanting to understand the research objectively. She pointed out fairly that the American Heart Association and other health organizations were trying to do “the right thing” by investigating the causes of heart disease so they could educate the public and remediate associated conditions. However, while integrity should be of utmost importance to researchers, Teicholz points out that many of these researchers supporting the diet-heart hypothesis were simply manipulating data so they could present numbers that supported their initial claims. The amount of confounding variables, inconsistent data collection, misleading percentages and overall incomplete science presented by Ancel Keys and his colleagues was egregious. Keys, especially, was indignant about his alleged findings and impenetrable to outside perspectives. What’s worse, his influence impacted the behavior of well-meaning Americans trying to improve their health for the past over 60 years, and their efforts have only increased the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and obesity in our country.
As researchers began to come forward against the diet-heart hypothesis, it was difficult for the dissenters to get their ideas heard due to the overwhelming influence of Keys and his colleagues. When Dr. Atkin’s anecdotal data from clients surfaced, more and more started to try a low-carb diet and realized that they lost weight and improved their health more-so than with low-fat tactics. Teicholz has determined that there remains no meaningful evidence against eating saturated fat and that many health indicators are worsened by a low-fat approach, including cancer risk, vitamin deficiencies and metabolic syndrome. The diet-heart hypothesis cannot credibly be supported upon thorough investigation of research findings. The discouraging part about Teicholz’s work is that many current medical practitioners are not aware of or interested in presenting a different approach to their patients and clients regarding diet. It is difficult to refute a cardiologist who recommends a low-fat diet to his patients. Not only are doctors viewed as all-knowing (despite their lack of nutritional education), the low-fat mindset is also so ingrained into our minds that it’s considered the baseline of “common knowledge” on nutrition. In order to get the public to believe in a higher-fat diet, the foundation of their knowledge has to be pulled out from under them.
Despite the overwhelmingly uphill climb towards public understanding and support of a diet higher in fat and lower in refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils, this book inspires me to educate others and encourage the public that fat isn’t an “enemy” to our health after all. Despite “healthy fats” being a prominent topic in recent research in the field of holistic nutrition (especially in reference to ketogenic and Paleo diets), the mainstream media and general public remain fat-phobic. Reduced-fat salad dressings are still on most people’s “healthy” food lists, and finding whole-milk yogurt remains a challenge in conventional grocery stores. In some areas of the country the demographic is more holistically educated, but where I live it is still considered “common knowledge” that red meat is worse for you than poultry and butter should be substituted with vegetable oils. Trying to tell people otherwise is like telling them the Earth is flat. Even when I relay how I lost 40 lbs of baby weight with full-fat dairy and grass-fed beef in my diet, many just assume I have “good genes” or that I must have been decreasing portions. Neither is the case.
One would think that by seeing the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers over the past 60 years coinciding with the same timeline of low-fat diet education would trigger some motivation to try another tactic. It is my hope that this book will reach a variety of audiences and further spread the word that fat doesn’t need to be feared like it has been and that healthy blood markers and body mass indices are achievable on a diet including generous amounts and varieties of well-sourced fats.
(Amy Spofford, 2018, NTP Program)