Does eating fat make you make you fat?
Starting in the 50’s, and even into today people have been brought up to believe that a diet low in fat is healthy, and eating too much fat is not. Ancel Keys, an American physiologist, was really the one that started the low-fat craze, when in the 1950’s (Through some flawed studies) he came to the conclusion that dietary fat, and more specifically saturated fat caused cardiovascular disease. If you really want to dig in on this topic I just read a great book by Nina Teicholz called The Big Fat Suprise. It’s a pretty meaty book, but well worth the read.
Dr. Keys Seven Country Study, was the basis for the eventual Diet-Heart Hypothesis which came out in the 70’s, and made its way into our food pyramid where it was suggested to have “Healthy” whole grains as the largest source of food throughout the day, with very little dietary fat.
From this low-fat craze, we removed natural, saturated animal fats such as butter, lard, and tallow with chemically created low-fat margarine and unstable rancid vegetable oils such as canola, soy, and cottonseed.
We changed out natural, healthy saturated fats for fats created in a lab
Once it was common knowledge that saturated fat was “Bad” and “Should be avoided” the food industry was forced to come up with an alternative to saturated fats. By definition, saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and are single bond fatty acids. The molecules of saturated fats are already saturated with hydrogen, so they can’t take on any new atoms – that is what makes them so stable and a great choice for high heat cooking. Fats that are solid at room temperate are not only stable, but travel well. McDonald’s for example, actually used to fry their french fries in beef tallow! Polyunsaturated vegetable oils on the other hand are very unstable, as they possess two or more double bonds. These oils go rancid very quickly, and can’t travel long distances.
With companies needing an alternative to saturated fats, but unable to use polyunsaturated fats due to rancidity, they turned to hydrogenation. Hydrogenation was invented in 1908, and then adopted by Procter and Gamble in 1911 who went on to create Crisco (Teicholz, 2014.) The process of hydrogenation made it so these unstable polyunsaturated fats became solid at room temperature. This made them stable, and able to travel long distances for use. However, years after hydrogenation was invented, we learned about trans fat. Trans fat is formed through the process of hydrogenation and has been found to increase your LDL (Bad), and decrease your HDL (Good) cholesterol. It was also found to accumulate in tissues all throughout the body, which would be a sign that your body is not metabolizing them properly (Teicholz, 2014.)
We moved to unhealthy hydrogenated fats and discovered later they contained trans fat which INCREASES bad cholesterol and LOWERS good cholesterol!
Once it made it to the mainstream media that partially hydrogenated oils contained trans fat, all the sudden companies had to find ways once again, to now remove, trans fats from their food. Still scared of using natural, healthy, and stable saturated fats, a lot of companies – for example McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s swapped for the very unstable polyunsaturated oils that go rancid, and become toxic when heated. (Teicholz, 2014) Doesn’t this make you want to go grab some McDonald’s french fries right now?!
Think about that for a moment – we moved to chemically hydrogenated fats because natural saturated fats were falsely demonized. Then discovered those “Heart healthy” hydrogenated oils actually have detrimental effects on our health. So instead of going back to nature we just decided to use unstable polyunsaturated fats that go rancid when heated. So any restaurant you go to (Which is basically all of them) that cook with these rancid vegetable oils, are negatively impacting your health.
Are we any healthier from these changes? I would actually say we are worse off – obesity is an epidemic, heart disease is still on the rise, a whopping 100 million Americans have prediabetes or are diabetic. Perhaps fats are not the culprit we should be looking at? Maybe we should be looking at what has changed in the last 50 years – Ahem…. carbs and sugar I’m looking at you – but that’s a post for a different day!
Why are fats important?
Fatty acid deficiency is actually a real problem that causes cardiovascular issues, endocrine and hormonal issues, skin problems, allergies, depression, and causes inflammation throughout the body. To control inflammatory function, the body needs to be able to inflame, and anti-inflame. This function is controlled by prostaglandins which are hormone like substances in the body. Prostaglandins are formed from EFA’s or Essential Fatty Acids in the body. We need fatty acids in the body, but the two that are essential are Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega 3.) A lack of these EFA’s or a imbalance of the two can cause inflammation throughout body.
Healthy fats play an EXTREMELY important role in our body. They provide a source of long burning energy, act as building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, help regulate energy absorption by slowing the absorption of food, increase satiety, and let’s be honest – they make food taste better! Butter fo’ life!
Fats have MANY roles in the body, and they make food taste better – butter anyone?
Everyone is bio-individual, so healthy fatty acid needs will vary for everyone – but to maintain optimal health you want about 30% saturated fats (Palm oil, Coconut oil, Butter, eggs) 10% polyunsaturated (Omega 3’s – fish oil, flax oil, walnut oil and Omega 6’s – sunflower oil, sesame oil, safflower oil) and 60% monounsaturated (Olive oil, and avocado oil.)
Omega 3’s and 6’s are very delicate and should not be used for high heat cooking or they can go rancid. Saturated fats are the most stable at high heat, and are therefore the best to cook with. Monounsaturated fats are great at lower temperatures, and also great for dressings where they won’t be heated.
So moral of the story – don’t be afraid of HEALTHY fats. Your body needs, and craves them! Try your best to use only healthy fats in your home and try and limit your exposure to those inflammatory, rancid, vegetable oils as much as possible.
This is such an easy swap! Next time you are at the store try picking up some coconut oil (I love this one because it’s steam refined, and doesn’t taste like coconuts for cooking) avocado oil, a healthier cooking spray that doesn’t use chemical propellants like Pam, or a cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. I buy occasionally through Amazon, but I often find all of these oils at my local Costco (In bulk) at a great price!