Anyone remember the 80’s? All denim outfits, friendship bracelets, frizzed hair…what a wonderful time. Let us all not forget another wonderful creation of the 1980’s….the low-fat fad. During the latter part of this decade, the national health conscious crowd turned their focus towards fat; specifically ways to reduce the fat in our foods. A slew of new products hit the shelves, low-fat ice cream, no fat mayonnaise, hydrogenated margarines in place of butter, and so on. As a country, it was pounded into our heads that there was no such thing as healthy fat and eliminating all type’s from one’s diet was the key to a lean, healthy body. Millions of people began cutting fat from their meals and adopted low-fat or in extreme cases, no fat diets. In theory, and given the lack of knowledge at the time, I can see how it made sense. You don’t want fat on your body, therefore you should eliminate the amount of fat you eat. If only things worked so simply…
What Is Fat?
A quick biochemistry lesson; all fats are made of varying amounts of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is how these molecules are bonded that determines whether a fat is short, medium, or long chain fatty acids. Short and medium chain fatty acids are more quickly metabolized by your body than their longer counterparts. Because of this short and medium chain fatty acids bring about a slew of health benefits, while long chain fatty acids wreak havoc on your body. Some good fatty acids come from things like coconuts and butter. Bad (long chain) fatty acids come from things like margarine and canola oil.
With that in mind, it’s beneficial to know that not all fats will make you “fat”. Yes, all fats contain 9 calories per gram, but the type of fat and how it interacts with your body is of the utmost importance. Aim for healthy fats; fats to stay away from are trans fats, often found in baked goods and other junk foods and fast foods, and saturated fat. Study after study has shown the disastrous consequences a diet heavy in these types of fat have. Heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer…the list goes on. The big take away: avoid trans and (most) saturated fats.
All Fats are Not Created Equal (Yes…there is healthy fat out there)
There are in fact fats that can help you LOSE weight. Wait, did you read that right? Yes, you read that right. Certain healthy fats can spike your metabolism, increase your caloric burn, decrease food consumption, and in turn, help reduce body weight/fat mass.(1) These fats, as mentioned above, are the short and medium chain fatty acids. A great source of these types of fat come via coconut oil. While yes, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, the TYPE of saturated fat is what matters here (this is why I said MOST saturated fats above). The healthy fats in coconut contain a compound called lauric acid, which has been shown to combat abdominal obesity…another added bonus.
It’s extremely important to make sure you’re getting the RIGHT kind of fats, i.e. those containing medium and short chain fatty acids. Pick more foods from the list below and eliminate margarines, most vegetable oils, and highly processed snack/fast foods.
Healthy Fat-Fighting Fats:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Palm kernel oil
Other Healthy Fat Sources
Let’s talk about omega’s for a minute now. Omega fatty acids are another type of healthy fat that is essential to your good health and wellness. Omega 3 and 6’s are found in a variety of foods. A great source of omega 3 fatty acids is GRASS fed beef. Big difference here…the regular supermarket stuff that’s been feed grain…not so good. A quick comparison…a 7 oz. cut of grass-fed versus grain fed beef shows the grass-fed contains 150 fewer calories and 5 less grams of fat. In addition, the grass-fed is very high in omega 3 fatty acids while the grain fed is nearly devoid of them. Other foods containing these healthy type of fatty acids are fish, nuts, and flax oil.
The Effects of the Low/No Fat Diet Craze of the 80’s and 90’s
So, there are two major problems that we now turn our attention to. First, as has been demonstrated above, eliminating ALL fats from your diet is just plain ignorant. Fats don’t make you fat…in fact, some fats make you LESS fat. You need to look at the type of fats you are consuming if you are concerned with weight issues. Just because some fats are bad doesn’t mean all fats are bad. The low-fat/no fat craze of the late 80’s and 90’s has left its mark and still pervades the minds of millions. This will intentioned way of eating has all but certainly caused more harm than good.
Additionally, something that hasn’t been mentioned yet but bears attention; many low/no fat foods contain sugary fillers to make up for lack of taste. Be careful that your low/no fat foods aren’t filled with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and/or other chemicals that will wreak havoc on your body.
This leads us to another point. For those of us who are fearful of gaining fat and/or an inability to lose their fat, examining our simple carb intake is of the highest importance. You see, when your body gets used to a high carb diet (made up of primarily simple carbs) it learns to use carbs for fuel. When your body turns to carbs for fuel, it stops using fat, which remains stored in places like your stomach, hips, legs, etc. Over time, an insulin and leptin resistance occurs and the metabolization of fat stops almost completely. To make matters worse, left over carbs begin to be stored as fat for fuel later (when you aren’t exercising enough). Moral of the story, you need to make sure your body isn’t growing dependent on the quick energy that simple carbs provide. Force your body to rely on fat storages for fuel and you’ll have a much healthier (and better looking) physique.
Some examples of simple carbs to stay away from:
- White rice
- Fruits (eat in moderation)
- White potatoes
- White flour (notice a trend here..?)
Junk Foods Companies Will Always Evolve…Watch Out
Lastly, as if all of this wasn’t enough, I’m going to give you one more thing to watch out for. As junk food companies wisen up to the fact that the American public is on the look out for trans fats, they’re starting to turn to something else. In their laboratories, their scientists have created a new type of fat; interesterified fat. By altering part of the trans fat chain by introducing stearic acid, they’ve created a new type of fat altogether. This new fat allows junk food makers to use the “No Trans Fat” label on their product. While technically this is true, interesterified fat looks as those it is even worse than the trans fat it’s replacing. Initial studies show interesterified fat slows metabolism to a standstill and leads to increases of body fat as a result.
To Recap how to stay Happy, Healthy, and Fabulously Fit…
- Eat clean, wholesome, non-packaged foods whenever possible.
- Make the easy and casual shift from long chain fatty acids to short and medium chain fatty acids – start with the oils you cook with.
- Don’t obsess about fat content; just make sure it’s coming by way of healthy fats. Beat it into your head that FATS DON’T MAKE YOU FAT! In fact, some fats will help you in your weight loss battle.
- Watch your simple carb intake, which are the true culprits in America’s obesity crisis.