“Fat” was once the unwanted step-child in the world of cooking and nutrition. Low-fat diets were incredibly popular and promised to reduce the obesity problem in countries that embraced the standard Western diet. Unfortunately, all that happened was that people replaced their high-fat foods with man-made versions of the same thing. However, the ever-expanding waistline continued to grow.
Today, nutritionists and researchers have discovered a more middle of the road process that helps people account for the differences between the four different types of fat, the body’s reaction to high carbohydrate foods, how protein is metabolized and the need to go back to at least acknowledging calories.
There are four different fat choices that can be made: trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Only two of these are reasonably healthy – polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats. Trans fats are found in baked goods and cookies, while saturated fats are found in many types of meats and dairy products. However, while many foods are ‘mostly’ one type of fat or another, almost all foods have a mixture of fats.
As a general rule, it’s good to keep trans fats to a minimum. However, it’s also important to realize that fats will not make you fat. In fact, fats are better burned as fuel in the body instead of carbs or sugar. When you eat carbohydrates the body turns them into blood glucose and triggers the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin will help the sugar into the cells to burn for energy.
But, as you move all the blood sugar out of the bloodstream your body recognizes a depletion of energy and signals your brain to eat. You crave carbohydrates, the fastest fuel your body can burn, and off you run to the vending machine. This sets up a viscious cycle that has your blood sugar rising and plummeting all day.
Insulin also has another function. It is fat sparing. In other words, it keeps your body from burning fat as fuel.
On the other hand, saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are more calorically dense (have more calories in a smaller portion) but they keep you feeling full longer and provide a better fuel source for your body. Once your body is accustomed to burning fat for fuel it improves your weight loss efforts.
In 2003 Harvard released a study that demonstrated that people who ate a high-fat diet lost more than people eating a high carb, low-fat diet – even though the people eating a high-fat diet ate 300 more calories every day! (1)
Who doesn’t want to eat more and still lose weight?
Foods that contain polyunsaturated fats include nuts, seeds and fatty fish like salmon. This group of foods has omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which are necessary for our cell health but which we do not manufacture. Polyunsaturated fats keep you feeling fuller longer, are burned for energy and will help to lower your total cholesterol.
Healthy unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, while trans fats and saturated fats are solid. Monounsaturated fats are popular in a Mediterranean style diet. They are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and hummus.
Saturated fats are optimal fuel for your brain and also provide the body with the material needed to build and repair cell membranes and hormones.
Since 2000 more research has pointed to high carbohydrates and blood sugar spikes being responsible for the rising number of people suffering from cardiovascular disease and the increasing waistline.
Don’t be afraid of fat! You’ll need to eat fats to lose weight.
(1) International Journal of Obesity-Related Metabolic Disorders: A randomized controlled trial of a moderate-fat, low-energy diet compared with the low fat, low-energy diet for weight loss in overweight adults
Harvard: How to get to your healthy weight
Harvard University Gazette: Low carb more effective than low fat
Health: Good Fats, Bad Fats
Shape.com: The Big Fat Truth