– By Samantha Harris
In our health conscious society, fat is seen as the ultimate nutritional enemy. We have been conditioned to choose ‘low fat’ options over other products without really understanding the implications of such decisions. We are under the illusion that fat makes us fat. In this article I will attempt to alter these views and explain the importance of fat in the diet for general health as well as weight loss. I also hope to give insight into the real nutrient that we should be worried about.
Types of Fat
Before I go on to explain the importance of fats in our diet, it is important to understand that there is some truth to the rumours. There are different categories of fat and indeed, not all are good for us.
Monounsaturated fats – avocados, nuts, olives – and polyunsaturated fats – seeds, fish, soy – are excellent sources of fat and have many health benefits. Their main advantage is that they promote the production of HDLs, which help in the break down of cholesterol.
Saturated fats –cheese, butter, lard – and trans fats –fried food, packaged food, pastries – are extremely bad and should be kept to a minimum in the diet. These promote LDL production, which transport cholesterol to body cells, where it builds up and blocks vessels. In the long term, this leads to coronary heart disease – atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart failure etc.
The Importance of Fat for Weight Loss and Health
Now that we understand the types of fats we should be consuming, we can begin to understand how they can help us to achieve our health goals.
Fat sends signals to the brain telling us that we are full. If we are skimping on the fat, we will not know when we are satisfied and may therefore continue to indulge. Over-eating is a huge cause of weight gain and fat can help to limit this effect.
Low fat = Low Protein
Red meat is high in fat and therefore, those of us opting for a low fat diet, may miss out on it. Animal protein contains all eight essential amino acids and we need these to function properly. Without them we can experience fatigue, slow wound healing, infections, brittle hair and nails etc. Also, the body needs protein to build muscle. This is an essential part of weight loss as the more muscle we have, the greater our calorie burning rate.
Low Fat = High Carb
Fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient. Therefore, we do not need to eat as much of it in order to get our recommended calorie intake and feel full. If we are missing out on the fat, it is likely that we will be compensating by over eating on carbohydrates in an effort to reach our calorie goals. Carbs cause an increase in blood sugar, which eventually drops after a couple of hours. When this happens, our metabolism slows down and we begin to store excess food as fat, which leads to weight gain.
Low Fat Products
Even if we do not mean to increase carb intake, when buying low fat alternatives, it is hard to avoid. For the majority of foods, fat is added for flavour. This means that in order for low fat products to taste nice, extra sugar must be added to compensate. Whilst some people may be content with this substitute, I am going to explain why it is not a good idea!
Types of Dietary Sugar and What it Does to Our Bodies
Sugar occurs in three different forms; glucose, fructose and sucrose. Refined sugar, or table sugar, is made up of sucrose, which the body breaks down into glucose and fructose. Glucose is used for energy by the muscles and brain, but fructose serves little purpose. Instead, it has problematic effects on various hormones in our body, which can increase our chances of weight gain.
Store More Fat
The hormone insulin removes glucose from the blood stream. If we eat a high sugar diet, we become resistant to insulin and need to secrete more to feel the effects. This leads to excess insulin in the blood and unfortunately, another characteristic of this hormone is that it tells fat cells to pick up and store more fat. Clearly this is never going to end well.
Doesn’t Satisfy Hunger
Ghrelin is a hormone that regulates appetite. The more Ghrelin in the blood, the hungrier we feel. Fructose stops the break down of this hormone, meaning we continue to eat, thinking we are hungry.
Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells which gives the body information on how much fat is being stored. Excess fructose consumption causes a resistance to Leptin and so the body cannot detect the hormone’s production levels. Overall, we cannot tell when our fat stores are full. This means we continue to eat, as we do not feel the urge to stop.
Time to Change Our Mindset
Unfortunately, society has brainwashed us to believe that these low fat fad diets will be good for us in our battles to lose weight. In reality, this is not the case. If we eat low fat, we tend to overcompensate by eating more carbs in order to feel full. Whilst complex carbs are ok, sugars are a bad idea when it comes to weight loss. The fructose in the sugar affects the functioning of our hormones, ultimately leading to the body storing excess fat. Clearly this is not our objective.
So, my advice is to stick to eating healthy fats. Yes you should avoid indulging in pastries and cheeses, but you need the good fats from nuts, seeds, avocadoes etc in order to feel satisfied and content. You don’t need to consume these in huge doses, but a little a day will go along way to helping with weight loss goals. Despite what you may think, fat does not make you fat!