I refer to society's aversion to eating dietary fats as the 'Jane Fonda Syndrome'... Why? Because back in the 80's, bright coloured leg warmers and g-string leotards were as synonymous with getting fit and healthy, as counting calories and cutting fat from your diet. The interesting fact is when we decided to declare war on dietary fat, our waistlines actually expanded and the obesity epidemic was born! I blame this phenomena on a combination of the marketing messages being pedalled by food manufacturers, and plain old bad science, because when it comes to understanding the role fat plays in our diet and ensuing health, many of us have got it all wrong.
For a long time society viewed all fats as being nothing more than fattening sludge, that binds to our arteries and accumulates on our hips. The recommendation by health authorities to switch from full fat to low fat, or skim milk dairy products was great advice for how to eat more sugar! And herein lies the problem. You see when fat is removed from a food, it tastes terrible, so manufacturers have to replace it with something to improve the taste. The best way to achieve this, is to add sugar!
The truth is, not all fats were created equal, in that the different sources of dietary fats influence and shape our health in different ways. It's true dietary fats contain more calories than carbohydrates - at nine calories per gram, versus four calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein - but not only will the type of dietary fat you eat determine the health benefits, but eating healthy fats actually improves your metabolism and helps you to lose weight! Yep, I said it, eating fat actually helps you to lose weight!
But like I said, the health benefits of dietary fats, boils down to eating the right type from the right sources. I'm talking about sources of healthy fats like avocados, olive, macadamia and coconut oil, nuts and seeds, and my personal favourite...eggs. But even saturated fats - those naturally contained in animal products such as dairy, meat and coconut oil, are not the fats responsible for causing obesity, heart attack or stroke. These are the fat's that in fact stimulate our metabolic rate and prevent lifestyle diseases.
So if you've been scared off fats, or worried you'll become a walking heart attack if you dare indulge in eggs and bacon for breakfast, then the good news is, fear fat no more - unless it's from unhealthy sources like processed vegetable oils and margarine, or a lesser known 'bad' fat - oxidised fats. These are essentially fats that have either 'gone off' or become rancid - due to poor storage or exposure to air - or been burnt from overheating when cooking. Oxidised fats are the worst fats you can consume for your health, and remember, even the healthy fats can become oxidised if not handled the right way.
The other scenario when fats becomes bad for our health, is when we consume the wrong sources - like vegetables oils - canola, corn, soy or sunflower, or margarine. Similarly, fats can become fattening when we consume them with sugar - particularly the bad fats - polyunsaturated vegetable oils and trans fats. If you look at the foods containing many of these fats, they also contain high amounts of sugar - cakes, biscuits, pastries, processed yogurt, ice cream, flavoured milk, hot dogs, donuts... and so the list goes on. And because sugar is the most readily available source of fuel to the body, it will always choose sugar to burn for energy over fat or protein. So when fat is consumed in the presence of sugar, it will take a back seat - as far as the body's preference for energy.
Food labelling traps...
When it comes to reading food labels, I recommend you head straight to the sugar content followed by the ingredients list to identify the type of fat (avoid foods containing bad sources of fat, like vegetable oils). Watch out for foods labelled as '99% fat free' as this is generally code for 99% sugar. Steer clear of foods claiming to be 'low calorie' as terms like this are nothing more than a clever marketing ploy used to lure us into purchasing the product. Low fat or low calorie meals will typically cause you to eat more, because of the lack of fat to satiate your appetite.
The truth is we need fat in our diet - to signal to our brain that we are full, to reduce inflammation, (the hormonal response underlying nearly all lifestyle diseases) , regulate our hormone production and activity, generate heat to stay warm, boost our immune defences and maintain the integrity of our skin, hair and nails.
Eating a high fat meal (low in sugar) vs one high in sugar, will halve your appetite, so you will actually eat less. This is because sugar disrupts the function of the hormones in our brain, that tell us when we are full - so we go on eating. We can all relate to opening a bag of lollies or biscuits where one is just never enough and before we know it, we've gobbled the whole bag! Compare this scenario to opening a 50gm block of 85% dark chocolate - containing just 7gms of sugar vs eating a 50gm bag of lollies containing 5 times the amount of sugar at 35gms! Even milk chocolate contains four times the amount of sugar at 28 gms - a far cry from the sugar content in 85% dark chocolate - what's more you'd be hard pressed to eat more than a few pieces of 85% dark chocolate in one sitting.
I hope this week's post has helped to clear any confusion or fears you may have around dietary fats and if you're after more guidance on what to eat to help you lose weight and feel great, then why not check out my book Love Your Gut for a full run down on what to eat for a healthy gut as well as heaps of delicious recipes packed with healthy dietary fats.