Drop that skim cappuccino! I have some news. Fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact… eating a diet that is higher in the right type of fats can actually help you to lose weight AND feel satisfied, more energised and all round healthier. I know. Shocking right? For years we have been told by food manufacturers and advertisers (who ALWAYS have our best interests at heart… not) that low-fat is the way to go. That we should cut out things like butter and whole eggs. That we should have low-fat milk, and yoghurt, and cheese, and lean meat products. We should probably even limit our intake of avocado right? Because that contains fat. And my favourite right now? Has anyone seen the TV ad with the children carrying lumps of fat and saying how their mum saved them from this enormous saturated fat consumption by switching to margarine? It genuinely brings tears to my eyes, the message is so misleading and downright dangerous.
“But how can this be true?” I hear you ask… Really it comes down to our biochemical makeup.
Every macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) that we eat, has a corresponding appetite hormone. While it is much more complicated than what I am about to present, for today we are just going to focus on two things –
- Insulin – which primarily responds to carbohydrate consumption, and
- Cholecystokinin – which primarily responds to fat consumption.
Now for a brief science lesson…
Insulin is a hormone secreted by specialised pancreatic cells in response to increased blood glucose concentration (among other things). Our blood is constantly striving to maintain homeostasis (balance) at all costs – something to discuss another day. While we do need some glucose in the blood (low blood sugar can be just as detrimental as high blood sugar), the body likes to keep it within a delicately balanced range. As such, when we eat a meal that contains carbohydrate, the body secretes insulin to get the glucose out of the blood and into the cells. HOWEVER – the cells will only take as much glucose as they need at that point in time. The rest will be converted to glycogen (a storage form of glucose found in the liver and muscles), and the remainder is converted to fat.
Ok, stay with me…
In general, this is an effective mechanism. But can you see how it (relatively) quickly brings the blood sugars back to “pre-carbohydrate consumption” levels? For this reason we will begin to feel hungry again and the cycle continues.
Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone that is secreted by cells in the small intestine (it is also found in the central nervous system, but we will leave that for now) primarily in response to the ingestion of fats. CCK acts to stimulate the gall bladder to release bile, the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, as well as delay gastric emptying, regulate our food intake and feelings of satiety as well as regulate bowel motility.
On a really simplified level if we put insulin and CCK side by side we see that while they both have a vitally important role in the body, insulin is encouraging fat storage and does not promote satiety, while CCK encourages fat digestion and promotes feelings of fullness.
Furthermore, fats play critical roles throughout the rest of the body. They aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (meaning you CANNOT absorb these nutrients without fat), they provide the building blocks for our cell membranes, hormones and other hormone-like substances, they provide insulation for our organs (this is actually really important!), they support brain health (around 60% of our brain IS fat), aid a number of conversions/reactions within the body, and the list goes on…
Let’s take a quick look at our low-fat foods. These don’t sit well with me AT ALL for a number of reasons:
- Any food that has had the fat component removed or reduced has been refined. My food philosophy is around eating whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible. Low-fat just does not fit the bill.
- Many low-fat food products have stacks of added sugar, preservatives and food chemicals to make them taste palatable and feel nice in your mouth. Have you ever stopped to think how a low or no fat yoghurt can still feel creamy and have a thick consistency? I encourage you to start reading your food labels and avoid anything that contains numbers, bizarre chemical abbreviations, or anything that you couldn’t pick up off the shelf as a single ingredient really.
- They are misleading. I don’t want to get started on food politics, but this topic is well researched and evidence based. It ain’t secret. Food manufacturers know it, yet they continue to depict low-fat food products as the healthy alternative.
“But eating fatty food makes me feel bleh…”
Not all fats are the same – I will go into this more over the next few days. On top of this, your body is very clever, and over time adjusts the enzymes it secretes based on the kinds of foods you usually ingest. Therefore, if you have not been eating much fat, it will take a few days for your body to adapt, so go slowly. For some people with gall bladder issues, increased fat consumption can be difficult to manage, even painful. My advice is listen to your body, and don’t make any drastic changes.
“But I am trying to control my cholesterol levels, I don’t want them to go up…”
Here is another food myth. Dietary intake of fat and cholesterol is not correlated with blood triglycerides (fat) and cholesterol levels. Want to know what is? Sugar. I will go into this further over the coming days as well.
“But fat contains more calories per gram that protein or carbohydrate…”
Correct. But as I have outlined, the consumption of fat helps to control your appetite and feelings of satiety. Think of it like this… When we ingest protein and fat we are able to flick the “off” switch for our appetite. The body is effectively able to recognise that we have been fed and are subsequently full. Therefore we don’t feel the need to eat again so soon and it has been well documented that our caloric intake over the day will go down in the long run. Sugar/carbohydrate doesn’t have the same effective mechanism. Which wasn’t a bad thing back when we were cavemen. When food was more scarce and we didn’t know where our next meal would come from, sugar meant energy in both useable and storage forms. Therefore it was extremely advantageous to be able to pig out on a fruit tree that we stumbled across… yet not so advantageous in this day and age when food is not scarce, and we rarely, if ever, go through periods of famine.
So that’s the start of the story of fats. Over the next few days I will discuss in more depth about the different kinds of fat and which ones I believe you should include in your diet, and which you should definitely avoid.
If you want further guidance around increasing your fat consumption then I would love to see you for a consultation in my clinic. Please click HERE to schedule your appointment. But for now, ditch the low-fat products and don’t feel guilty for doing it. Your taste buds and your body will thank you!