Big Fat Lies!

Here’s a summary of the lies we have been told since the 1960s:

  1. Saturated fat causes heart disease
  2. Fat makes you fat
  3. Low-fat foods are healthy options
  4. The healthiest diet is low-fat
  5. Processed margarines are more healthy than butter
  6. High cholesterol foods are bad for you

We have been told these lies for the last 50 years, so it’s no surprise that the truth is hard to swallow (‘scuse the pun).

We are only starting to realise how important fat is for our health.

If you want to know more about these lies, read this full post, but if you just want to know some easily digestible (oops, there I go again) fat facts, here you go;

  1. Foods containing trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats are found in processed foods and will be noted in the ingredients on packets as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils. These fats are now banned in the US.
  2. Cooking oils and fats need to be used in different ways to avoid bad cholesterol (LDL).  See the table further down giving guidance.
  3. Eating in moderation is key.  Don’t overdose on coconut oil, and stuff your face with lard or butter ‘just because you can’. A healthy diet is a balanced diet, so mix-up your consumption of fats and oils; eat nuts and seeds, eat oily fish, have a steak now and again, have some butter on your vegetables, use coconut oil with your stir fry!
  4. If you are still eating a lot of carbs and sugar, then adding the wrong fats to your high sugar diet will lead to heart disease, cancer, and diabetescarbohydrates and sugar are the root of heart disease.
  5. You won’t be hungry just because you cut down on carbs: fat is more fulfilling. Food cravings significantly diminish as your body shifts from burning carbs and sugars, to burning fat as its primary fuel. Once you’re fully fat adapted, cravings are a distant memory. If you’ve reduced your carb intake and replaced it with healthy fat but still struggle with hunger pangs, it’s a sign that you need to add more fat to your diet.
  6. If you want to start eating more fat, see your doctor first (preferably one that knows about nutrition).

The bottom line is…

We cannot live without fat – it’s essential to life and is a necessary part of every cell in our body.

So here’s some background information on the lies outlined above.

Lie 1. Saturated fat causes heart disease

Before 1920, coronary heart disease was rare in the US, but between 1920 and 1960 the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid fifties heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans, and it remains so.

In the ’50s, an American Pathologist called Keys excluded key demographics and used statistically insignificant samples in his research in an effort to prove his own hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease. Keys had friends in the right places in the US government, and in ’77 they adopted his view that saturated fat causes heart disease, and very soon the rest of the world followed suit.

British researchers held out for decades, pointing out the huge amount of evidence from around the world, from India to the Arctic that contradicted Keys’s hypothesis, but unfortunately too much money (half a billion pounds) had been put into support of Keys’s hypothesis, and so the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease just started to seem like common sense (see ‘The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet’, by Nina Teicholz).

If heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, then we would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. But this isn’t the case. In fact here are some figures for you (taken from The Skinny on Fats);

  • from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%;
  • butter consumption declined from 8kg to 2kg per person per year;
  • During the past 80 years consumption of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils has increased about 400%;
  • The consumption of sugar and processed foods has increased by about 60%.

I don’t need to spell out the significance of these numbers (or if I do, just say and I’ll update this post).

In the last five years, many researchers have recanted on their stance against saturated fat, after numerous scientific studies showed “no significant evidence” that saturated fat in the diet is associated with heart disease. Have dietary fats been needlessly vilified?

Lie 2. Fat makes you fat. 

The presence of fat in the small intestine produces a hormone that acts as a hunger suppressant.  Unfortunately, bodies on LOW FAT diets will keep sending and receiving hunger signals; you may have eaten your calorie allowance for the day but you will still be hungry, therefore you will end up snacking or eating more than you should.

If you eat more than your daily calorie allowance in fat, then yes, you will probably get fat; eating excess calories of anything makes you fat.  It’s more likely that your body fat is caused by a high carbohydrate (AKA sugar) diet (see my other blog post on Sugar).

Lie 3. Low fat foods are healthy options. 

Foods that are labelled as ‘low fat’ are created by removing the fat and adding sugar and other chemicals (take a look at the ingredients on ‘low fat’ foods the next time you shop).  I’m not going into the ‘sugar’ thing again and how it causes cancer and diabetes.

Lie 4. The healthiest diet is low fat. 

The reality is, that without fat, we can’t efficiently absorb and utilise the vitamins A, D, E, and K. Not absorbing these vitamins has a dramatic consequence on our reproductive system, our ability to burn calories and, more importantly, our ability to stave off wrinkles …joke, obviously!  But on a serious note, eating a low fat diet will stop you absorbing vitamin A (you may recall ‘Retinol A’ references in adverts for face creams) and thus increase the likelihood of acne and wrinkles – so forget the botox and eat more fat.

Lie 5. Processed margarines are more healthy than butter.

Processed margarines and spreadable butters contain trans fats. Not only do trans fats raise levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, but it also strips from our bodies the good (HDL) cholesterol; the kind that unblocks arteries.

Trans fats are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.  Hydrogenation is a process used to turn liquid fats into solids, helping to extend the shelf life of processed food. These fats are now banned in the US, however I’m sure it won’t be long until manufacturers find an alternative that is just as bad.

Lie 6. High cholesterol foods are bad for you. 

There is good and bad cholesterol.  Measuring total cholesterol is not a measure of health.  Low or no cholesterol diets have been linked to health problems like mood and sleep disorders, adrenal burnout, infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and extreme PMS, due to the body’s inability to manufacture key hormones.

Good cholesterol (HDL) is an important antioxidant, it helps the body to heal and counteracts bad cholesterol (LDL) by unblocking arteries.

Oxidised cholesterol (LDL) is bad. It is created when certain fats are heated to high temperatures. This includes trans fats. This is where the type of fat we use in cooking is absolutely key. The table below gives guidance on what fat to use for what purpose.

What fats can I use?

Some oils are not on the list for a reason…

Rapeseed (Canola) Oil: The jury is still out on this one.  I pulled this out from the general Vegetable and Seed oils below because I know a lot of people in the UK use it.  Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil is perfectly safe when its cold, and its said to be high in Omega 3 & 6, but that doesn’t mean much – read this article and read on further below.  It’s actually a genetically modified oil, as the original ‘Rapeseed’ oil was banned in 1956 because of its toxicity. In fact, it’s called Canola Oil in the US specifically BECAUSE there are negative associations with the original name. If you do decide to use it, don’t heat it.  Its a polyunsaturated fat, which when heated, forms free-radicals (stuff you don’t want in your body!).

Vegetable and Seed Oils:  As above, these ‘unsaturated’ oils produce free radicals when heated, but also they are very high in Omega 6; this is an easily accessible nutrient because it’s in so much of our food, and if it’s not in balance with Omega 3 (found in oily fish), is a major cause of inflammation. Data from observational studies suggests that consumption of oils containing a high amount of Omega 6, is strongly associated with violent behaviour and murder. I’m switching to lard for my Sunday roasties to avoid arguments!!

Fat Type How to use it
Coconut Oil (Saturated) cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Butter

(Saturated)

cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Lard

(Saturated)

cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Cold Pressed Olive Oil,

(Monounsaturated)

cold or at low-medium heat
Avocado Oil

(Monounsaturated)

cold or at low-medium heat

You can’t find the oil you like to use?  Well that’s probably because it’s a vegetable or seed oil as mentioned above.

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