Why Are We Still Fearing Fat?

The low-fat craze picked up momentum in the 1980’s and taught consumers to fear fat and switch to low fat alternatives through cleverly devised marketing campaigns. These campaigns repeatedly told us that to be ‘skinny’ or ‘healthy’ this was the answer we had been looking for. So why after all these years is ‘FAT’ often considered a dirty word that so many still fear? Did we miss the memo (and I mean scientific research the dispels this)?

Let’s do a quick 101 nutrition recap. Fat is required:

  • For calcium to be absorbed into the bones
  • To protect the liver from alcohol and medications
  • For proper brain development and function which is particularly important for children
  • To assist with proper nerve functioning which influences the metabolism and regulates insulin
  • To regulate thyroid function which balance hormones
  • To keep us satiated

Are all FATS created equal? Absolutely not!! There are distinct advantages to including some whilst excluding others. For example, saturated fat which has been in the headlines for some time and caused quite a lot on controversy is a good one to start with. Saturated fat from QUALITY animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy and create the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. When you eat saturated fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. Saturated fat also acts as a carrier for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes. Saturated fat is the most satiating form due to its chemical structure. Saturated fat such as coconut oil is considered a medium chain fatty acids which means it has a chain of 8-10 carbons which makes it easy for the body to digest and process. 

Let me set the record straight!! I am not saying that you can eat unlimited quantities of saturated fat but I wanted to highlight what this source of fat does from a nutrition stand point and how quality sources in moderation can support wellness.

On the other end of the scale are trans fats which come from vegetable oils that have gone through processing such as method of being partially hydrogenated. In simple terms, the vegetable oil is treated until it becomes hardened into a margarine or type of shortening and then used in your favorite snack bars, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, fries and crackers. Trans fats are ones that you definitely need to be aware of due to the inflammatory response it causes on the body. This is where reading the ingredients list is important and avoiding fats that have been hydrogenated or fractionated that most commonly pop up in ‘healthy’ snacks such as protein and snack bars.

Before I sign off, I wanted to leave you with something to ponder regarding our fear of fat. We are aware of the different fat types and the benefits but take a moment to consider what happens to food when it is highly processed and stripped of fat? What needs to be added to maintain taste? 

SUGAR!! The answer is sugar!! Think about low fat and no fat dairy as an example. It tastes like chalk without fat (or I imagine it would). To create appeal and taste, sugar and often lots of it is added for taste. Next time you take a trip to the grocery store, look at the ingredients list on low fat and no fat items. Do the ingredients seem nutrient dense? How much sugar is in the product?

In 2020, with all the research we have available, should we better understand how different fats can support our health and start to better investigate how much sugar we are consuming in our diet?