What are fats anyway?
Fats are a vital substance in our bodies that utilizes certain vitamins to help our organs to function properly, keep skin healthy, and is our body’s main way to store energy. Fats are made up of three molecules that are joined together, otherwise known as “triglycerides.” Our bodies make most of the fats we need but the ones we can’t, we are able to get it from our food sources. Or what you’ve probably heard as “essential fats”.
What is fat’s purpose?
As stated above, fats utilize and transport certain vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K throughout the body.
A quick breakdown of those vitamins:
- A – maintenance of immune system and helps with eyesight.
- D – aids intestinal tract to absorb calcium, magnesium, and phosphate.
- E – acts as an antioxidant in the body.
- K – helps with blood coagulation and binding calcium to the bones.
Fats from food sources, such as omega-3 fats, help to keep the heart healthy. They also add flavor to our foods, and keeps us satisfied longer after a meal. In this age of excess calories, this is an important thing to note on how to keep your weight manageable and maintainable.
If it’s so important to the human body, why the bad rap?
There are multiple reasons for the misunderstanding of fats. Mainly, new and emerging research of the 1950s and ’60s had it linked to coronary heart disease because it showed that it increased LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol, which later was proved to be overblown and exaggerated. It didn’t help, though, that the sugar industry quietly paid off (which is circumstantial) Harvard scientists to suggest that fat leads to heart disease. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the low-fat craze of the ’80s and ’90s and its link to “healthy living”. What we didn’t realize at the time, that anything low in fat tasted like garbage. So, in order for companies to keep us buying the product, they spiked it with refined sugar. It is now common knowledge that refined sugars and processed carbs are more of culprit to heart disease than fats. This leads to the next question.
Why are high-fat (ketogenic) diets all the craze now?
First, the ketogenic diet is simply a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carb diet that forces the body to use fats as its primary energy source instead of carbohydrates. Second, human beings are funny in that way. We see a shiny, new toy and we have to have it. We see a celebrity on a keto diet and we think it’s as simple as that. Of course, it never is and if you’re going to ignore energy balance then it won’t matter how “healthy” the diet is promoted. You’ll still run into the same issues.
Although the ketogenic diet exists since ancient Greek times and used in the 1920s and ’30s as a treatment for epilepsy, the current craze was made popular by none other than Dr. Robert Atkins or “The Atkins’ Diet” back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The diet picked up steam during the early to mid-2000s with the release of books like: “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes, “The Warrior Diet” by Ori Hofmekler, and more recently with “Wired to Eat” by Robb Wolf. It became a solidified viable option when celebrities like Halle Berry, LeBron James, Tim Tebow, and the Kardashians started to report their effects and benefits.
Should people be on a high-fat diet?
My personal opinion is, yes. With hundreds of clients trainings on not only their workouts but also their eating habits, I found that clients who adhered to a high fat, adequate-protein, reasonable carbohydrate (fruits, veggies, tubers) diet had the most success. Both in obtaining their goals and sustaining them after our sessions have ended. The reason being simply that fats and proteins take longer to process through the body. They require more energy to break down which, as I stated above, keeps us satiated longer. Think about it:
How easy is it to blow through a huge plate of pasta with some bread versus a 10 oz steak and a cup of rice?
More importantly, there is new and mounting evidence that high fat/adequate protein diets were the preferred way of eating for homo sapiens over the last 500,000 years. That’s because of the energy requirements that our brains needed as we started to evolve. Many people claim humans are “omnivores” by nature. But research showed that we tended towards fatty meats (fish, buffalo, woolly mammoths); and organs with carbs (berries, tubers) being optional. Or in a lot of cases the only choice if meat wasn’t available. Compared to the length of time humans have been around and eating a certain way, agriculture is a fairly new invention (10,000 years). Furthermore, it has only been a real, viable option for the everyday person in the last 100 years. That’s because unless you had access to good soil and/or you owned the land yourself, you were out hunting and gathering.
Even though I believe this approach to nutrition should be adopted by everyone, I understand why it is not. People’s personal religion, experiences, ideologies, and the vast misinformation over the last 70 years have lead to fear-mongering of an essential macro-nutrient. Doctors, dietitians, and bloggers have established entire careers telling people to avoid fats and meats. So it stands to reason that people are still hesitant about bringing them back into their diets.
What I tell clients is the issue is never in the meat or fat itself. It’s always in the quantity of it. As I stated earlier, it comes down to energy balance. If you are living a sedentary, high-stress lifestyle, it doesn’t matter if it’s keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, slim fast, south beach, or anything else. You’ll run into the issue of energy surplus at worst and macro/micro-nutrient deficiency at best.
I write this in hopes that people can expand their understanding of what fats actually are. And also for them to approach nutrition with a deeper appreciation for nuance and complexity. As always, I’m here to help.