Back when I was 20, my diet consisted mostly of the following: Pepperoni Pizza Lean Pockets, Baked Ruffles Chips, and Reduced-Fat Cheez-Its.
As painful as it is to publicly admit that, I was sadly brainwashed by the no-fat monsters that took over Big Food. And that brings us to today’s post: Let’s talk about the F word.
I think the most important distinction when talking about fat is realizing the difference between dietary fat (the fat that you consume), and body fat (the adipose tissue that you have in your body). What’s the difference, you ask? Doesn’t one cause the other?
In a word, NO.
Let’s take a trip back in time to the early 1980’s. No, not so we can all wax nostalgic about John Cusack and that awesome boom box, but so that we can see where this whole fat debate started.
The early 1980’s is when the whole “Low-Fat” Fad started, mostly because of some scientists who gathered some very limited information and then shouted from the rooftops that fat consumption is dangerous and leads to heart disease. This misinformation spread through the media and government like wildfire, and thus begun years of recommendations to decrease fat in the American diet.
The funny thing is, right around the same time that the average American decreased their daily fat intake, the average American started getting fatter, and fatter, and yes still, fatter. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the increase in low-fat diets coincided with an insane spike in the obesity rate in the country, which is unfortunately still growing today.
Throughout this time, the food industry capitalized on highly processed, low-fat foods that were cheap to make and thus led to a large profit margin for them. And we Americans, well, we gobbled it right up! Low-fat cheese! Margarine! Non-fat cookies! Non-fat chips! (Never mind the anal-leakage caused by Olestra, there’s NO FAT!!) So what
were are all of these non-fat food substitutes made of?
A whole lot of sugar and highly refined carbohydrates.
Can someone (anyone?) please explain to me that if fat is the culprit, why did Americans suddenly have a spike in the overweight/obesity rate as soon as fat was severely decreased in their diet? Wouldn’t it be a little bit more logical to conclude that fat was not in fact the culprit at all, but the ridiculously high amounts of sugar that people were now eating?
You may think that maybe it was because that was around the time that people started eating more fast food. Quite the contrary: There was actually a steady increase in consumption of fast food throughout the 70s and 80s, however, there was never a spike in fast-food consumption that correlated with the obesity rate.
During the past 10-15 years, there have been numerous studies which have found no direct link between dietary fat and body fat. They have found, however, that body fat is directly related to excess caloric consumption, as well as other more complicated conditions. One thing that research has proven about fat is that it increases the palatability (Yumminess!) and satiety of food, which is what leads people to overeat. Yes, this may be true, but it is not the fat alone that is causing people to gain body fat, it is the beyond-excess caloric consumption that is doing so.
At this point some people might be thinking “Hey Moron, fat has more calories than carbs (9kcal/g vs 4), so of course it makes you fat!”
True, it does. I won’t fight you on that one. Caloric intake vs. expenditure is always important when talking about fat loss and body composition. However, fat takes much longer for your body to digest, so including it in your diet will help you to stay more satisfied between meals, and you will be able to eat less throughout the day due to the satiety factor. If your goal is fat loss, just make sure that you have a caloric deficit, and dietary fat can (and should) be your friend!
If you don’t believe me, or for more info on the glorious F word, you can find a great review article here, and I also have several PDF files of others if you would like to read them. Or, if you’re in for a little bit of a lengthy read, check out this great article from the NY times in 2002. As this post was just a broad overview of this amazing topic, in another post I will be going into more of the specifics about the different types of fats, such as the supposedly evil Saturated Fat, so keep on the lookout for that soon!
Now I’m going to go eat some eggs. Who’s with me?!?