Fat gets a bad rap. It’s been blamed for everything from heart disease to obesity, and has been demonized for decades by both the media and the mainstream medical establishment.
But is fat REALLY the enemy everyone makes it out to be?
Today we’re going to be tackling that question and debunking some of the common myths surrounding this controversial topic. We’ll also be talking about why fat is important, and the different types of fat you need to eat for optimal health.
Why Fat Is NOT The Problem
Before we talk about why fat is important and why you should be eating enough of it, let’s start by debunking a few of the common myths. Because, contrary to what you may have read in the media, fat is not the dietary devil that it’s made out to be.
Myth #1: Fat Causes Heart Disease
This is probably the BIGGEST myth that needs debunking- “fat causes heart disease”. In fact, most of us have heard this so often that it’s become “common knowledge”.
Well, here’s a little bit of background to clear things up. The fat/heart disease connection goes way, way back in time to the 1950’s, when a physiologist named Ancel Keys put forward his theory that dietary fat was the main driver of heart disease (also known as the “lipid hypothesis”).
Keys initially came up with the hypothesis after noting that the populations of southern Italy boasted a remarkably high life expectancy and a low rate of heart disease, drawing a link between the health of the people and their low animal fat diet (he would later go on to study other countries as well).
The problem is, while the media has pounced on the study and used it to demonize all things high fat, on closer inspection, Keys research doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Current researchers have noted that much of the data in the study was cherry picked to support his hypothesis, and a lot of other confounding variables were left out (sugar consumption, for example).
Even the American Heart Association has since altered its guidelines away from the long established low fat diet.
Myth #2: Fat Causes Obesity
Let’s get one thing straight- the ONLY thing that can make you gain fat is taking in more calories than you’re using.
Now, with that said, it’s important to note that foods high in fat also tend to be high in calories. Unlike protein and carbs, which both have 4 calories per gram, fat comes in at a whopping 9 calories per gram.
So yes, going overboard on fat does have the potential to make you gain weight. However, it’s also important to note that, for a lot of people, a high fat diet has the benefit of making them feel full and satiated (which ultimately reduces the amount of calories they eat).
Myth #3: Fat Causes Cancer
This one is just plain, straight up FALSE. The reason for the misconception is the fact that, in recent years, processed meats have been linked to colon cancer. And unfortunately, the media seems to keep conflating meat consumption with fat consumption.
It’s also important to note that, even with this link, the key word is processed – sausages, hot dogs, etc. Clean forms of meat like steak and chicken breasts absolutely do not fall into this category, and should be consumed as part of a healthy diet.
What Are The Different Types Of Fat?
So, we now know that fat is critically important, and that you should make sure you’re eating enough of it.
However, it’s also critical to understand that there are different types of fat. And in order to make sure your diet is on point, you need to be diversifying what you eat and getting enough of each.
The following is a quick guideline for you to follow, breaking down the different kinds of fats, and which food sources you can find them in.
Found primarily in animal products such as beef, eggs and dairy (as well as in coconuts) saturated fat any fat that is solid at room temperature.
It’s also the type of fat that’s received the MOST hate from the media. The original idea was that saturated fat “clogged your arteries” and ultimately lead to heart disease.
Fortunately for all you steak and egg lovers out there, the saturated fat/heart disease connection has been challenged in recent years by a lot of very compelling evidence.
Most fatty meats are also rich in cholesterol, the substance in your body responsible for (among other things), hormone production.
The second type of fat is unsaturated fat, which (as you might have guessed) is fat that is liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fat is found in foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, fish and various types of oils (olives, peanuts, etc.).
Unsaturated fat can be further broken down into “monounsaturated fat” and “polyunsaturated fat”. Both are important, with polyunsaturated containing omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These are what we refer to when we talk about “essential fatty acids”, because the body is unable to produce them on its own.
Omega-3 intake in particular is important, because its the type that most people seem to have a difficult time getting enough of (fish in particularly is rich in omega-3, so if you’re not already doing so, consider adding it to your diet).
Last but not least, we have trans fat, an artificial fat added to processed foods to help solidify and preserve them.
While ALL the other fats on this list are important for good health, trans fats are the exception- there really is NO good reason to eat them, and they’ve been strongly linked to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes (pro tip – if you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label, it’s probably trans fat).