Does eating fat cause us to gain fat?
For me, it started with a man named David. A man who was telling the masses that fat is the one thing we are missing from our diets that will help us shed pounds and build muscle without suffering every day in the gym.
For me, it started with butter in the coffee. The idea was grotesque to me. I like my coffee early, and black and adding a hunk of butter to it seemed inappropriate and ineffective.
So, I read his book. David Asprey’s The Bulletproof Diet. Right there on the cover is a prideful note on how David is the inventor of the buttered coffee craze.
I tried it. I, truthfully, enjoyed the flavor. It was creamy and frothy, and pretty soon after, it made my stomach clench and gurgle.
Pain is beauty, they say. I say, stick to the black coffee… But, there still might be something here.
Maybe we have gotten fat wrong? Perhaps we have underutilized an essential aspect of our diet because we do not properly know thy enemy?
A Deep Dive Into Dietary Fat
The Good Fat
In the 1970s, the “diet-heart hypothesis” came out and encouraged North Americans to fear and avoid fat. We began seeing “heart-healthy” on cereal boxes and concern for cholesterol at a new high. People were scared of the name, the threat of high cholesterol, and the fact that fat is more calorically dense than carbohydrates.
So, why bother with it at all? We are told if we want to lose or maintain our weight, above all else, we need to worry about our calorie content within a day.
I, personally, am someone who, due to my extensive research, is all about quality over quantity when it comes to calories. While I leave the calculator at home, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the benefits of healthy fats and the threat of the unhealthy fats we have been deceived by.
The truth is, calories are not the enemy, and neither is fat. The issue is false advertising and a lack of information from the powers-that-be. Due to this, we owe two innocent bystanders an apology: polyunsaturated (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).
These two dietary fats are the “good” fats essential to us as they boost our energy levels and help us absorb vitamins. Foods such as salmon (rich in omega-3 fatty acid, which falls under the PUFAs umbrella) and extra virgin olive oil (MUFAs) are nutrient-dense and loaded with the good kinds of fat. This is why they are constantly being recommended to us as substitutes for red meat (though red meat is not nearly as much of a villain as we have been led to believe) and vegetable/canola oils (the true villains in our tale).
Studies have shown that these PUFAs and MUFAs improve blood cholesterol levels, decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to boost heart health by improving cholesterol levels, reducing blood clotting and irregular heartbeats, and slightly lowering blood pressure. You can find this within various fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, and sardines (but beware of the toxins and mercury when straying outside of your wild-caught salmon).
Alongside the fish, feel free to add other fatty options such as avocados, cheese, whole eggs (cage-free), nuts, or full-fat yogurt. The best part? Dark chocolate is 65% fat and has a host of other notable nutrients such as magnesium and iron, fiber, and loads of antioxidants, so don’t skip dessert!
The Bad Fat
The villains in this story are namely trans (or trans-fatty acids) and saturated fats which have been proven to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by raising your “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein, or “LDL”) and lowering your “good” (high-density lipoprotein, or “HDL”). These guys are the reason fat has been misjudged for so long. The USA is not much help to the general consumer, either, as they put 0 mg on the label if trans fat is under .5 grams in a serving.
Meaning, the USA is helping clog your arteries by acting none the wiser for the sake of cash flow. Now, that is scary! It is also something the FDA is looking to remedy by prohibiting food manufactures from using.
Look at the ingredients to anything in your cupboard, and I promise you will realize you have been old friends without even realizing it (namely microwavable popcorn, fried foods, and devastatingly, baked goods such as pies, cookies, and cakes).
The good news? Frank Hu, an MD at Harvard, performed a study regarding this issue to discover that, despite previous statements, people only increased in weight when the saturated and trans fats in their diets ran high. Upping the intake of unsaturated fats had no connection and was even linked to weight loss.
This is likely because saturated and trans fats trigger insulin resistance that causes our cells not to absorb glucose like they are engineered to. Our bodies then increase their output of insulin (which is a hormone that promotes fat accumulation), thus adding more weight to our bodies.
What are we to do?
Be aware! Read your ingredients list and look into your diet if you are worried something may be causing you harm in the form of discomfort, inflammation, or weight gain. Remember that once you cut something out of your diet like dietary fat, you run the risk of substituting it with simple carbs, which are unlikely to help in any department.
While we can acknowledge the benefits of PUFAs and MUFAs over saturated and trans fats, it is vital to note that even MUFAs (like red meat and dairy) have the potential to increase your weight. This is not necessarily a bad thing, rather what happens when you eat from an animal source that is packaged with an array of good and bad elements.
As I always say: everything in moderation! Try to incorporate salmon or other fatty fish into your diet (double-check mercury and toxin risk, wild-caught always). Throw away the partially hydrogenated vegetable and canola oils.
Do yourself a favor and drizzle olive oil on everything (!) you eat. Beware the inner aisles of the grocery store. Remember that weight gain is natural, and unless you are at risk for diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, listen to your body and eat as freely as you can.
Whether you are sipping coffee with a heavy dose of butter or coughing from spoon-feeding yourself EVOO (a good mark for clean and real olive oil), know that what you need is different from your neighbor. Continue to seek out natural foods from authentic sources (animal or plant), and always listen to your gut!