Afraid of Fat?

By Clare Murphy / August 16, 2015

Don’t fear fat in your diet… in fact, embrace it!

Often called the biggest mistake in nutrition history, the war on fat is deeply engrained in the minds and dietary practices of many of us. In fact, fat is so often mistaken as the culprit for disease and obesity, that in some cases the government’s dietary guidelines wrongfully advise against it. The truth is, fat is an extremely important nutrient to both the body and mind, and when it comes from a healthy source, it enhances your wellbeing.

So why do many of us still fear fat? It’s because we have been following the results of a bad scientific experiment that was performed a century ago!

In the early 1900’s, Russian scientists conducted a series of flawed experiments that found a high cholesterol diet caused heart disease in rabbits, linking cholesterol as the cause of dietary related disease. This research was wrong because cholesterol is found in animal fats, and rabbits are naturally vegetarians. It is no surprise that these rabbits got sick from eating food their digestive tracts were not built to handle! Later experiments found the same diet had no effect on heart health when given to rats, who more closely mimic human digestion.

Despite the blatant invalidity of this experiment, the results spread like wildfire, and eventually gave rise to the “Cholesterol Theory,” which pegged fats and cholesterol as the culprit for metabolic disorders and heart disease. The Cholesterol Theory gained popularity in the 1950’s, and was adopted by the American Heart Association. Soon after, the AHA issued warnings to consume less fatty products. Food companies began to create “low-fat,” “no-fat” merchandise, and scared people away from eating nutrient dense foods such as avocados, nuts, fish and some dairy products.

If the Cholesterol Theory were true, why has the health of Americans declined sharply since the low-fat diet trend was introduced? Although it might seem rational to associate a high fat diet with obesity and poor health, correlation does not equal causation. In the same way that driving a yellow vehicle does not automatically mean you are a school bus driver, eating saturated fat does not mean you are harming your health. A century ago, our great-grandparents ate saturated fat in abundance (think milk and butter straight from a cow, sans skimming process), and yet they had lower rates of metabolic and heart disease.

It is true that people who subside on fast food are consuming high amounts of fat, but there are other factors that contribute to poor health. Dangerous additives such as trans fat, sodium and refined sugar are a few of the culprits.

Trans fats are often created in processed foods. A trans fat forms when liquid oil is changed to become a solid fat during processing, and can be found in foods such as french fries and pie crust. High levels of sodium and sugar are also often included in processed, high-fat foods. Combining these ingredients creates a perfect storm of poison that is enough to cause disease.

When the fat is taken out of a product, something has to act as a filler to occupy the empty space that has been created. If the space were left void, the food would lose its taste, texture, and appeal. Sugar, particularly High Fructose Corn Syrup, is the perfect filler. It is abundant, cheap, tasty, and (literally) addicting. This is the reason why so many low/non fat foods have high sugar content. To give you an idea of how much is being added, experts estimate that American sugar consumption per person per year has increased a staggering 1,400% since the 1800’s.

So what is the best way to sift through the endless information on fat in the health community? It can be difficult to separate fat-fact from fat-fiction. Here’s a breakdown of the basics:

The source of the fat is an important factor in the effect of saturated fat on the body. For example, the saturated fat found in coconut oil or grass-fed ghee would be different than what would be found in a McDonald’s burger and a milkshake. You may have heard there are two types of cholesterol in the human body. HDL cholesterol stands for high-density lipoproteins. These are the large “fluffy” molecules that are not harmful to the body (think “H”DL “H”ealthy). LDL cholesterol stands for low-density lipoproteins, and these are the small, harder molecules that most people are familiar with from artery clogs and illness. Eating saturated fat does raise LDL levels, but it also raises HDL levels, which evens everything out. The refined sugar (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup) that typically comes along with high fat foods lowers HDL levels, leaving the LDL levels elevated and opening the door for many illnesses.

Instead of focusing on restricting particular macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that we have been led to believe are “bad” or “wrong,” we can look at the bigger picture and focus on cutting out the fake, processed foods we know to be damaging our health. Put simply, eating an avocado or adding nutritious ghee to a meal will have health benefits you wouldn’t get from eating a processed, packaged, low-fat food item.

Modern nutrition science has not only debunked the Cholesterol Theory, but has also proven that eating fat is good for health in many ways! Fats are important for maintaining a healthy body weight, hormone balance, proper mental functioning, a strong immune system, and a reduced risk of disease and cancer.

Ghee has been used for thousands of years as a healthy fat. It is an excellent energy source, since fats have more lasting power in the metabolic process than do carbohydrates, which are digested and used very quickly. It can be helpful in weight loss, immune strength, digestive health, disease prevention, and can even boost your mood! It is rich in many other vitamins and antioxidants, and is a very versatile food.

On your journey to better health, ghee is a great way to get in your daily dose of healthy fat when it is combined with nutrient rich, unprocessed foods. Don’t fear the fat… embrace it and how great your mind and body will feel when you do!