Sounds all wrong doesn't it? Surely eating fat makes us fat! Well, yes and no. Confused? Let me explain.
In order to survive, the body need three macronutients: Fat, protein and carbohydrates.
When we cut out or limit any one of these macronutrients, our bodies and, consequently health, is negatively affected.
In fact, fat is essential for normal growth and development of the human body, it provides energy, protects our organs, maintains cell membranes, and helps the body absorb and process nutrients.
Therefore fat, one of our macronutrients, is not something we can choose whether or not to eat, it's essential to our health. But, before you head out to your local branch of McDonalds for a Big Mac Meal with extra fries let me explain a little more about fat, because, sadly, it's not quite as simple as I've made out.
Not all fats are the same. And the fats you choose to eat could mean the difference between obesity, Type II diabetes topped with a side of heart disease and a trim, toned, beautiful body, energy and a large dessert of optimal health.
So, put down the family sized bag of Doritos and keep reading for the low down on why certain fats are so darn good and will actively help you to lose weight, which fats you should be eating more of and which fats you need to avoid like the plague.
Now, why eat fat?
1) Fat Burns Fat
Fat is high energy. That means it contains more energy per gram, in the form of calories, than either carbohydrates or protein. 9kcal per gram compared to 4kcal, in fact. And this snippet alone makes eating fat crucial for weight loss, because without fat in your diet you don't have the energy needed to burn calories and lose weight. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) this is because the body needs energy to keep its metabolism functioning effectively, so eating fatty acids works to boost the metabolism and have you burning calories even when you're sleeping.
But wait, there's more. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have found that stored sub-cutaneous fat (that lovely fat found around the bottom, tummy and thighs which often translates itself as lumpy bumpy cellulite) can't be burned away without consumed fat to facilitate the process. It does this by activating PPAR-alpha and fat burning pathways in the liver.
And a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (2009) found that those who consumed the most unsaturated fatty acids had the lowest body mass indexes and the least abdominal fat when compared to those who ate the least amount of these fatty acids. Researchers believe this is because they ate higher quality foods with more health supporting nutrients in them.
CONCLUSION: Eat fat to burn fat
2) Fat Keeps You Full
As we know fat is energy dense, which makes it harder for the body to digest, causing it to reside for longer within the digestive system, helping to make us fuller quicker and keep us fuller for longer. What's more a study carried out by the University of Pamplona (2008) found that those with diets high in Omega 3 fats feel more full immediately after eating as well as 2 hours later than those who eat low levels of Omega 3 fats.
Studies also show that monounsaturated fats help to stabilize blood sugar levels, helping to stop you reaching for that mid-afternoon snickers bar.
CONCLUSION: Eat fat to eat less
3) Fat Makes Food Taste Good
Fat tastes gooood. Fat makes the food it's in taste gooood. So, when food manufacturers decided it would be a great idea to strip the fat out of food in order to make more money out of us, they had to replace the tasty fat with something else that would make the food taste good. The result? Food full of sugar, salt and artificial flavourings. Nasty. Healthier? Hell no. Tastier. Probably not.
What this unhealthy craze has resulted in is both the damaging misconception that fat is bad but also diets lacking in this essential macronutrient. And more obesity.
So, why does removing fat from food actually lead to people becoming fatter? Well scientists argue that our taste buds can detect fat in food, so low-fat foods don't curb our cravings for this essential macronutrient. Our bodies still crave fat because instinctively we know we need it for optimal health. So, we often eat more than we would normally of other foods because our bodies are still feeling hungry for fat. What's more the sugar added to foods creates an insulin spike, which leads to more feelings of hunger.
CONCLUSION: Eat fat to satisfy hunger
4) Fat Builds Muscle
Studies repeatedly show that consuming healthy fats alongside a strength training exercise program can increase muscle mass. A study published in Clinical Science (2011) found that those who supplemented their diets with polyunsaturated fats for a period of 8 weeks had an increased protein concentration within the body and larger muscular cells. As we know, muscle is hungry and consumes more energy than fat, therefore increasing our body's resting metabolism helping us to burn more calories whether we're working out or sleeping.
Other studies have found that Omega 3 fatty acids work to stimulate protein synthesis and prevent muscle mass loss caused by aging.
CONCLUSION: Eat fat to boost your metabolism
5) Fat Makes Food Better For You
Vitamins A, D, E and K are, what we call, fat-soluble vitamins. This means that the body requires dietary fat in order to be able to absorb them. Without these vitamins your body is susceptible to a number of deficiencies and diseases, which can cause blindness, low energy, poor focus, blood clots, rickets, dry skin conditions and more. Yikes.
What's more, Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, helping your body to fight free radicals, prevent aging as well as aiding your metabolism. And recent research links deficiencies in Vitamin D to dementia and Alzheimer's as well as being connected to the body's ability to lose abdominal fat, according to clinical trials carried out by the University of Minnesota Medical School.
CONCLUSION: Eat fat to stay healthy
So now we know how important eating fat is for weight loss and general health, but which types of fat are we talking about?
Here's the low down:
The Good Fats // UNSATURATED
Most of the fat that you eat, especially if you want to lose weight, should come from unsaturated sources, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
1) Monounsaturated Fats
These fats work in the body to raise levels of the 'good' form of cholesterol called HDL and lower the levels of the 'bad' form of cholesterol called LDL, which helps to protect against plaque building up in the arteries leading to strokes and heart attacks.
This type of healthy fat is found in nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts, sesame seeds and fruits like avocados and olives.
2) Polyunsaturated Fats
This type of fat encompass the 'essential' fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 which are crucial for optimal health and functioning. Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats also decrease levels of LDL so minimizing the production and transportation of cholesterol between cells in the body.
It's important to maintain a healthy balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. It's easy to over-eat Omega 6 which, in excess, can lead to inflammation and heart disease. The ideal ratio is no more than 4 servings of Omega 6 fats to 1 serving of Omega 3 fats.
Omega 3 fats are found in oily fish, like sardines and tuna, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and Omega 6 fats are found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, meat and eggs.
TIP: Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature.
The Less Good Fats // SATURATED
High levels of saturated fats have been shown to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
But, before we fall into the trap of demonizing this type of fat too much, new research has argued that it's the overall nutritional content of foods which contain saturated fats, rather than the saturated fat itself, which is to blame for their negative effects on health. Whilst it's true that saturated fats raise LDL levels, they also raise HDL levels just as much, if not more, which works to protect the body, rather than harm it.
Saturated fats are generally found in animal products, and animal by-products like full-fat milk, cream, cheese and butter.
There are some plant sources of saturated fats, like coconut, cocoa butter and palm oil, but these don't contribute to health risks as much as the animal sources and coconut, in particular, has a number of important health benefits and is linked to a healthy metabolism.
TIP: Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature. Consume no more than 10% of your daily calories from this type of fat.
The Bad Fats // TRANS FATS
Now these are the baddies of the fat family, the naughty step-brother whose personality has been permanently changed by addictions to drugs and alcohol and long spells in prison.
This type of fat is a chemically modified version of unsaturated fat created in order to extend the shelf-life of packaged food. They work in the body to lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and raise the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) leading to heart disease. Excellent.
This type of fat is found in margarine, store bought fried and baked goods.
TIP: Food manufacturers are allowed to put 0 Trans fats if a single serving contains less than 0.5 grams. So, be careful and avoid any foods that list 'Hydrogenated', 'Non-Hydrogenated', 'Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil' or 'Trans Fats' on their ingredients.
Of your total daily calorie intake 25-30% of your calories should come from fat, with 0% coming from trans fats.
So, eat fat, your body needs it, just choose the right kinds of fat to eat; think whole, real foods like coconut, seeds, avocados and olive oils and avoid processed and deep fried foods which deliver no nutrients or health benefits at all and lead to heart disease, diabetes and obesity.