The Fat Debate

by Peachy Palate on September 25, 2012

Low fat, high fat, full of fat…no fat…not forgetting the balanced approach!

There are so many conflicting messages out there about fat, whether or not it’s good for us, which types we should be consuming and the extent to which some forms of it are bad for us.

Having met with quite a few different people at the Health Exhibition last weekend I discovered just how world’s apart some people’s views are!

One couple I met were convinced that saturated fat wasn’t bad for you, they had lost weight consuming high levels of it, their cholesterol was fine and that was all they were concerned with. I suppose this sort of stance is quite superficial in my mind as they’re not considering the other potential damages saturated fat can have on the body and the direct correlations between it’s consumption and coronary heart disease.

There is certainly some current controversy/debate over whether or not saturated fat is directly correlated or not to heart disease and high cholesterol. Some are now suggesting that it has more do with refined carbohydrates and sugar. That said one has to question whether or not we should consume saturated fats seen as for the most part they are merely empty calories which could be put to much better use! I’ll discuss this further below as there are some exceptions!

Of course most of us I’m sure have heard of the Atkins Diet … a diet designed, marketed and sold to billions by an obese man with heart disease and high blood pressure…summed up perfectly by Dr. T. Colin Campbell! One of my favourite quotes from his book in relation to the Atkins Diet is “You can lose weight by undergoing chemotherapy or starting a heroin addiction, but I wouldn’t recommend those either!”

We go from one extreme to the other. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those people who battle each day to limit their fat in take, choosing low fat products where ever possible which for the most part are actually just as if not far unhealthier than their full fat counterparts. Laden with extra sugar and additives , you always have to question what fills that missing fat void! If they take something out they have to put something back in it’s place. As well as giving themselves additional problems associated with increased sugar and sweetener intake, those that choose unnaturally low fat alternatives and avoid fat are likely to be deficient in the fatty acids that our body needs to function properly.

I would have most definitely been a fat avoider for the greater part of my existence; suffering from eating disorders for the best part of 10 years, it came with the territory. Even during my recovery I always sought out low fat options as they offered a sort of psychological reassurance that I was following a healthy diet. I was definitely someone who feared fat, an element of the disorder which I most definitely put down to the influence of the media.

It’s only been over the past year, or perhaps even less that I’ve begun to re-embrace fat in various different forms and have achieved what I believe to be a balanced healthy approach. Of course it makes logical sense for a person trying to loose weight to reduce their fat intake; foods that are higher in fat are much more calorie dense so avoiding it altogether is in some ways the easy option, but it’s by no means a long term or idealistic solution.

There are three types of fat and each type, I believe, can be incorporated in to a healthy wholefood diet to help you achieve optimum nutrition (fantastic book)!

Polyunsaturated

Polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids, those that the body can’t provide; commonly known as Omega 3 & 6.  They promote healthy skin and hair, support proper thyroid and adrenal activity, boosting immunity, are required for growth and energy, and are crucial in the transport and breakdown of cholesterol!

Found in vegetable oils which are widely consumed, they are more often than not damaged; used in cooking, the high temperatures cause them to oxidise, so instead of being good for you, they release harmful free radicals. Those which are hydrogenated, for example to make margarine, an alternative to butter which people for years have deemed a healthier option, can’t be used by the body and actually block the bodies ability to use the healthy polyunsaturated fats available.

The best and most ideal way to consume polyunsaturated fats is through wholefoods. As a vegan my main sources are flaxseed (which should be milled so they can be more readily digested), cold pressed flaxseed oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed butter, soya beans, sesame seeds and tahini.

There are no official recommendations for Omega 3 & 6 intake but 100mg of the latter and approximately 400mg of Omega 3 are commonly cited as a good benchmark. A tablespoon of both pumpkin seeds or pumpkin nut butter, as well as a tablespoon of flaxseed (about 15g milled) should keep you well topped up! Smile

Monounsaturated

These fall somewhere between saturated and polyunsaturated fats….they don’t easily become rancid when used for cooking and they don’t cause cholesterol to accumulate as do saturated fats (though as mentioned the extent to which this is true is under scrutiny!)

Olive oil is is abundant in monounsaturated fat which is why it is promoted as the most ideal oil to use when cooking. Sunflower oil is also predominately made up of monounsaturated fat as is canola (rapeseed) oil; the fat found in avocados and almonds is also largely monounsaturated.

There have been some studies done which suggest that diets with healthy amounts of monounsaturated fat contribute to a reduced risk of breast cancer, lower risk of heart disease and potentially assist in weight loss.

I consume them as part of a wholefood diet in the form of nuts, nut butter and avocados. Aside from the potential benefits I now choose these foods as part of a balanced diet for their other beneficial properties namely their mineral and vitamin content and also the fact that they leave me feeling more satisfied! Ideally it’s thought they should make up about 7% of your total calorie intake; about 1/3 of your total fat intake.

Saturated

In the past all we have tended to hear is the bad about saturated fat and really the overwhelming message is to strictly limit them. The problem I feel exists with the foods being consumed that are high in saturated fat, such as refined carbohydrates and animal protein as opposed to the actual saturated fat itself as an isolated substance.

As already cited above saturated fat has been linked to raised levels of cholesterol as well as it being thought to be a contributing factor in the likelihood of the development of some cancers and a direct cause of heart disease. There is quite a few conflicting messages being communicated and with such disparity I feel ill qualified to even muster up a valid opinion!

I lean towards limiting saturated fat intake. Any research that has been done with regard to it’s damaging effects have been link to animal food sources and the same negative effects have not been proven with regard to the saturated fat found in plant sources. The only notable forms of saturated fat I readily consume are in the form of nuts, seeds and their associate butters, as well as coconut butter and oil. The health benefits of these foods completely overshadow any potential concern over their saturated fat content.

Coconut oil is a fantastic example of a substance which although largely made up of saturated fat, has far reaching benefits and can be put to much better use by the body than some of it’s longer chain saturated fat siblings! Coconut oil is made up of smaller molecules meaning they can be readily digested and utilised for energy, much like carbohydrates but without the blood sugar rush. It has also been found to increase metabolism, support the immune system and improve heart health!

In conclusion, once more, a wholefood, ideally plant based, if not predominantly so, can include all types of fat and should be sought out particularly from food sources as opposed to oils which have been largely stripped of their potential nutritional rewards!

Thoughts?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Aimee September 25, 2012 at 9:17 am

Ah the good old fat debate. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. While some people are insisting that saturated fat is great, and eating lots of animal fat, butter, etc. I believe that there is a reason why we have be told to avoid them for the past few decades. However, on saying that, give me pure butter as opposed to saturated-fat free margarine any day. I believe in that scenario butter is the better option (I know you’re vegan, but it was the only comparison i could think of).
As a result of also having an eating disorder, I thought fats were the devil, and avoided them. Yet wondered why on earth my skin was SO dry, and my brain was not functioning. Since increasing my fats my skin is a lot softer!
I think society as a whole still has a lot to learn about fats, for example, I said to some friends the other day ‘You do know that fat doesn’t make you fat?’ and they all looked at me as if I was an idiot and said ‘of course it does!’. Oh dear.
I used to avoid coconut products like the plague, and insisted i hated coconut, when in reality I loved it, but since all of the news coming out about how good it is, I have introduced it into my diet, and I love it (especially coconut yoghurt, oh my goodness!).
I think like anything, we are always learning about what is good for our body or not, and you really just have to take it all with a pinch of salt and go with your instinct.

Reply

Peachy Palate September 25, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for the long comment Aimee! Really good points, in complete agreement! :)

Reply

Alison September 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Healthy fats are my best friends! (not really) But I love avocados, salmon, nuts, PEANUT BUTTER, coconut oil, etc.
I do eat fat free plain greek yogurt almost everyday (and amp it up with some honey or nut butter). What are your thoughts on fat free greek yogurt?

Reply

Peachy Palate September 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I’m vegan so I don’t do yoghurt, but with any food I think the most natural kind, full fat in the case of yoghurt without additives and sweeteners etc…is the best to choose!

Reply

Tessa @ Amazing Asset September 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Such great information here Michelle, thank you for taking the time to put this together! In the end, it all comes down to balance… that word that is so often thrown around without much thought or reasoning behind it. But it’s so true, balance of these types of fats and you will be fine in the end and your body will surely thank you for it. I know mine was not pleased when I cut out nearly all fat in my diet… goodbye hair, nails, smooth skin.. not cute

Reply

Peachy Palate September 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I know, I feel your pain, and it’s amazing the difference when you reintroduce them!!!

Reply

Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers September 25, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Ahhhh – so much info! haha Good to know.

Reply

Peachy Palate September 26, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thanks Tiff!

Reply

Lauren (@poweredbypb) September 25, 2012 at 11:15 pm

This nicely sums up my thoughts on fat. Fat get’s a bad rep in general, it’s sugar that has caused the current obesity crisis with it’s awful “low fat” alternatives. I love good fats, I use Udo’s oil everyday, along with chia seeds/flax seeds/pumpkin seeds/nut butters/almonds/avocados and coconut oil. Got to love them good fats!

Reply

Peachy Palate September 26, 2012 at 8:53 am

They make you feel so good inside :)

Reply

Julie @ twosaucysisters.wordpress.com September 26, 2012 at 2:42 am

totally agree with this post! Fat is your friend, I like to say! Avocados, nut butters, olives, yummy oils… I love them all! Some people have such misconstrued ideas and fears of fat. I knew a girl in first year who told me that she would eat something with waaay more calories, sugar, ect. if it was low-fat or fat free as opposed to something that wasn’t. How loopy is that? Fat has a place in everyone’s diet, it is essential for life! Great post Michelle! :)

Reply

Peachy Palate September 26, 2012 at 8:56 am

Very loopy, but many people would think the same way! And who could live without nut butters! :) I’m sure how I ever did!

Reply

Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli September 26, 2012 at 10:39 am

VERY well written Shel! You made some great points…especially about going for WHOLE foods for your fat sources as opposed to leaning heavily on the processed oils. I was a fat fearer for YEARS and I’ll admit, I still get a little anxious when it comes to full fat coconut milk. I picked up a can the other day in hopes to make a chicken curry, but ended up chickening out once I looked at the label! :-/

Recently, I’ve been cutting extra calories, and have lost a good amount of weight. I’m actually just a little below my goal weight and am feeling GREAT! I’ve now upped my calorie intake so that I can maintain and I’ll admit, one of the BEST things about the extra allowance is more room for fats! Over the past few weeks, my body has been craving that extra fat and now that I’m adding more nuts/seeds/nut butters to my meals and snacks, I can definitely tell a difference in my mood AND I’m staying full for much longer after I eat!

Reply

Peachy Palate September 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I know, having suffered from anorexia for so long I honestly don’t know how I survived. Even the years after where I convinced myself I had a balanced approach I was missing out on the good stuff!

Just add a little water to the coconut milk to thin it out, will go a lot further without any unnecessary additives! :)

Reply

Edith September 26, 2012 at 11:13 am

Love this insight on the different kinds of fats!!
whatever the truth about fats in various nuts may be….I just can’t stay away from them :D

Reply

Peachy Palate September 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

They all have their place :)

Reply

kristle September 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm

seriously i don’t know what to think, there’s so much conflicting information out there. it’s very confusing and frustrating! for now though i love my nut butters and healthy fats… they leave you satiated for longer!

Reply

Nikki @ The Road to Less Cake November 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Great post. Really informative. I was one of those girls that thought fat made you fat. I am so glad I realise now it does not. I lived off low fat diet products for years, I lost weight but I am healthier now. I have no idea what I was doing to my skin by not eating enough fat, I have eczema and my skin is very sensitive and gets dry. My skin is much better now I eat more fats. When I look at products now I look at sugar content and fat content. The fat maybe 0g but the sugar might be a shocking 15g. I said bye bye to low fat salad dressings, flavoured yogurts, desserts etc now I have olive, walnut or coconut oil mixed with a little vinegar on my salads. I pick natural and Greek yogurts and check out both fat and sugar content. I try make my own desserts. I’ve ditched artificial sweetners and cut down on sugar as well now. I’m much much healither for it.

Reply

Peachy Palate November 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for the comment Nikki! Glad to hear you’ve made positive changes!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Current month ye@r day *

Previous post:

Next post: