Note to the reader: I will be revising some of my earlier posts as my audience has grown significantly over the past few years. As I look back I can only giggle at the incredulity in my “voice”. When I first started out, boy, was I angry! I guess I needed to be to fuel a healthful transformation. I am still passionate but much of the anger is gone as my body continues to get healthier and I learn more and more that nothing is black and white. This post is about 80% the same just with some updates and revised language.
The number one comment I get when I discuss how I eat or what Paleo is all about is, “Yeah, but that can’t be good for your heart. All that fat and cholesterol can’t be good for you.”
Oh, contraire, Mon frère. I’m going to just say it, and let the point settle in. Eating saturated fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease. Eating saturated fat is not the leading driver of high cholesterol, and eating saturated fat does not cause Type 2 Diabetes. (There are more ills that dietary fat is blamed for, but you get the picture.) Study after study now shows that total dietary fat intake does not cause these problems. (More on that later) What does? Sugar does. Another culprit is trans-fats. There is a great article that discusses the problem with the “lipid hypothesis” in great detail from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Here is the link:
“Fat, to all humans means ‘survival’ to our physiological functioning. Diets low in fat paradoxically cause the body to more easily synthesize fat from other sources, most notably carbohydrates, and to absorb and store the unwanted fat.” ~ Nora Gedgaudas, Primal Body, Primal Mind.
Being overweight is not a problem of eating too much fat. Nor is it strictly even eating too much, period. That notion is entirely over simplified. It is a problem of STORING fat. This is a storing problem, not an eating problem. Gary Taubes, in the book, Why We Get Fat, does a great job of explaining this concept. The whole “calories in/calories out balance” to losing weight doesn’t work. There is a great YouTube video featuring Dr Robert Lustig, titled, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” that explains this well. What foods cause us to store fat? Predominantly. sugar and starch do. Particularly the processed variety. (More on the metabolic evils of a high carbohydrate diet in another post.) For now this is all about why fat is our friend!
Of the 3 macro nutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrate, our bodies predominately use two of those for fuel, fat and sugar. Excess sugar in the bloodstream is toxic to the body. The body tightly regulates about 4 grams of glucose in the bloodstream at any one time. In order to maintain this level, the body burns ingested glucose off as fuel as fast as it can and what it doesn’t need for fuel it will store, thus the sugar high you experience after eating something sugary or starchy, and the subsequent crash as glucose levels in the bloodstream drop.(Again a simplified explanation)
So, here’s the thing. If we eliminate the sugar (and starchy carbohydrates) and replace it with enough of the right fats (saturated, monounsaturated and essential polyunsaturated fats; avoid trans-fats at all costs and avoid vegetable and seed oils) then the body will switch to burning fat for energy. Many parts of the body actually prefer to burn fat for energy. It burns slower, energy levels last longer, and we end up avoiding the blood sugar rollercoaster ride that we are used to as sugar burners. We should be burning (metabolizing is actually the right word) fat, not storing it, and with the absence of glucose and the corresponding insulin producing foods, we will!
Fat also makes our food taste good so we feel satiated. It also triggers the hormone, Leptin, which is the hormone that tells us we are full and to stop eating. Any guess as to which macro-nutrient suppresses Leptin? You know the answer. Carbohydrates do, and the more refined they are, the worse they are.
Fat and cholesterol are REQUIRED for proper function of your cell membranes, heart, liver, lungs, hormones, brain, bones, hormone and gene regulation.
No more having to eat every 3 to 4 hours in order to maintain energy and blood sugar levels. hallelujah!!!! Honestly, why would nature ever have intended for us to eat small meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels? Our earliest genetically identical ancestors were lucky to eat once or twice a day sometimes when food was scarce during winters or after an unsuccessful hunt. Nature is not that stupid. It’s the introduction of excess carbohydrates that as made blood sugar regulation so difficult.
We are NOT naturally built to run on carbohydrates as our primary fuel source. We evolved to burn fat for energy, we do it every evening when we go to bed and essentially “fast” for 8 hours or so while we sleep. Grains and sugars were not a part of our diet originally. From an evolutionary standpoint, grains are new food sources to us and we have not adapted to metabolizing them without physiological damage. Sugar sources we usually seasonal (fruit) and/or difficult to access (honey, maple syrup/sap) Fat is something we have ALWAYS metabolized with great success. It wasn’t until the introduction of starch as a staple in our diet that the diseases referenced in my second paragraph even emerged.
The focus on fat and cholesterol as health saboteurs really took off in the aftermath of Dr Ancel Keyes’ flawed and misrepresented bad-science. There are other (I like to think well meaning, but maybe not) culprits in this massive mistake but this is a story best left for another blog post. As always, I encourage you to do your own research but as a place to start you can learn more in Gary’s Taube’s book I referenced above. Another great book is Death By Food Pyramid by Denise Minger. She does a fantastic job of chronicling the history of how today’s dietary recommendations came to be.
Some practical guidance: When cooking, cook with saturated fat as a preference. Use coconut oil, butter, or lard (fats that are solid at room temperature but NOT any kind of margarine or Crisco-like substance). It is far more heat stable and will not break down into free radicals when heated over high heat and you only need a little bit. I use olive oil when I have to. I prefer olive oil after cooking or on salads. Some other unsaturated fats to consider are macadamia nut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, or a little flax oil. All of these are best used after cooking or on salads.
So, you have my permission to shake off your fear of fat. Fat is our friend. Don’t be stingy! Use it with love and happiness to make your food taste good and to help kick that sugar monkey off your back!
Until Next Time,
~ Laura, Mom Gone Paleo