What’s the Beef About Fat and Can You Eat Fat in a Low Carb Diet?

Food, like other consumer product goes in and out of fashion depending on the reviews. One day margarine is good for heart health, the next day margarine causes  heart disease. In the 1950’s and 60’s TVDinners were all the rage, now you won’t find a single Swanson TVDinner in your grocer’s freezer. Who’s to say what we’ll find on the supermarket shelves in 10 years?

The popularity (or distaste) for any one food product doesn’t happen by word of mouth anymore. Million dollar advertising campaigns and powerful lobbyists are responsible for telling us what and what not to eat. The campaign of the day, against fat, is perhaps one of the most successful.

Who is Behind the Campaign Against Fat?

In order to “cut through the fat”, you need to do some serious research on fats and you have to have an open mind. You also have to wade through a great deal of conflicting, often confusing material.

There are hundreds of sources on-line where you can get information about fats. Wikipedia alone has over 8 sites on different types of fats providing a detailed, description of each fat’s chemical composition. Unless you have a keen mind for formulas, you’ll find it more enervating than enlightening. You’ll also find that many of the foods we eat contain more than one kind of fat, so it’s unfair to lump all fats into one unsavory category.  Some of those fats are healthful fats and some are considered unhealthful.

It’s all quite mind-boggling; enough to make you want to do unnatural things with fat. If you get to that point, there's one website that actually promotes shoving bacon up your nose to stop nosebleeds.

Show Me the Fat
Fats aren’t really that complicated once you put the puzzle together. They can be either solid or liquid at room temperature and can be found in both natural and processed foods. Some fats are natural fats, others are not. Our bodies metabolize each type of fat in a different way.

“Saturated Fats” are, for the most part, solid fats. Chemically, each carbon atom in the chain is saturated with hydrogen. Some examples of saturated fats are fatty meats, cheese, butter, suet, tallow and lard, but some vegetable products and oils, like coconut oil cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, and chocolate also fall into the category of saturated fats. These fats freeze easily, add natural flavors to prepared foods and provide our bodies with energy. They are good for our heads too, as they satisfy our taste buds and consequently, make us happy.

“Unsaturated Fats” are for the most part liquid or oily. They contain fewer carbon-hydrogen bonds than saturated fats.
Examples of unsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil and corn oil; however, nuts and even some meat and whole milk products have a significant unsaturated fat content.
Unsaturated fats are more complicated than saturated fats and some show up as “Monounsaturated Fats” , others as “Polyunsaturated Fats” ; (the chemical bonds within the carbon chains are a bit different, but they are still considered natural fats).
Some examples of monounsaturated fats are avocados and olives. Some examples of polyunsaturated fats are nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens.

Unsaturated fats have fewer calories than saturated fats, but the oils do not freeze well and they have a short shelf-life. I was surprised to learn that an opened bottle of olive oil, (even the Extra Virgin variety) can turn rancid on you in just a few months.

What is the Shelf-Life of Oil?

Every fat I have described so far is found in nature and for centuries, healthy civilizations have used and enjoyed natural fat consumption without worrying about whether their LDL level was over 130.  They probably did not eat a much meat as we do in today’s society, but they also didn’t eat junk food or other processed foods that factor into today’s problems of obesity and heart disease.

Are There Good Fats As Well as Bad Fats?

A Look at Unnatural Fats –

Back in the 1020‘s “Trans Fats” were invented. The first product was Crisco shortening and it was made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a chemical process called hydrogenation.  During WW2 when butter was at a premium, margarine was formulated by the same process.

“Trans Fats” are rare in living nature, but occur in the food production process.  Also known as “partially hydrogenated oil”, this fat hybrid soon became a mainstay in restaurants and the food industry for frying, baked goods, processed snack foods and margarines.  Hydrogenation also helps foods stay fresh longer and have a less greasy feel.

Today, fast food is the most abundant source of trans fat, with desserts, doughnuts, and pastries coming in second place.
Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced because they are know to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, raising bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol levels (HDL).

Factoid: Two Canadian studies , have shown that “natural trans fat” (found in trace amounts in meat and dairy products).can have the opposite health effect…lowering total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels*.

Good Things About Fat

Foods that contain fat….

-give you energy by staving off hunger, boosting your metabolism, and providing needed proteins.
-help fight fatigue, depression, dry skin, brittle hair and nails
-can contribute to healthier cholesterol readings* (omega-3 oils)

The cholesterol in fats….

-helps your body make vitamin D
-provides the basis of important hormones produced in your adrenal glands, ovaries and testes
-helps regulate hydration
-builds protective cell membranes

Can You Eat Fats On a Low Carb Diet?

Most fats have zero carbohydrates, which is why Low Carb diets allow you to eat fat, preferably in moderation. This can be very attractive for people who do not do well on calorie restrictive diets. It’s also very attractive if you’re a creative gourmet chef who enjoys cooking with real butter, cream and even coconut milk.  Julia Child, author of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” revolutionized gastronomy in the United States. She believed until she died at age 92 that butter and cream were safe to eat.

Studies on Cholesterol and Diets

Duke University Medical Center researchers tested people on low-carb diets for six months.  The dieters were permitted to eat as much meat, fish, fowl and shellfish as they liked and an unlimited amount of eggs. Four ounces of hard cheese was also permitted. They all took nutritional supplements including a multivitamin, flax seed oil, borage oil and fish oil. They ate low-carb vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli and asparagus but totally avoided starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans and parsnips. Refined sugar, cakes, candies and all junk food was not permitted.

The Results Were Surprising

Dieters on the low carbohydrate diet that included natural saturated fats found that their cholesterol levels improved. The diet raised their good cholesterol or HDL levels. (HDL prevents all those nasty “fat” globs from sticking to your arteries). The diet also lowered their triglycerides (another type of fat in your blood which can increase your risk of heart disease).  Small LDL particles (bad cholesterol) also decreased. All these changes can help lower the risk of heart disease.

People who were on low-fat diets were also tested. They were not permitted to eat fats, refined sugar and junk food. They too showed improved cholesterol readings which makes you wonder about what causes unhealthy cholesterol readings in the first place.

Lead researcher Eric Westman, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center noted one often-ignored factor in both low-carb and low-fat diets. “It's possible that the common denominator of these diets is what they're not eating – both diets did not allow refined sugar or junk food.

Savvyexaminer believes consumers and dieters should consider the role fats play in our diets. I’m not saying you should gorge yourself on gruyere cheese or stuff your face with bacon, but a bit of cream in your coffee is not likely to bring on a cardiac arrest. You should; however, be wary of low-fat foods that are almost always loaded with sugar and other carbohydrates. Avoid fast food and processed junk foods that contain those unnatural trans fats. Maintain a healthy weight and get moving! Regular aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, lowers cholesterol and helps you to lose excess weight. Above all, don’t fear natural fats, instead, include them in a healthy balanced diet.

Here are some other articles that may be of interest.
Can Eating Natural Fats Help You Lose Weight?

Wishing you good health and happiness. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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  1. Thanks Andrea! Pasta is my favorite “treat” food. I adore it, but it is alas, high in wheat and carbohydrates. Real Italian olive oil is another thing!  That is one healthful “fat” that I enjoy regularly.

    • Andrea H. | The Hypnotism Weekly on February 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm
    • Reply

    Beautiful article Hillary, and full of great content. Even if in Italy we live on pasta I must admit that probably wheat is the main responsible for health issues these days, together with sugar and above everything else all the chemicals routinely added to almost every food, especially if irradiated to create hard wheat. Trans fats like margarine are known to be as good for health as living in a house with an asbesto’s roof. The beautiful thing about carbohydrates is that they keep you always hungry so you eat a lot of them. Instead eating just one whole egg hunger disappears for hours. Also eating fats our body becomes more used to burn them for energy so eating fats with common sense you become thinner.
    Human beings are eating cereals mostly in the last 2000 years but we’ve eaten meat, fish and vegetables with nuts for 100000 years. I let you imagine what we’re able to digest better.
    As you said there are lobbies involved and this makes everything complicated.
    Great article again.
    Btw I tried to subscribe for updates but the widget doesn’t work. Happy weekend! 😉

    1.  @Andrea Hypno  Hi Andrea,
      I have fixed the Subscription area, so you should not encounter an error message when subscribing. Thanks for the heads-up on that!

        • Andrea H. | The Hypnotism Weekly on February 26, 2012 at 3:02 am
        • Reply

         @SavvyExaminer Thanks, subscribed. Have a great Sunday! 🙂

  2. Susie86 – You are most welcome. I agree, we shouldn’t sacrifice being able to eat fine food (especially fine French cuisine). I’d rather give up junk food. Cheers and thanks for commenting 🙂

    • Susie86 on February 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm
    • Reply

    That was very insightful, thank you. People shouldn’t be put off with fat, I always think meat tastes better with it.

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