For a long time, fats took the blame for all physical evil. For example, people were convinced that accumulating body fat was mainly the result of eating (too much) fat, an idea that is still commonly held today. But isn’t it very peculiar that the increased production and consumption of reduced-fat and low-fat products over the past decades has not led to a decrease in the number of people that suffer from obesity or diabetes? This so-called American paradox has been keeping food scientists busy for more than 20 years.
So fats are fattening?
It is undeniable that fats contain a lot of energy (9 kilocalories per gram; for comparison, sugars contain “only” 4). And it’s also true that too much fat can make you fat. But it all comes down to that “too”: it is the “too much” that harms you. Yes, it’s true, too much of anything is bad. That’s what my mom warned me about when I was a kid. Fats are much more than mere fillers and potential fatteners. The word “fattener” really doesn’t honor its biological role. Because fats are amongst the most important building blocks in our bodies. For example, fats in the white isolative layer around your nerves (the myelin sheath) ensure that the signal transfer from the nerve cells is more efficient (and therefore faster). Then there are hormones – the so-called signal molecules – that consist of fat. Fats are crucial for physiological communication, and we’re not even talking about fats as an energy source – the thing most “connoisseurs” associate fats with. Without fat, a person could not function at all, let alone exist!
Good and bad fats
Fats can be classified in different ways. For example, animal versus vegetable fats. The most commonly used subdivision is the one that separates saturated and unsaturated fats. This subdivision is also used on food labels, from which you might recognize the terms. It is worth mentioning here that the terms “saturated” and “unsaturated” have nothing to do with their ability to make you feel “full”. These are terms that just describe the molecular composition of the fat molecules and what properties they have. A simple rule of thumb is that saturated fats are usually solid and unsaturated fats are liquid (at room temperature).
Fats in the kitchen
Saturated fats were often blamed in the past, due to their supposed effect on cardiovascular disease. But this is not telling the full story. In fact, fats – also saturated fats – play an important role in various bodily processes. So yes, a healthy diet can also contain saturated fats. You certainly do not have to feel guilty if you prefer to fry your egg in real butter. In fact, all fats contain a certain ratio of saturated and unsaturated fats. You might want to look up the nutritional value of olive oil, for example, which will confirm my statement. You will find out that this highly praised liquid form of fat also consists of 14% of… yes indeed: saturated fats.
Saturated bad, unsaturated okay?
Over the past decade, critical researchers began to note that the guidelines for reducing the use of saturated fats may have been mistaken. These guidelines appeared in the mid-20th century and were all based on a study by a researcher named Ancel Keys. He concluded that there was a link between the onset of cardiovascular disease and the amount of cholesterol circulating in the blood. This was thought to be due to eating products rich in cholesterol and saturated fat. At this point, Keys made two crucial mistakes. Firstly, although an association could indeed imply a relationship between the intake of fats and the levels of blood cholesterol, it does not mean that the one causes the other. Secondly, the term cholesterol is not very specific. In fact, there are different forms of cholesterol – think of good and bad cholesterol – and it is, therefore, difficult to interpret the role of cholesterol as a whole in the context of heart disease.
This, in particular, makes all the hammering on about “eating less saturated fats” quite remarkable. Especially since the number of people with cardiovascular disease hasn’t really dropped. In fact, in the Netherlands, we saw that between 1980 and 2003, there was an average of 1,700 hospitalizations per 100,000 Dutchies due to cardiovascular disease, and that this number remained fairly stable over that 23-year period! One thing has become more than clear: the rates of cardiovascular disease certainly did not decrease following the persecution of fats. You may wonder why people continued to avoid and blame fats even though rates of heart disease did not improve. Why not try something different?
It is important to recognize that many researchers’ careers have been closely associated with the view that saturated fat makes people sick. And you know what? I believe that they were sincerely convinced that this was really the case. Many of these researchers grew up in a world that believed saturated fat was bad, which makes it extremely difficult to convince a person that the reality might be different. Generally speaking, exploring alternative ideas requires taking a broad view that goes beyond a researcher’s super-specialized field. In addition, it takes a lot of courage to even consider a “different” view of reality. It might put one’s credibility or, even worse, one’s career at risk. Yes, politics still play a role in today’s science. In fact, for quite a long time studies have shown that scientific results which contradict mainstream ideas have been very difficult to publish. Fortunately, that is changing now. Slowly but surely.
About The doc.
Dr. Ludidi is author of the bestselling book The Dr. Ludidi Method of Intermittent Fasting.
Furthermore the doc. Is known from his online coaching program and his work with multiple world champions on behalf of lifestyle and general health.
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