Food Myths Debunked: Will Eating Fat Make Me Fatter?
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You are what you eat, right? So, it makes sense that if you eat fat, you’ll get fatter. But the fact is this only a little bit true.
How can it be that just about every pre-packaged food you see in the grocery store comes with a low-fat or fat-free option that’s touted as being healthier? We might just have to chalk that up to marketing.
Let’s look deeper into what fat does inside the body and how it affects you.
The Role of Dietary Fat
Dietary fats occur naturally in some foods and can be found in both animal and plant foods. They’re usually referred to in one of three ways: fats, animal fats, or vegetable fats.
When fat became a “bad word,” and people wanted to change their diets to be thinner, fitter, or healthier, they instinctively assumed that eating fatty foods would automatically lead to obesity. However, this is simply not the case since dietary fat has a lot of important roles to play in the body.
♦ Energy: Fats, along with carbohydrates and proteins, give your body energy. In fact, fat is the most concentrated source of energy, with more than double the energy content of carbohydrates and four times that of fiber.
♦ Structure: The membranes around your body’s cells are mainly made of different types of fats, making fat the theoretical building blocks of who you are. Don’t think that your structure just refers to your body—your brain is 60% fat.
♦ Carry Vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, which means eating fat with these vitamins is essential to ensuring that you get an adequate amount.
♦ Biological Functions: Your body cannot produce polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid, but you need these fats for your body to function. You simply would not survive without them.
♦ Enjoyment: Fats not only help your body function, but they make food more texturally appealing and boost the flavor.
Fat Is Less Dangerous Than Previously Thought
If those basic ways in which fat helps the body aren’t enough, new studies are showing that fat may be more protective and beneficial than we previously understood. Although research is still being done, the following seems to show us that fats are not as dangerous as previously believed.
♦ Cardiovascular disease: A study on dairy fat and the risk of cardiovascular disease found that dairy fat was not significantly related to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
♦ Women’s health issues: The Women’s Health Initiative looked at women’s health concerns and discovered that there may be a small reduction of the risk of breast cancer if fat intake is decreased, but there is no effect on colorectal cancer, heart disease, or stroke.
Not All Fats Are Equal
While all fats have gotten a bad rap in the past, some of those fats have actually deserved it. This is because not all fats are the same, and the way they affect your body is not the same either.
All fats have a similar chemical structure, but the length and shape of the carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms change slightly. These little changes are actually a big deal and give the fat a different role in the body.
♦ Unsaturated fats: These are the good fats, and they’re sometimes called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In the above list of functions that fats have in the body, these are the power horses that do that work.
♦ Saturated fats: Chemically, these fats have a lot of hydrogen molecules and no double bonds between carbon molecules. They’re the fats you find in meats and many dairy products. These have been shunned in the past, and there’s still a lot of conflicting information about this type of fat.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats and increasing your fruit, vegetable, and whole grain intake.
♦ Trans fats: These are the bad guys of the fat world. Trans fats are a byproduct of hydrogenation, where healthy oils are turned into a solid to prevent them from becoming rancid. While they can help your food last longer, they have no nutritional value and no safe level of consumption.
| Related: Food Myths Debunked: Are Saturated Fats Bad for You? |
The good news for people who live in the United States is that avoiding trans fats is now
easier than ever, as they have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As of June 18, 2018, trans fats have been essentially eliminated from the US food supply, and it is hoped that this move will reduce the number of people who die from heart disease, suffer from diabetes, dementia, and other metabolic diseases.
Does Eating Fat Make You Fat
Now that we know more about fats and the role they play in your body, it’s time to look at how fats affect your diet.
Carbohydrates begin the digestion process the minute you start chewing. They cause an insulin spike in your body soon after digestion, which leads to a crash soon after followed by renewed hunger.
Fats, on the other hand, are not digested immediately, their digestion happens in the small intestine, as bile from your liver breaks them down. The digestion process for fats is slower, and it can keep you feeling full longer.
Another thing to consider is the calorie content of foods. While carbs and proteins have about 4 calories per gram (on average), fat has about 9 calories per gram. So, fats make you feel full longer and take longer to digest, but you’re consuming more calories.
This means that no matter what type of food you’re eating if you eat more calories than you expend, your body is going to store that energy. If that energy is never used, it’s going to be transformed into body fat, proving that carbohydrates and proteins can just as easily end up being body fat as dietary fats can.
The Bottom Line
Fats are not as evil as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, they are essential to being fit and healthy.
Dietary fat can turn to body fat if you eat too much of it and do not expend the calories completely. But this can also happen if you consume an abundance of carbohydrate or protein calories.
The thing to remember is that fats are best when they’re part of a well-rounded diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you’re looking to lose weight or avoid putting on weight, keeping an eye on the number of calories you consume and expend will help you have a better understanding of your dietary habits.