Monday, January 3, 2011

Fat Free or Low Fat foods? I'd Rather Eat Nails For Breakfast.

I'll never forget the conversation I had with an Oncologist 20 years ago, about eating habits.  As we chatted over a coffee, we glanced at the available snacks in the hospital cafeteria, pondering which food would give us the most energy to get through the next long shift. One of my co-workers passed by, seeing us eyeing the food , and said, " Everything is fat free, so indulge!" This was in the early '90's, when fat-free and low-fat food were "all the rage".
Glancing at each other, we shrugged.  The Oncologist shook his head. "It's a shame. Fat free and low fat foods are filled with chemicals, and people choose to"feel full" and  ignore the consequences of the chemical laden food they eat. It's healthier to eat smaller portions of fats than to fill your body with these chemicals. Where do you think so many illnesses come from? Well, I guess it keeps the hospitals in  business." He pursed his lips, tilted his head and walked away.

His opinion about the effects of no-fat/low fat foods stayed in my mind for years.  From that moment on, I started to question my eating habits.   

Hysteria Against Fat:

The hysteria against fat has gone out of control. Although it's true that excess fat can stress the liver and contribute to health problems, what is overlooked are two points:
  • Fat is one of the three essential macro nutrients
  • Some fats are health-promoting, others are unhealthful.
You Need Certain Fats!
Fat is an important source of calories, along with carbohydrates and proteins.  We need essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, or Omega 6 and Omega 3 for many important functions, namely:

  • To keep us warm, especially in the winter, as the breakdown of fats creates heat. .
  • For proper hormone function, especially for women.
  • To keep our cell walls strong.
  • To absorb and store the fat soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin D, needed to help absorb calcium from the intestines. Women who don’t get enough good quality fatty acids may end up with low Vitamin D stores and therefore bone thinning.
We Need Good Quality Saturated Fats because....
  • Good quality saturated fats enhance the immune system.
  • Protect the liver from alcohol ingestion.
  • They have antimicrobial properties, and play a major role in bone modeling by protecting the calcium depositing mechanism in bones from free radical disruption.
  •  Fats also affect the nerves, as a low fat diet may contribute to depression; there is a high-fat medical   diet (the 80% fat "ketogenic diet") used to control seizures, which works better than drugs.
Fat Free Eating Doesn't Equal Weight Loss.

Fat in foods delivers a feeling of satiety, the sense that we’ve had enough to eat. If there is no fat in the meal, we can keep on eating and eating until we’re  stuffed, ending up with many more calories than necessary.  My co-workers who raved about their fat free chips and said they can easily eat a whole bag of them. I believe that isn't because the chips are so good, but because they never feel that they’ve had enough. In other words, they’re still hungry.  They'll continue eating their high-carbohydrate chips (all the fat calories have been replaced with carbohydrates) and end up with many more calories than they intended. Therefore, no difference in weight!

The idea of fat free food does not make dietary sense to me. (Although the marketing divisions of these "food" companies would highly disagree)  Reading food labels are important.  Replacements of fats are usually gums, sugars and starches. You’re better off with a half teaspoon of "the real thing" than two tablespoons of "the fake". The same goes for "fat free mayonnaise"  and similar "foods."

Just as an excess of fats causes problems, so will a deficiency. It is  possible to become fat deficient.

Lack of Fatty Acids = Health Problems:
  •  Dry skin, eczema, low energy
  •  Impairment of kidney function, slow wound or infection healing, vision and learning problems
  •  Depression, ( A low fat diet has been shown to be associated with a higher suicide rate).

The Bad Fats:

Heated, bleached and deodorized oils, and hydrogenated fats such as margarine and shortening. These contain trans fatty acids, which can double the rate of heart attack and raise the LDL, or bad cholesterol.
  • Pregnant women who consume margarine and other hydrogenated fats may be at risk for having low birth weight babies. Heated hydrogenated fats, such as used in deep fried foods like fried chicken, fish, and chips, are associated with cancer and heart disease.

Good Quality Fats:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), unrefined sesame and sunflower oil, unrefined flax seed oil, walnut oil, organic butter and clarified butter or ghee.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids are in fresh dark cold water fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flax seed oil.
  • Omega 6's are in the sesame and sunflower oil.
  •  Fresh organic butter from healthy cows fed green grass can be a great source of natural Vitamin A.
On the average, when cooking from scratch, about 2 or 3 tablespoons of healthy fats per day will give us all the essential fatty acids we need. At the same time, it’s important to avoid deep fried foods, hydrogenated fats, and fats from unhealthy, commercially raised animals. Fat-free processed foods and snacks will always make you eat too much, encourage sugar cravings, and keep you unsatisfied. Good quality fats are good for your skin, hair, nails, immune system, heart, liver, nerves, and your satisfaction with food.


  1. I ended up here from Daniel Koontz's tweet.

    I've long suspected some of this stuff, but it's good to have it written out so lucidly. I was just trying to explain to someone the other day how I think that fats are the most important part of my diet (I'm vegan, and find it harder to get enough fat than enough protein) and they looked at me like I had two heads.

    I feel a thousand times better when I eat enough (good quality) fat.

  2. @Rhiannon - Happy that I made the idea of eating good fat clearer for you. I add some Vegenaise to my wraps/sandwiches to get extra fat - just a thought.
    Thanks for your feedback!