Redeeming Unsaturated Fat
The most dreaded word in many dieter’s vocabulary is ‘fat’. It is not uncommon to hear a dieter discuss their avoidance of eating fat as if it were something thoroughly unwholesome, or even life-threatening, like an allergen, or a contagious disease.
In one way, this impassioned hatred of fat is positive. It reflects a generally understood medical truth that overindulging in fat-rich foods often causes unwanted, and unhealthy, weight gain.
However, in another way, this fat-phobia is potentially dangerous, because awareness of fat is not enough; an understanding of how fat influences weight gain and overall health is required. Unfortunately, those who dread and avoid all fat “as a rule” are overlooking an important difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat.
Saturated fat is often the real culprit when it comes to unwanted, and potentially unhealthy, weight gain. These types of fats, which are solid at room temperature, initiate the production of LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol”. In addition to weight gain, as cholesterol increases, so does the risk of heart disease. In fact, saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol disproportionately more than dietary cholesterol itself; that is how powerfully bad it is to the human body[i]. Dreading and avoiding this kind of fat is therefore quite intelligent.
Some dieters, however, are motivated less by concerns about high cholesterol and heart disease than they are about cosmetic weight gain. This is not a criticism; the adverse health effects of excess weight are well documented, as are the emotional traumas and social stigmas that tragically affect tens of millions of overweight people, especially children[ii].
Unquestionably, an excess intake of saturated fat is linked to weight gain. This is because a fat gram contains more than twice the amount of calories as a protein gram – 9 calories versus 4 calories[iii]. As a result, dieters can eat more than twice as many protein grams as fat grams to achieve the same amount of caloric intake. For dieters who are steadfastly watching every calorie, this 125% calorie difference between protein and fat can have an enormous impact.
Fat cells, once created, cannot be removed; they can only be made smaller through the body’s metabolic calorie-burning process[iv]. Since an individual’s rate of metabolism is determined largely by genetics, a dieter with a slower than average metabolism will spend months, perhaps even years longer struggling to shrink fat cells then would his or her metabolically-gifted counterpart[v].
It is quite easy to understand, based on the above discussion, why the very idea of fat is dreaded by dieters; both because of the health hazards it poses, and its capacity to create excess fat cells. And it is just as easy to understand why many people are so afraid of consuming this kind of fat that they strive to remove all fat from their diet. This, however, is a large nutritional oversight.
Fat is a macronutrient that the body requires for a number of important functions. Fat is a source of energy. It helps keep the body warm, it aids in the absorption of some vitamins, and helps regulate the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system[vi]. This appears, however, to be a contradiction.
On the one hand there are health and weight gain hazards associated with fat, and on the other hand, there are proven health benefits associated with fat. How can this be? The answer is easily understood when we differentiate between the two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. The kind of fat associated with health hazards is the former; the kind that the body needs and uses effectively is the latter.
There are two sub-types of unsaturated fat: polysaturated fat, and monosaturated fat. Popular foods that contain polysaturated fat include safflower oil and corn oil, while monosaturated fats are found in such foods as olive oil and peanut oil. These unsaturated fats are those that provide the body with the most useful and efficient sources of fat that lead to the health benefits noted above.
However, though there is a clear benefit to eating unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats, both types continue to offer eaters the standard 9 calories per gram. As such, no eater should consume an excess amount of fat.
Equipped with the awareness and understanding that avoiding saturated fat is hazardous to health, and that there is such a thing as “good” (unsaturated) fat, it would be expected that most nutritional supplements on the market have created foods that reflect this understanding. This is, regrettably, not the case.
Most nutritional supplements contain some fat content; many even contain saturated fat for some inexplicable reason. Tragically – and there is no other word – many dieters are deceived into eating self-described nutritionally intelligent foods that may be “low calorie”, and may even have some vitamins and nutrients, but they but they are adding to t