Does Fat Make You Fat?

By, Michelle Pfennighaus

Imagine it. You’re watching Friends on prime time and wearing Doc Martins, Snapple iced tea in hand. In front of you is a box of fat free Snackwell’s cookies. Ah, the 90’s.It made perfect sense. We were all going to get fat unless we stopped eating foods that contained fat! Perfect logic.

The fat free craze didn’t begin in the 90’s though. For decades, scientists were warning of the dangers of fats. Saturated fat was deemed a killer, clogging the arteries and causing our pants to get tighter.

Nevermind that for thousands of years indigenous cultures ate animal fat at nearly every meal and only in recent times has obesity become a problem and heart disease become a #1 killer.

So we ate less fat. I did, anyway. Snackwell’s cookies were super, right? Eat all you want – zero fat. The food industry had a field day, manipulating processed foods until they were marketable as “Low” or “No Fat.” And we bought them at a premium! We declared with glee, “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter!” The century ended full of hope for trim waistlines and healthy hearts.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what happened.

It didn’t work. We are fatter and sicker than ever before. Many of us, myself included, ended up with dry skin, constipation and a cold feeling in our bones. Our body’s need for fat manifested itself in magnificent cravings we satisfied at 3am with french fries and Ben & Jerry’s.

Hey Science, what gives?

Here’s what happened. We replaced fats that were maybe unhealthy with darn near fatal fats (think hydrogenated trans fat in margarine) and plenty of sugar, fillers and chemicals. What brilliant ideas will we think of next?

I’d like to stop thinking of what’s next and reflect for a moment on what has come before. For thousands of years, populations around the world have thrived on indigenous diets of all sorts. Meat-based, plant-based, or a combination of the two, they all included fat. It was not until processed food was introduced that we encountered the diseases of excess that plague us today.

I encourage my clients to eat more foods that their great grandparents would recognize and fewer foods created by modern science and advertised by big business. Some of the ways oils are processed include adding hydrogen atoms or using chemical solvents. Does that sound like food you want to put in your body?

Here are some newfangled fats to be skeptical of or downright avoid:

1. All hydrogenated oils, including margarine
2. Soy and corn oil
3. Peanut oil
4. Canola and Grapeseed oil

Instead, seek out traditional, naturally occurring fats full of nutrients the human body needs. Always favor organic!

1. Butter and Ghee
2. Coconut and sesame oils
3. Olive oil
4. Flax and Fish oil
5. Chicken, goose and duck fat
6. Beef and lamb fat

It has been an interesting shift to start eating fats again. After years of a “No Fat” mindset, it feels naughty to throw a pat of butter into my oatmeal. But good quality organic butter from grass-fed cows is exactly the kind of fat the body needs.

When I started eating more butter and taking fish oil, my skin really showed a difference. Lines in my face actually went away! Another great benefit is that I started to really enjoy my food. It’s no coincidence that fats taste good – we are programmed to enjoy them because we need them!

If you are worried about weight loss, look to the (highly refined) white flour products and (highly refined) sugar in your diet. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions and founder of the Weston A. Price foundation, encourages us to use plenty of olive oil on our salads but skip the roll. And like my mom always says, “Everything in moderation.”

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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