Well gosh, how to answer this question.
How about this:
No, Yes and, Sometimes.
As with most things in nutrition, the answer is almost totally dependant on context. So I’ll tackle each of the answers above in order.
Fat is NOT Bad For You
Why this one first? Mainly because it runs totally contrary to the majority of both public and published opinion.
What we need to do is separate scientific from political information, and I’ll do that for the two main issues related to fat; obesity and heart disease.
Fat and Obesity
The theory goes like this; fat is what we store, we’ve got too much of it, therefore we must eat too much of it, therefore we need to cut it out of our diet.
(linked to this is that fat has 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 for carbs and protein, so if we cut it out we’ll eat fewer calories).
But this answer is both too simplistic, and also goes against what we know from the scientific press and from studies of indigenous peoples.
Why’s it too simplistic?
Because if it was the answer then every person who had gone on a low-fat diet would have lost weight and there wouldn’t be a diet industry…
It’s also too simplistic to see what we have as a problem on the inside as being directly caused by what we consume from the outside (there’s more of this sort of issue with respect to heart disease, but more of that later).
What Does Obesity Research Show?
- Calories Do Count
- Calories Can’t Explain Everything
- People Lose Weight Weirdly
In brief, if you read a book like Anthony Colpo’s superb ‘The Fat Loss Bible‘ you’ll see that when people are put in metabolic wards (where every bit of food is controlled, and participants can only eat what they’re given) weight loss is equal between iso-caloric low fat and high fat diets. What this means is that you can lose weight by dropping fat or dropping carbs, or both, what counts is creating a deficit; create an energy deficit and you lose weight. At least until you get out of the ward and into real life. Which is when the problems begin, because what metabolic wards don’t teach you is how to construct, cook and eat a diet that both makes you healthy and helps you lose fat. One of the problems I have in writing a post like this is that I REALLY struggle to contain myself and write concisely. This issue here is a good example; I could go off on a slight tangent right now about bland food leading to enormous weight loss, about the effects of reward and palatability, about how low carb diets can be much more sustainable than low fat diets etc, etc, etc. But I’m not going to. I’m going to keep it concise, or try.
So, fat doesn’t, per se, cause weight gain. Excess calories cause weight gain, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. Your body is pretty damn clever at storing calories for some unknown time in the future, and it stores them as fat. If you eat too many calories then your body will preferentially store excess dietary fat as body fat (and you’ll fuel yourself with carbs, but an excess of those will also go to fat stores, and if you do this for too long you’ll get type 2 diabetes, which is actually a protection mechanism against excess carbs and insulin), if you eat super low fat, your body will turn excess carbs into fat, if you eat super low carb – ketogenic, where your body pretty much only burns fat for fuel – but still eat too many calories, that excess will get turned to, guess what? Fat.
Summing Up – Dietary Fat Causes Obesity, but only when it’s a part of a greater excess.
The key when finding a solution to a weight issue is to find a diet and process of choosing and eating food that is sustainable. For some people this will mean eating paleo, for others it will mean going low carb, for others it might mean going ketogenic, and for still more it might mean going to weightwatchers. Whatever. If it works, it makes you happy and you can do it for long periods, I’m happy.
Summing Up Part 1
My goal, when writing this post, was to give you as brief an answer as possible that was actually useful in helping you choose what to eat. I hope that, with respect to how your diet affects your waistline, I’ve achieved that goal. What I also wanted to do was make this post something you could read in 5 mins, but you’ll notice that I’ve not answered all the issues I’d laid out at the beginning. I’ll answer the remaining questions in parts 2 and 3.
Remember, I’ve written this for your benefit, so what I’d ask now is how well I’ve answered your questions about fat? Do you have more questions, has it brought up new issues for you? Or are you just so happy that you can’t contain your joy?
Whatever your state, let me know in the comments
Yours in health,