If you haven’t read Claire’s post on dietary fat, it is an excellent and scientific examination on the metabolism of the macronutrient. I wanted to take the opportunity to inject my common sense perspective on the subject because it is a complicated topic that can be approached from so many different angles. I think Claire and I have a true desire to dispel some myths about fat mostly because we are the same people who a few years ago were choosing the fat-free, sugar-free options believing that these foods were the avenues to health. Of course we now want to share what we know and how our perspectives have changed. It’s a slippery slope, however, because Claire and I live in a professional world that promotes low-fat options. Regardless, I want to discuss a personal perspective and my own opinion on fat. If you haven’t already, please take a look at our disclaimer!
Fat is more than the extra layer of skin we harbor around our mid-section or between our thighs. This type of fat is more formally referred to as adipose tissue and is a collection of cells which store excess energy in our body. Somehow dietary fat–which is consumed, digested, and metabolized by the human body (and which Claire discusses thoroughly here)–has become somewhat synonymous with the accumulation of adipose tissue. To an extent, dietary fat is associated with adipose tissue, however, the fear of dietary fat is disproportionate to the actuality of its metabolic behavior. In fact, I think that the importance of dietary fat is largely overlooked due to the emphasis our culture has put on eradicating dietary fat from our foods.
A few short years ago, low-fat options were my “healthy” options. Why would I question that? They had fewer calories and were marketed as being “heart healthy.” At this point in my life, I wasn’t educated on reading labels. I knew how to identify the number of calories and the grams of fat that were in a food. However, this information meant nothing other than what I was telling myself it meant. In reality, I had no idea what a calorie was or where the calories in the food were coming from. Because we live in a world where almost all the food we are eating is processed, packaged, labeled, and marketed, I believe that many people may examine food labels in the same manner I used to. Food labels are a great tool but not if we are using them incorrectly. It is my opinion that the quality of dietary fat is a fundamental consideration, however, has been awfully disregarded.
Let’s imagine a world where there are no food labels, no one telling us an appropriate portion size, and no one declaring what is “heart healthy” (GASP!). Aside from the complete annihilation of my potential career, we would be left with our instincts and our biological cues to guide us on what to eat. Let’s consider this cheese recommended by the American Heart Association:
Yum! (Can you taste the sarcasm?) I wonder how many of us would choose to eat this? High fructose corn syrup and artificial colors are just a few among the long list of manufactured B.S. inside this “healthy cheese.” So it’s fat free…awesome! But what are all those other ingredients doing to our bodies? It goes without saying that when you eliminate or reduce the fat in a food product you inevitably have to add in other ingredients to improve the flavor and texture. From my perspective, altering real food that is delicious and nutritious in its natural state just doesn’t make sense. This is something we tend to forget when we think about dietary fat; it is satisfying and delicious! In addition, it is vital for the absorption of essential vitamins A, D, E and K and plays an important role in the structure of every cell in our body. Why are we forgoing completely natural and beneficial dietary fat for high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring? It’s absurd.
If the words “fat-free” mean something to you when you are reading a food label, consider an option like candy. While candy may be delicious in moderation and act as a treat that is culturally, socially, and maybe even emotionally satisfying, it is often marketed to be “fat-free.” Does this mean anything? The short answer…no. It has no dietary fat, this is true. However, it most likely has a boat load of sugar or other artificial ingredients that may contribute to body fatness. In fact, if your candy is marketed as being fat-free and sugar-free, you may want to consider questioning what it is you’re actually eating. This is why it is critical that consumers not only read the front of the label but most importantly the ingredients list.
This brings me to my final point about fat (for this post anyway): the ever-so-common and ridiculous phrase, “that’s so fattening.” Body fatness is not caused by one single food, or even one single variable for that matter. Fat accumulates on the body for a culmination of reasons. I think the negative language around what we eat is not only misinformed but ultimately gives food the power to make a potentially enjoyable food experience somewhat uncomfortable.
Here are some suggestions when considering fat:
- Ask yourself where the fat grams in the food came from. For example, the fat in margarine is different from the fat found in steak. Once you begin to question the source, you can then start to educate yourself.
- Be aware of artificial trans fats in foods. The chemical structure of these fats have been modified to provide a more shelf-stable fat. This is great news for food companies, but bad news for our health.
- Eat real foods! Focus on quality NOT calories. Try to avoid processed foods that have long lists of ingredients that your don’t understand. And finally…enjoy your food!