Fat, along with protein and carbohydrate, is a macronutrient, meaning we need it in large quantities in order to be healthy. Unfortunately, fat has received a lot of bad press over the last fifty years or so. It’s been blamed as the cause of heart disease, blocked arteries and high blood pressure. A low fat diet, we’ve been told, is the best way to avoid health issues and stay slim. But this is far from the truth. Whilst some sources of fat are indeed unhealthy and should be eliminated from the diet, other types need to be consumed regularly, and still others should be consumed in moderation. With regards to which fats are good are which fats are bad, there’s a lot of misinformation.
New to Paleo? Check out the following post, Which Fats are Good Fats, Which Fats are Ugly? as well as all the posts under the Paleo FAQ tab on the menu bar. Many of those posts also come with Free Printables.
What’s So Good About Fat?
- Fats are an exceptional source of energy, providing more than twice the gram-for-gram calories than protein and carbohydrate. The human body is designed to burn fat for fuel, but it can only do so if we stop giving it sugar and carbohydrates.
- Fats are critical for many metabolic processes: they’re necessary in order that the body has the necessary materials for building organs, cells and hormones. The brain itself may consist of up to 60% fat.
- Fats are super satisfying. They taste good and, along with complete protein, they provide the feeling of satiety – much more so than a carbohydrate based meal. With the right amount of fat in our meal we feel full for longer, which means we’re less likely to go hunting for (unhealthy) snacks.
The Paleo Diet and Fat
The Paleo Diet recommends increasing the intake of fat whilst significantly reducing the consumption of simple carbohydrates. We want to be ‘Fat Burners’ instead of ‘Sugar Burners’. When the body habitually receives sugar/carbs, it actually defaults into burning this easy energy source, and consequently never taps into it’s fat stores. It’s the classic ‘I’m not eating much, but I can’t lose weight’ scenario. Through cutting out the carbs and consuming healthy fats, the body changes gear and quickly reverts to it’s natural state of burning fat for fuel. The transition from ‘Sugar Burner’ to ‘Fat Burner’ might be a little unpleasant. Most people go through a period of ‘Carb Flu’, experiencing symptoms such as exhaustion and irritability. But this short period of discomfort is worth it. Our bodies are genetically programmed to be healthy with a high-fat/low-carb diet.
The Standard Western Diet is based on the opposite of Paleo recommendations. Most people, following National Dietary Guidelines, eat a low-fat/high-carb diet, and usually supplement their bread, pastries, rice and pasta with vast quantities of refined-sugar laden junk food. The Fat Debate is heated – check out this article, for example. People (especially in the medical, nutritional, scientific, agricultural and food production industries) find it hard to relinquish the conventional wisdom established over lifetimes, and valid scientific studies are hard and expensive to organise. But no one can deny that something is seriously off course with the current contemporary nutritional models. Health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, food intolerances and allergies continue to rise. Placing people on a high-fat diets such as Paleo or the Mediterranean Diet, on the other hand, inevitably results in weight loss and stabilised blood sugar levels, with all the related health benefits that those two things alone provide.
Eating fat does not cause weight gain. Eating cholesterol does not cause high cholesterol levels. Fat and cholesterol are not evil. Rather, pretty much all health issues are caused by chronic sistemic inflammation, which is often silent until everything explodes. Inflammation is caused by a constant excess of carbohydrates/sugar. Burning fat instead of carbs is the human body’s natural, healthy state of being.
Why You Want To Be A Fat Burner
Being a Fat Burner instead of a Sugar Burner means
- You’ll feel full for longer. You won’t need to eat every two hours. No hunger, crankiness, brain fog.
- The body will consume it’s fat stores, which it simply can’t do when blood sugar and insulin levels are too high. Excess carbs (sugars) are stored in the liver and the muscles as glycogen. When the liver and muscles are full, the excess is turned into adipose tissue (fat). A constant carb flow means insulin levels are constantly high, leading to insulin resistance and leptin resistance. When the brain – body signals don’t get through, the body literally cannot burn the excess fat. Cut the carbs, re-boot the metabolism, get the signals working again and the body will happily burn through it’s stores of fat.
- Your body will still run on carbs for high-intensity activities – sprinting, working out, things that raise your heartbeat and make you sweat.
- Your body will burn fat for the low-intensity situations that make up the major part of the day – walking, housework, gardening, playing.
Tip: The way to become fat adapted is to stop giving your body sugar all the time.
Important! Fat, Insulin Resistance and Leptin Resistance
A high fat diet in the context of insulin resistance and leptin resistance can be damaging, as the fat may add fuel to the fire. But the fat itself is not the problem. The big issue is the over reliance on carbohydrates (sugars) which leads to over eating, unbalanced hormones, disrupted metabolic processes and inflammation. Resolve these, and eating fat will once again be healthy.
In Which Fats are Good Fats and Which Fats are Ugly, I give a brief run-down of the different Fat families: Saturated, Monosaturated, Polyunsaturated and Trans. That post also comes with a Free Printable PDF.
Also, check out the experts:
The Definitive Guide to Cholesterol – by Mark Sisson, on Mark’s Daily Apple.
The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat are Not the Enemy – by Chris Kresser, on Let’s Take Back Your Health.
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