A common belief of the fitfam is that the effect training has on your body equates to 20% and your diet effects the other 80%. Now I’m not sure how accurate that is but I have to agree with the phrase ‘pecs are made in the gym but abs are made in the kitchen’.
After years of following a low fat diet and being of a certain age where abdominal fat can be a problem, I upped my HIIT workouts but still had problems. Frustrated I turned to the all knowing Google for some help and researched some theories of fat in our diets. I was shocked when I found not only have we been lied to by the Banks, Politicians but by Health Professionals and my fear of fat was based on one man’s obsession, arrogance and bullying. It reads like fiction when you look at the story, so here’s the coffee break version.
Nina Teicholz in her book ‘The Big Fat Surprise’ outlines the origin of the lie: The fear of saturated fats began in the 1950s when Ancel Keys, a pathologist at the University of Minnesota, first proposed that they raised cholesterol and therefore caused heart disease.
There was a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease.
The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.
However the evidence backing these guidelines was weak. The “Seven Countries Study” carried out by Keys, which purported to show a link between the consumption of saturated fats and heart disease among 13,000 men surveyed in the US, Japan and Europe. Critics have pointed out that this study violated several basic scientific norms. For one, Keys did not choose his countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs – including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy – while excluding countries with low rates of heart disease despite diets with a lot of fat – such as France, Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany.
For us mere mortals understanding the vast evidence base is challenging, even more so when concerns about weak science, vested interests, and conflicting or distorted media messages also muddy the waters. As an interesting aside when we (as a population) gave up fat to follow our low fat diet we replaced it with carbohydrates, now that is whole new and equally troubled story, starting somewhere with a familiar name Mr Kellogg. Check out Gary Fettke or Professor Tim Noakes to see how these men were dragged across the coals for their beliefs and how they came out vindicated and bringing with them new evidence about nutrition and the lies that go with it.
All is not doom and gloom the truth will prevail since the 1980-90’s, dietary recommendations have shifted towards an oversimplified low-fat message, i.e., reducing all types of fat and replacing them with carbohydrates. The low-fat campaign led to a substantial reduction in percentage of calories from total fat but a compensatory increase in consumption of carbohydrates, especially refined starch and added sugar. In the meantime, the prevalence of adult obesity soared from 10.0% in the early 1980s to 37.7% in 2014 (1, 2), the incidence of type 2 diabetes doubled (3), and the decades-long decrease in CVD plateaued (4). Since the beginning of the 2000’s, dietary recommendations have begun to recognise the unwanted consequences of the low-fat campaign and re-emphasise the role of specific types of dietary fat.
So myth one; eating fat will make you fat. It’s not quite that simple as macronutrients combine in the body but the body can use carbohydrates or fat and as energy source, but they don’t mix well. The main problem that we are told is that carbohydrates are basically sugar i.e. converted to sugar in the body and our bodies in reaction creates insulin, insulin in turn converts unused sugars to fat. The proviso is if you are going to use the carbs imminently this can reduce the impact of insulin, along with that is that as individuals we all react differently and I don’t mean just a little differently so really it’s about testing your body and how thing effect you.
Myth two: All fats are bad for you. This has never been the case the popularity of the Mediterranean Diet and the use of Olive Oil is testament to this but not all fats are created equal.
Lets start with Trans Fats, everybody agrees these are bad for you and you shouldn’t touch them.
Saturated Fat, (this should really be myth three, consumption of animal fats will kill you) whilst they were once ostracised we are now being told in the British Medical Journal ‘Saturated fat is not a major issue’ (5) in fact it does go a little further and state that there is no link between saturated animal fats and heart disease.
Mono-Unsaturated Fats have been accepted as healthy for many years. From the story so far there has to be something wrong with this statement and we shall get to that.
Poly-unsaturated Fats when heated can form free radicals, which are harmful compounds that increase inflammation along with the risk of cancer and heart disease in the body. Therefore, many should be consumed cold and not be used for cooking.
Another point of contention to consider with our fat intake. Fat is a rich source of Omega 3 and 6 the ratio of which should be as close as we can get to ration 1:1, this would be very difficult for most people, but try and get close is all I can say and the average diet is probably more like ratio of 18:1.
One of the main problems with the low fat diet is that certain vitamins (A, D, K, E) the body needs are dissolvable in fat only so if you are on a low fat diet these vitamins have no bio-availability in the body, there as been little to no research on this.
So with all that digested maybe it’s time to point out that I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice, however it is the learning of an interested party that was looking to lose some body fat add to that my age being over 50. So I stopped looking at calories, replaced all my low fat yogurt with full fat, started cooking with butter, started eating cheese again after many years of avoiding it and started eating eggs like they were going out of fashion, they replaced my oats or salad. I replaced 1-2 of my weekly HIIT workout for weights. I do not weigh myself so after a couple of weeks looking in the mirror I would say I was loosing body fat and now after a number of months I have lost body fat a number of people close to me have also noticed. So does eating fat make you fat? Not in my mind. Does restricting calories reduce body weight? Not in my experience. Does eating animal fats lead to cardiovascular disease? According to British Medical Journal there’s no connection but I have no real idea who or what to believe anymore.
If you notice any mistake in this article please contact us or comment if you have any feedback again please comment, if you have carried out a N=1 test let us know your findings whatever you do please don’t mindlessly dismiss what we have written. In science there is a saying “what we believe today my be replaced by new knowledge and thinking tomorrow.”
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- Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kuczmarski RJ, Johnson CL. 1998. Overweight and obesity in the United States: prevalence and trends, 1960–1994.
- Flegal KM, Kruszon-Moran D, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. 2016. Trends in obesity among adults in the United States, 2005 to 2014.
- Crude and age-adjusted incidence of diagnosed diabetes per 1,000 population aged 18–79 years, United States, 1980–2014.
- Mozaffarian D, Bryson CL, Lemaitre RN, Burke GL, Siscovick DS. 2005. Fish intake and risk of incident heart failure.
- Malhotra A. Saturated fat is not the major issue. BMJ 2013;347:f6340. (22 October.)