1. Why do we have such fat-phobia nowadays?
Well without getting too political, the government who happens to be advocating our way of eating (have you checked out the "myplate" recommendations recently?) also happens to be funded by a variety of agricultural companies who would benefit financially *cough, cough* from such recommendations. Plus, advocating a high-carb diet keeps us hungry. And who loves keeping us hungrier more than food companies? By asserting that their foods are low in fat and high in healthy grains, people automatically assume they must be a necessity to their diet, so gulp up that bowl of kashi every single morning. Yet they get confused when a couple of hours later their body is starving and they find themselves needing that snack of wait-- more grains? Yup, grains may even be addicting!
See the problem with eating a cereal like Kashi is that if one checks out the nutrition label it is significantly low in fat and protein, yet extremely high in carbohydrates (note also that the serving size is one cup-- no one eats 1 cup of cereal for breakfast). So say now that we are eating double the portion, about 80 grams of refined carbohydrates. That is more carbohydrates then we will get out of two small boiled sweet potatoes!^ More than I eat in 2 days! If I don't count my vegetables as carbs, I rarely top 50 grams of carbs in a day! Let alone most people are eating practically double that in their cereal. No wonder people are hungry a couple of hours later. While fat and protein signals the hormone leptin in our body (tells us when we are no longer hungry), carbs don't. If we think back to hunter-gatherer times, it makes sense too. They were hardly in the presence of carbs so when they came across them their bodies would scream, "Fill up on more of that now because who knows the next time it's available." Hunter-gatherers gorged on carbs to keep themselves insulated with fat because their food availability was unreliable.
Another reason we have fat-phobia is because of a misinterpretation of fats. We don't really know which fats are healthy to consume any longer. Well at least the government got something right: trans-fat from manufactured oils (soybean, canola) and margarine are extremely unhealthy for our bodies.
But, what about the other fats? That is where we got it wrong. If you check out my last post about Coconut oil, you can see why this saturated fat is actually extremely healthy and a preferred source of fuel to be used by the body. Many people don't eat meat today because they think the fat on the meat is unhealthy. Well more specifically, they think the saturated fat on the meat is bad. This is also a misconception. Unfortunately, nowadays most of the meat we buy is CAFO unless we make a concerted effort to buy grass-fed. This also means that the cows are fed grains instead of grass. So the fat composition in their bodies will change. Eating grains makes them fattier, but also more fat is omega-6s, a fat that promotes inflammation. So the unhealthy part of conventional meats is actually the omega-6s, not the saturated fat.
Omega-6s are the bad guys in terms of fat that cause most of our problems today. Yet our government recommends eating them! It is an unbalanced O-6, O-3 ratio, which promotes inflammation and aggravates chronic diseases.* These unsaturated fats should be eaten in limit, but instead are suggested as the fats we should only eat since they are UN-saturated. Well this shouldn't be the case because these fats are long-chain fatty acids (compared to Saturated which is short and medium-chain fatty acids). The long-chain fatty acids are troublesome because unlike short and medium-chain fatty acids, these are not readily used by the body for energy, but instead go straight to adipose (fat) tissue.
Another misnomer is the fact that omega-6s and omega-3s are called Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). They are named this because our bodies cannot produce them, so need to obtain them from outside sources. But, this does not mean that we necessarily need them. If we did, don't you think it would make sense that our bodies would have evolved to make them? For that reason, it might seem unreasonable that the USDA is recommending the majority of our fats to be obtained from omega-6 sources like canola and vegetable oils. These seed oils are processed and cannot be made naturally pressed as olive and coconut oils can be. For that reason, they easily go rancid sitting on the shelf or as soon as we use them in cooking creating trans fatty acids (the exact fat we really want to avoid!!). So the fat recommendations for today are completely backasswards. The "healthy" fats we are being fed are keeping us fat, giving people more belief to constrict intake of fats, and bringing our health into greater decline. Sigh...
2. Why do we need fats?
Fats are critical to many bodily functions and give us energy. Unlike carbohydrates, when we eat saturated fat it doesn't spike insulin. People who eat carb-heavy diets often experience drops in blood sugar (and then a desire to re-feed on carbs to increase blood sugar again). When one's blood sugar is low, the body goes into storage mode and the metabolism slows down. Eating carbs also spikes insulin, which is a problem because insulin production inhibits the use of fat as a fuel source (our bodies want to get rid of excess glucose first). With low blood sugar, energy levels will similarly be low and we won't want to exercise!
The human brain is over 65 percent fat, our hormones are made from fat, and so is the outer layer of every single cell in the body. Fat keeps our skin healthy, enhances our immune system, stabilizes our blood sugar and prevents diabetes. Good fats benefit our heart, normalize our blood fats and cholesterol, and even prevent cancer!**
Saturated and MUFAs help keep blood sugar stable, maximize the metabolism, and give the body a steady supply of fuel to utilize throughout the day. Calcium needs saturated fat in order to be absorbed into our bones, so low fat or skimmed milk is useless as a calcium source. Saturated fats are also necessary for good immune function and help to build a healthy nervous system and digestive tract. Fats are responsible for delivering the important fat-soluble vitamins to our cells, such as vitamin A, E, D, and K.
And just think about it. Human breast milk is almost 70% fat. Human nature wants us to thrive and grow to the best of our abilities so wouldn't it provide the most optimum macronutrients? For that reason, human milk is extremely low in carbohydrates, yet high in saturated fat to keep insulin stable and let our bodies continue to be fat-burners (using fat as a fuel).
3. Okay, so what fats are optimum to consume?
As Paul Jaminet stresses, the only macronutrient that isn't toxic in excess is Saturated and Monounsaturated fat. Carbs cause excess weight gain and protein can cause ammonia poisoning (something I myself recognized in my blood work when my BUN was too high!). So we might limit our O-6 intake as much as possible so that we are only getting it from natural sources like meat and pressed virgin olive oil. To keep our inflammation down we may eat wild oily fish like salmon (the omega-3s in it will help even out an unbalanced ratio) and get us back on track. But, keep in mind it is still a long-chain fatty acid so any omega-whatever is toxic in excess.
Trans-fats like margarine and vegetable/seed oils should be cut out automatically because those guys are just not good (and taste awful!). Instead if you do dairy opt for high-quality sources of butter (contain good saturated fats), coconut oil (see my previous article if you aren't convinced), and olive oil and avocado oil (these contain mostly MUFAs which aren't bad for us, but less optimal than saturated fats to be used by the bod for fuel).
Don't neglect your body the fat it needs to operate and only eat lean sources of protein! Instead enjoy that steak and that lamb which are more saturated-fat heavy than chicken and turkey (have higher O-6 levels). We need fat on our bodies to survive, so why wouldn't we need to consume fat to live as well??
On that note, I am going to go pop a can of coconut milk and dice in a peach with cinnamon. Hope this fat article helped clarify some things. Comment if you have questions!