Despite what the name seems to imply, dietary fats won’t actually make us fat.
Unless…we eat too much—or too little—of them.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Low-fat diets are more likely to give us added belly fat as well as many other side effects that are not so happy.
Believe it or not, fats are essential for providing our bodies with not only energy but for building healthy cells, and most importantly for regulating hormones. Fat is required for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) that boost immunity and maintain bone, eye, and skin health.
There’s also that other fat (aka a lipid) called cholesterol that we need as well. That’s right, we need cholesterol. This soft, waxy lipid is found in our bloodstream but also in every cell of our bodies, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help to digest fat.
One of the most important jobs of cholesterol is to aide in the production of hormones. Cholesterol is stored in the adrenal glands, ovaries, and the testes and is converted to steroid hormones. These steroid hormones perform other vital duties to help the body function properly. Without steroid hormones, we will have malfunctions with weight, sex, digestion, bone health, and mental status.
Cholesterol plays an important role in our body’s digestion.
Cholesterol is used to help the liver create bile which aids us in digesting the food that we eat. Without the bile, our bodies are unable to properly digest foods, especially fats.
Cholesterol is a structural component of cells. Cholesterol along with other lipids make up the structure of each and every cell in our bodies. Cholesterol is there to basically provide a protective barrier. When the amount of cholesterol increases or decreases, the cells are affected. This change can affect our ability to metabolize and produce energy correctly. This can ultimately affect some of our other bodies’ functions such as food intake and digestion. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of memories and is vital for neurological function. The liver makes about three-quarters or more of the body’s cholesterol.
For the past 60 years, we’ve all been led to believe that fats were the cause of heart disease and had no idea it was sugar all along!
in the 1960s, the sugar industry-funded research that downplayed the risks of sugar and highlighted the hazards of fat, according to a newly published article in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The article draws on internal documents to show that an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF then sponsored research by Harvard scientists that did just that. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding. *See also The Paul Leren Oslo Study, 1966.
More on sugar in later blog posts!
So what happens when we choose a substantially low or no fat food diet?
Here are some of the effects we might find:
Our hearts will be MORE at risk – we won’t have the protection from monounsaturated fats.
When eaten in moderation, and in place of trans fats and saturated fats, monounsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on our hearts. Without monounsaturated fats in our diet, we don’t reap their cardioprotective benefits.
When we eat less of one macronutrient (e.g. fats, carbs, and protein), our bodies have to make up for the calories somewhere else. Those who eat less fat typically end up eating more carbohydrates. The combination of eating more carbs and less fat can make you feel hungry all the time.
When we eat more carbs, we are also likely to eat more simple carbs. These are rapidly-digested nutrients that can spike our blood sugar and if we aren’t exercising, our bodies typically don’t need all of this extra energy. A well-known hormone known as insulin will store excess energy as fat and blood sugar will plummet. A drop in blood sugar alerts our brains that we’re hungry—again—even though we just ate.
Like I said before when we’re not eating enough fat, we are likely eating more carbs. Here’s the deal: Eating a high-carb meal that lacks nutrients such as fiber, healthy fats, or protein can spike your blood sugar rapidly.
Four vitamins—vitamins A, D, E, and K—are fat-soluble, rather than water-soluble. That means these essential micronutrients are only absorbed into the body once they’re dissolved in fat. Once they’re distributed throughout the body, the vitamins are then stored in the liver and fatty tissue for long-term use. When people don’t eat enough fat, they may become deficient in these fat-soluble vitamins that play varying roles in maintaining proper bone, eye, and skin health.
Additionally, if we cut fat intake too much, we aren’t able to absorb fat-soluble vitamin E as well, which is found to enhance the function of immune cells and help ensure healthy immune function as we age.
Vitamin D, another fat-soluble vitamin, has also been implicated in helping our bodies fend off colds. Additionally, two essential fatty acids (those we can only get from the diet, because our bodies don’t make them) omega-3s and omega-6s play important roles in the proper functioning of the immune system.
Carb-laden foods that cause inflammation eventually damage gut health. Rapidly growing scientific evidence is showing that the composition of our gut plays a critical role in influencing cognitive behaviors and emotions such as anxiety, depression, stress, autism, learning, and memory through what’s known as a “gut-brain axis,” according to a review in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
In fact, an astounding 95 percent of the happy hormone serotonin is made and stored in our guts.
The issue is that inflammation damages your gut health, and thus, can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Our brains feel “foggy”
Fats build our brain cells. They act as structural components of not only cell membranes in the brain, but also of myelin: the layer of fat that surrounds each nerve fiber and enables brain neurons to carry messages.
Once those simple carbs have been used up, the body can start using stored fat for fuel. So while we might be able to push through a short elliptical session depleted, our bodies need energy from fat to get through a longer cardio or lifting session. Without eating enough fat, your exercise routine will be cut short.
Menstrual cycles may change or stop
Unfortunately, I know of many female marathon runners with extremely low body fat that experience this problem. Fats help regulate the production of sex hormones. Case studies of young teenage girls who didn’t eat enough fat have found they experience delayed pubertal development. Additionally, post-puberty women may experience a loss of period because of a low body-fat percentage.
Diets high in carbs and sugar can also cause hormonal imbalances including elevated levels of cortisol, glucose, and the increased need for insulin. This can lead to central abdominal obesity (extra adipose tissue aka belly fat) and metabolic disturbances like diabetes.