As scientists learn more about the nutritional properties of fat, it’s becoming more clear: fat has gotten a raw deal.
Surprisingly, the “balanced diet” of carbohydrates and protein that we’ve been fed through our mouth and ears for years is the real culprit.
One of the most thorough articles that has ever been written about this topic comes from NY Times columnist, author and bad-science critic Gary Taubes. In his July 7, 2002 piece titled What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?, he posits his theory about the real place of fat in a healthy diet. He also presents his reasons for why we have fallen into the high carb trap.
“In the course of my research, I have spent my mornings at my local diner, staring down at a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage, convinced that somehow, some way, they must be working to clog my arteries and do me in,” Taubes wrote.
“After 20 years steeped in a low-fat paradigm, I find it hard to see the nutritional world any other way. I have learned that low-fat diets fail in clinical trials and in real life, and they certainly have failed in my life.”
Since then – and even before – books, research papers and studies have been published again and again showing that much of the problems we are facing globally are not the result of fat like we once believed.
This is a much larger topic than we have time to cover today. We will address why fat become a target in another blog post. For now, we want to introduce you to a novel idea: fat is your friend.
Getting Over The Carb Hurdle
“I could never stop eating my bread and pasta!”
There is a fair chance that you have heard this before. You may have even said it, once or twice. It is an understandable feeling; we have been hammered with the idea that whole grains are healthy, that pasta is a normal part of an everyday diet, that rice or potatoes are the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
We are so obsessed with carbs that we will add more carbs to our carbs to make them more carby. How many times have you gone to an Italian restaurant and had garlic bread alongside your lasagna? Or ordered naan with the jasmine rice when you have had Indian takeout? What is a burger without fries, or a pizza without breadsticks?
All of this seems perfectly natural to us. Without those items, we are just left with boiled chicken breast and vegetables, right? Wrong! Because on the other side of the low-carb eating plan is a much more palatable macronutrient: fat.
Falling In Love With Food Again
One misconception continues to stick in people’s minds when they think about cutting carbs. They are convinced that they will be eating a restrictive diet, one that will be difficult (or impossible) to maintain in the long term. Their minds immediately go to the sacrifice, of how many beloved foods they will be giving up.
Part of this is a trick of the brain. We are primed to want carb-rich foods. We crave them, whether they are potato chips, cookies, pizza or french fries. Such a strong biological imperative is hard to ignore, and we walk away believing we could never stop eating staples like bread and roast potatoes.
The opposite is actually true. Yes, we will be giving up the bagels, the coffee cakes, the spaghetti, the toast. We won’t be eating french fries or baked potatoes. Even certain fruits like bananas will become off-limits. But we will be adding in a number of delicious foods that before were either severely limited, or off-limits altogether.
When was the last time you allowed yourself to eat eggs fried in butter, with a side of bacon, and did so without the slightest bit of guilt? Can you even remember when you last enjoyed the rich treat of heavy cream? Or ate a whole avocado in a day? What about olive oil? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some on your salad without measuring it down to 1/8th of a teaspoon and straining to enjoy its flavor?
One of the first things that people following Low-Carb/High-Fat will find is that your diet becomes significantly less restrictive as you add in way more foods than you ever took out.
Choosing to cut your carbs means you will be replacing it with fat from multiple sources, including saturated fats that you have been banned from eating before. It isn’t just an option, it is a requirement.
Fat Is Your Friend
Eating carbohydrates is a major source of energy for most of the world. Carbs convert to glucose, which is then burned as sugar for fuel. We all already know that much.
Unfortunately, it is not a very efficient fuel source. It burns up quickly, leaving you hungry again and looking for another fix. On top of that, it causes cravings for the foods highest in sugar and carbs, as the body seeks to replenish the energy it has lost.
Fat is a much more efficient energy source. It is more filling, it burns much slower, and you already have additional fat stores on the body that can be used for energy even when your stomach is empty.
For those who are looking to lose weight, keep weight off, or just remain healthy, fat is a game changer. You will get fuller faster than when you eat carbs, run longer on that food, and avoid the cravings that can lead to snacking and overeating.
Fat is a Better Fuel For Your Body
All of that probably sounds great, and yet some might still be wondering if fat is really that important. If you can lose weight by cutting carbs, couldn’t you lose even more by also cutting fat?
This is the mentality that often leads to people replacing both carbs and fat with lean protein. After all, protein is supposed to be good for us, so more of it must be great!
The good news is that protein is, indeed, good for us. The bad news is that the idea of more being better is a myth, and a dangerous one. In order to understand why too much protein is a bad thing, we have to start looking at our food as energy.
There are three macronutrients that come from the foods we eat, carbohydrates, fat and protein. We also have a number of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
It is the macronutrients which keep our body functioning day to day, and micronutrients that keep us healthy and help us cope with environmental factors that could impact that health.
Only two of the three macronutrients can be used as energy: carbohydrates (glucose) and fat. Protein is a restorative nutrient that repairs muscle and keeps organs running. When we put our bodies under strain or pressure, protein steps up to fix any small damage caused. Think of protein as a building block.
When we eat more protein than we need, our body doesn’t know what to do with it in its current state. So it decides to use it in a different way. Through a process called gluconeogenesis, it converts it to glucose that can be used as energy at a later time.
To keep that glucose available for a time of famine, it is stored in the body as fat. Quite often in the abdominal area, one of the most frequent regions where visceral fat accumulates.
We would have to burn that excess protein-generated glucose at the time it is consumed to avoid this. That may work for bodybuilders or long distance runners, but not so much for the average person.
In other words, carbohydrates run our bodies on sugar. Protein runs our bodies on sugar. Fat runs our bodies on fat.
Myth: Fat Begins To Burn When When Carbs Run Out
There is another myth that if we eat carbs before a workout, then once those carbs run out the body immediately begins to burn the fat on our bodies as fuel to keep us going. While that seems like it would make sense, it isn’t accurate.
Our bodies are efficient machines, but they are not so adaptable that they are able to immediately switch to a new source of energy. It takes time to direct our bodies to make that change, in a process known as Fat Adaption, or Keto Adaption. It can take anywhere up to six weeks to complete the adaption process.
When we run out of carbs, and our body is used to running on glucose, we crash. This is the hypoglycemic effect that can make us feel tired, hungry, and even experience queasiness and headaches. It may even cause us to become “hangry”, when our mood takes a dive and we become irritable and short tempered until we get food again.
Many people who eat a low-carb/high-fat diet will choose to workout in a fasting state, without any food beforehand. They can do this because they have a decreased appetite, and their body already has plenty of fat to run on without them eating. There is no hypoglycemic crash, because there is no sudden spike or drop in blood sugar or insulin levels.
Eating More Fat…The Easy Way
How much fat is the right amount for a low-carb/high-fat way of eating?
The average person will consume a 75% Fat / 20% Protein / 5% Carbohydrate balance, though this will depend on your carb tolerance and goals. Some users will go as high as 80% Fat, and limit themselves to 15% Protein. Still others will choose a higher carb percentage, as their bodies or activity levels allow.
Getting away from the numbers and focusing on intuitive eating, the breakdown is simpler:
You will avoid grains, starchy foods, or anything with a high carb count.
You will have a fair amount of meat, such as a serving or two per meal.
You will add fat to everything.
You will eat only when hungry and until you are sated.
In the beginning, you may be concerned about adding that much fat into your diet. Where will it all come from? There are a couple of tips to help you:
- Add fat to other foods. When you cook, use plenty of oils such as olive, coconut, or even MCT. Put butter on your vegetables and meat.
- Get creative with your sides. A piece of full fat cheese makes a great accompaniment to almost any food. Or cook some spinach with sour cream and cheddar.
- Add an avocado. This incredible fruit is full of healthy fats, is very filling, and works with nearly any food combination you can think of. Add a half to full avocado into your day, and you will get a great boost of fat, with very few net carbs and protein.
- Add heavy cream to your coffee, your eggs before cooking, or anywhere else it may be applicable.
- Use oil or cream based dressings for your salads. Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island, Olive Oil and Lemon, Oil and Vinegar, mayonnaise…these are great ways to get in plenty of fat on either a large salad as a meal, or a small salad as a side. It is also very versatile. Just be wary of added sugar, and when in doubt, make your own.
You will quickly notice that adding fat isn’t nearly as difficult as you fear, and becomes natural after a few weeks.
Foods That Are A Good Source Of Fat
A partial list of foods with fat include:
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Grass Fed Butter
- Full Fat Cheese
- Heavy Cream
- Sour Cream
- Cream Cheese
- Raw Almonds
- Raw Hazelnuts
- Raw Brazil Nuts
- Raw Macadamia Nuts
- Natural Peanut and Nut Butters
- High Fat Ground Beef
- Chicken Thighs
- Chicken Legs
- Whole Eggs
- Dark Chocolate (80%+ Cacao)
Get Reacquainted With Fat!
When we choose to lower our carbohydrate intake, it isn’t as simple as just cutting out bread and pasta. We have to compensate by eating plenty of fat to keep our bodies running efficiently, and our brains happy and well fed.
As you become adapted to your new way of eating you will begin to see the incredible results than come along with such an important life change. Fat loss, increased energy, better skin, fuller hair, more restful sleep, improved mood, decreased appetite, more mental clarity…the list goes on and on.
It isn’t a miracle diet, or a fad. These benefits are all the result of finally listening to our bodies, and giving them what they tell us they needs. And what do they need? Fat!
This is the impact of intuitive eating, and you are taking the first step in mastering it.