Although it may seem like a logical sequence of events, eating fat will NOT make you fat. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Fats are an essential part of the diet for optimal health, acting as building blocks for cell membranes, aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and providing a slow-burning source of energy. Healthy fats help regulate energy absorption in the body, and actually slow the absorption of food, keeping our insulin and blood sugar levels stable. Foods with healthy fats provide a true feeling of satiety and fullness. Best of all, fats make our food taste DELICIOUS!
Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are the macronutrients our bodies require for optimal health. When we lower the amount of fat we are consuming, we shift the ratio of macronutrients in our diet, and will inevitably be consuming more calories from carbohydrates. With the development of the low-fat and fat-free trend, food companies capitalized on this concept to create low-fat or no-fat versions of their food products. These lower fat alternatives fill our store shelves with flashy food labels and are promoted as a health product, reinforcing the paradigm that a low-fat diet is the correct approach for a healthy life. When food companies create a product that has lower fat content, or the fat removed completely, lots and lots of sugar must be added in order to maintain palatability. So, not only are Americans consuming more carbohydrates, they are consuming more refined carbohydrates from processed foods that are full of sugar.
All carbohydrate foods, are broken down as sugar in the body. As carbohydrates are digested, the presence of glucose in the bloodstream will trigger the pancreas to produce insulin in order to transport glucose to cells for fuel or for storage. Once glucose is used by the cells for energy, excess will be transported first to the liver and then to skeletal muscles to be converted to glycogen for later use. Any excess glucose in the blood at that point will then be converted into adipose (fat) tissue. Overtime, a diet high in carbohydrates (especially refined/ processed carbohydrates) and low in fat and protein, will lead to an excess of the conversion of glucose into adipose tissue, leading to weight gain. Eventually, a high-carb, low-fat diet will also lead to insulin resistance and possibly type 2 diabetes.
Our metabolisms were designed to be energized by a balance of primarily fats, alongside healthy proteins and unrefined carbohydrates. A low-fat diet will create a sugar-burning metabolism. This puts our bodies in a state that is dependent on carbohydrates and sugar for energy, unable to use dietary or stored fats as an energy source. Sugar is a quick and short lived source of fuel, putting us through a rollercoaster of mood swings, and the inability to feel truly satiated. If you have ever felt “hangry” – then you know exactly what I am talking about, and may be operating as a sugar-burner.
In order to escape this vicious cycle, it will be important to move towards a diet higher in healthy fats and lower in carbohydrates. Knowing the difference between simple and complex, refined and unrefined carbohydrates will help guide the selection of proper carbohydrates for a more stable source of energy. Eventually, we can switch our bodies to be wired to burn fats, which is a more sustained source of energy, and will also allow the body to access and break down stored fat in adipose tissues. Including a higher ratio of healthy fats in our diet can work to reverse the damage done by overconsumption of carbohydrates, and will result in weight loss, reduced mood swings and improved energy.