Eating Fat: How and Why

admin February 15, 2010

Okay, so, I’ve been harping on eating fat a lot lately! But now I want to get even more indepth about what types of fat you should eat, why, and then give you several meal/snack ideas on how to get more good fats into your diet. In the ideas, I’ll be specifically focusing on dairy-free ideas. There is already a great list on how to eat more fat at Cheeseslave‘s blog that focuses on a lot of dairy-full ideas.

So, fat. It’s EVIL in this culture. But here’s what you need to know: in fat-free or low-fat products, something has to replace the flavor and calories that fat brings. That is almost universally SUGAR. Sugar is far more evil! Overconsumption of sugar is why we’re a nation of people who are overweight and (type II) diabetic! The other day at the store, I looked at a box of Snackwell’s fat-free chocolate cookies and the FIRST ingredient was sugar. Before flour! So if you think you’re doing a good job on a diet because you’re eating these fat-free cookies, no way! You’d be better off eating a tub of lard. For many reasons.

Then there’s the perception that we need low-fat, low-calorie meals that are filled with just veggies to be healthy. The average person (and this is according to the government; I don’t entirely agree) requires 2000 calories and 65 grams of fat in day. That’s about 500 calories each at breakfast and lunch, 700 at dinner (or better, 700 at breakfast and 500 each at lunch and dinner) plus 300 calories of snacks per day. So if you’re focusing on a super low-fat lunch of a salad and vegetable soup which contains all of 200 calories, you are way, way under the amount you need per day. A lot of people skip breakfast, too, so that puts you even further down. This opens you up to fatigue, slowed metabolism, weakened immune system, and of course the very likely possibility that you’ll end up snacking on junk food later.

It’s also known that eating fat helps the absorption of nutrients. It’s why even mainstream dieticians recommend eating an oil-based dressing on your salad (of course, they say only a tiny bit and don’t overdo the nuts, which I disagree with). There are so many detriments to NOT eating fat, and so many positives to eating it.

As I mentioned in another blog post, the body requires either fat or carbohydrates as energy. Fat is a great energy source isn’t actually stored in the body as fat (it’s actually burned slower than carbs, but to me it feels “faster” because I’m hungry sooner). Carbohydrates are burned faster by turning into simple sugars (yes, even whole grains — it’s slower and the bran helps, but they still break down into sugars, because that’s what carbs are) and spiking your blood sugar. They are then easily stored as fat.

Fat also does many great things for our bodies, including:
*Balances hormones (including serotonin, responsible for mood; and serotonin, which tells you when to stop eating)
*Develops babies’ brains
*Improves digestion and absorption of nutrients
*Saturated fat composes about 50% of our cells, so eating it helps cellular regeneration
*Many more! (read the resources below)

How much fat should you get in your diet per day? According to Weston A. Price Foundation, anywhere from 30 – 80% of one’s calories per day should be from fat (high percentages being for therapeutic diets, not normal ones). On average, 37% is normal, which translates to around 97 grams per day (significantly more than the U.S. RDA’s “65 grams or less”).

If that’s true, how do we go about getting more fat into our diets? Here are several dairy-free ideas:

*Smoothies with coconut milk or coconut oil added (or coconut cream if you can get some)
* Coconut milk ice cream made with honey and extra coconut oil
*Potatoes fried in coconut oil, lard, bacon grease, or beef tallow
*French fries made in beef tallow
*Grass-fed burgers cooked with extra beef tallow and grilled onions (add bacon too!)
*Bacon and pastured eggs cooked in bacon grease
*Eggs scrambled in beef tallow with avocado
* Coconut flour muffins made with coconut oil, and topped with sunflower butter or real butter (if you can eat dairy)
*Carrot or celery sticks dipped in sunflower butter (or peanut butter)
*Sausage fried in lard with peppers and onions
*Cream soups made with coconut milk and oil

Add cheese, cream, or butter to anything if you can do dairy!

Now that you’ve read about how and why to eat fat, it’s time for a CHALLENGE! Starting on March 1st, I am launching a 30-Day Eat More Fat Challenge. Here’s how the challenge works:

*Register for the challenge
*Each person will have a username throughout this challenge so that it is anonymous to other readers (this is because we’ll be sharing height/weight/diet information)
*Each day, I will post a new tip or idea on fat: how to eat more, random fact about why it’s good, etc.
*Each week, all the participants will come back to the blog (so, Mar. 8, 15, 22, and 29; final results on Mar. 31) to “check in” on a variety of factors (detailed below)
*The participant who does the best in the most categories (details below) will win either a copy of my new cookbook, or a jar of my Soothing Skin Cream (similar to the homemade diaper rash cream recipe I posted earlier), winner’s choice.

*Most weight lost
*Most (healthy!) fat consumed (fat sources added to meals or snacks)
*Most creative way(s) to add fat to your diet

Each week, participants will report the following:
*How much they weigh
*The fats/fattening foods that they ate each day (i.e. “organic bacon grease and eggs at breakfast, olive oil and almonds at lunch, coconut oil at dinner”)
*The most interesting fat-filled meals they prepared in the last week

1) All participants MUST officially register and agree that their username and other information can be posted to the site (real names won’t be used)
2) Participants must come to every weekly check-in, including the final check in
3) All fat consumed must be HEALTHY fats. That is, coconut oil, organic lard, organic palm shortening, organic beef tallow, butter, ghee, sustainably produced meat, dairy, nuts, eggs, etc. The following fats do not count: vegetable oil, peanut oil, anything containing trans fats, commercial fried food, processed foods containing fat, factory-farmed meats, eggs, milk. (For your convenience, I’ll post a chart of approximately how much fat common foods contain on Mar. 1)
4) The winner must submit his or her mailing address for the prize to be sent by April 3rd, 2010.

Please feel free to spam this contest everywhere!

Taking the Fear Out of Eating Fat
Benefits of Eating Coconut Oil
Proven Health Benefits of Saturated Fats

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  1. This seems really similar to the Atkins diet. Does it differ from Atkins? If so, how?


  2. When you fry healthy oils does it change the properties of the oil? What about bacon? Since it is full of salt and nitrates, should this be a form of fat that we should eat? And what about cows that have been given antibiotics or hormones, or are grass-fed cows not given these things? Thanks!


  3. Anonymous 1,

    It is similar to Atkins, but instead of focusing only on fat, we're focusing on whole foods, like coconut oil, grass-fed beef, etc. Atkins isn't so specific about the sources of fat.

    Anonymous 2,

    Grass-fed cows, or even corn-fed organic cows aren't given any antibiotics or hormones. You can buy uncured bacon which does not contain any nitrites or nitrates (at Whole Foods, all brands are free of these chemicals), and this is safe. I personally love uncured bacon! Natural sea salt is also not a problem (which organic brands will have). As for frying, if you heat the oil too high, it can change the properties, but saturated fats are very stable and generally safe to fry with. Hope that helps!


  4. I know that following the Atkins diet has been proven to contribute to kidney problems, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, arrhythmia, and osteoporosis. How does what you are suggesting eating compare/contrast to Atkins in relation to these diseases? I know you said that you are focusing on whole foods vs. fat. Atkins focuses more on protein/carbohydrate ratios and fat is not really a consideration. Whole foods, beef, bacon, dairy, and fats are all part of Atkins just as they are part of your plan. Any insight you can give would be greatly appreciated.


  5. Anonymous,

    I don't know a ton about Atkins, but I looked it up. I think that it focuses on some processed foods (low carb pasta? not natural), lots of protein, too little fat, and the wrong kinds of fats. It promotes unsaturated oils and lean protei sources. Also, consuming factory-farmed meats is linked to health problems. Atkins never discusses organic food, sources of meat, etc. Eating a factory-meat-heavy diet is going to cause health problems. Eating little or no saturated fat isn't good either. Atkins is kind of…"standard American diet, slightly modified," while whole foods rejects a lot of what most consider healthy. "Nourishing Traditions" is a good book to read to learn more.


  6. Great! Thanks for your help!


  7. just curious about what type of problem an 80% fat diet would be theraputic for, are you thinking epilepsy and the ketogenic diet? for fun, checkout this MD's site, he personally follows a 70% fat diet-

    in regards to atkins, id like to see the 'proof', anonymous, that it caused kidney disease and heart problems. saying this is one thing, please substantiate before stating such a dramatic thing.


  8. Emily-

    It's pretty well-known that following Atkins has led to kidney problems. I got the rest of the information, much to my shame because it's such an unreliable source, from Wikipedia. The coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease references did not include citations (exactly why I dislike wikipedia). The osteoporosis and kidney stones citation came from the Journal of the American Diatetic Association. The same journal also said the Atkins diet causes constipation, halitosis, and has even resulted in death. There was another citation from Obesity Reviews stating that Atkins causes high cholesterol. Typically, I see Wikipedia as the lazy man's method of research, but they did a pretty good job on the substantiation of research in this case.


  9. Most of the up to date nutritionists will agree with you! Fats from real food are fine. For the person asking about Atkins – the original version was based on incomplete science and severely restricts healthy carbs (like fruits and vegetables!) Even the so called official Atkins diet has backed away from that. I'm guessing that the studies were based on the original version.


  10. Maybe they were from the original version, but I don't think so. The original Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution was published in 1972. The Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution was published in September, 2002, and the studies were from 2004 and 2005. Therefore, since two to three years passed between the new version of the diet and the studies, the studies likely petained to the new version. Healthy carbs, inculding fruits and vegetables, are introduced into the diet after a couple of weeks.


  11. Eating a lot of fat (as I'm recommending) doesn't necessarily mean that you don't eat carbs. A lot of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, other root vegetables) contain a lot of carbs. I'm not suggesting you restrict those. It's a focus on eating plenty of HEALTHY fat and fewer grains but otherwise generally a balanced diet.


  12. My doctor has advocated this kind of eating for years. It has greatly reduced my blood sugar levels.

    Interesting post…thanks for sharing!



  13. This sounds like a fun contest to participate in! How does one register?

    Anon, the 'facts' presumed about the Atkins diet are innacurate, like much of what passes for nutritional info nowadays.


  14. Avivah,

    There is a link you can click in the post. Click on the word "register." If it doesn't work, let me know! 🙂


  15. Avivah-

    Which "facts" presumed about the Atkins diet are inaccurate?


  16. Fat certainly is important in the diet and has been ridiculously demonized by the trends of the past 50 years! Another important benefit to note is that eating enough fat keeps your skin healthy and reduces dryness.

    Serotonin is not a hormone; it is a neurotransmitter. Saying it's "responsible for mood" is a huge oversimplification since a lot of other chemicals are involved in mood, but it is important for mood stability and optimism. Prozac, Zoloft, and similar drugs work by damaging the brain's ability to "put away" serotonin so that it stays in the synapses longer, but they don't increase the production of serotonin and may actually decrease it over time (as the brain reacts to the presence of more serotonin in the synapses by making less). Dietary changes may be a more effective, healthier way of treating depression and anxiety.

    Fat is important to the brain not just for babies! Children's brain development requires fat all the way through adolescence, and there is some evidence that excessively lowfat diets harm adults' brains, especially late in life.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention fish oil. More health benefits of that (when it comes from non-polluted fish) are being discovered every year.


  17. All of my life, till I turned 18, I ate homecooked meals with fat contents that were never really measured. I did pig out a bit every now and then, on carbs, but I rarely ever had a "processed" snack, maybe once in 6 months. Fast forward almost 8 years, my diet becoming more like the "typical" american diet of processed foods, and here I am 100 lbs heavier than I was 7 years ago. I never imagined a day that I could be this heavy – almost twice my original weight! I am working with a dietician now to get things back to normal, and even though my blood sugars and cholesterol numbers are great (waaaaaaay under the recommended normal values), it has become more and more apparent to me that processed foods and high glycemic carbs are the real evil (at least for me).

    I do have a problem eating foods with high fatty contents, as i feel nauseous afterwards. Have you come across anyone else who has this problem? If so, do you know how they were able to get over it? Thanks…


  18. Anonymous,

    If it's been awhile since you've eaten a lot of fat, your body will not be used to it anymore. Start very gradually in upping your fat amounts. A year or so ago, I didn't feel well either when I ate a lot of fat. Coconut oil in cold smoothies (as opposed to hot, greasy foods) seems to help too. Your body needs to get used to digesting fat as energy again, and your gallbladder has to be put back to work (ironically, I've learned lately that it's a LACK of fat in the diet that causes gallbladder problems, even though a low-fat diet is specifically recommended to treat it since it doesn't handle fats well once it's been damaged — but, I think it's one of those "use it or lose it" things).

    I think a lot of people feel the way you do — eating carb-heavy foods, fat doesn't make them feel well, but no "diet" has helped them lose weight. Another small key is that processed food contains so little nourishment that even though you're getting a lot of calories, you're not getting the nutrients you need, so your body wants you to eat more.



  19. I know this is really late and I question whether it’ll be posted but I get pretty upset when I see people parroting all the old rumors about Atkins without actually asking an Atkins-follower (in the sense of following the diet) or reading any of the books. Particularly unforgivable since in the former instance you can find us all over the blogosphere and in the latter instance, Atkins books are usually available at the public library. (I see them a lot at Goodwill too–dunno if that is just my area of the country or if it’s true everywhere. People give up on diets and eventually declutter their diet books–I find other diet books there as well.)

    I don’t know what to say to the supposed risk of death. I will say that a lot of people who do Atkins are very obese and quite desperate, because conventional wisdom says nobody needs to do Atkins unless they’re really fat. That’s a myth, and it isn’t important just why at the moment, but let’s run with this. So the people who go on Atkins are already at risk of cardiovascular disease. I should probably remind the people here, because surely they already knew since they are so informed about Atkins, that Dr. Atkins was a cardiologist. Naturally he was interested in weight loss since his training told him obesity is tied to heart disease. So you have all these people with serious problems adopting this allegedly extreme diet out of desperation. Isn’t it possible that at least some of them were already well on their way to a heart attack and didn’t have time to reverse the damage before the damage killed them? People die every day who had gone on low-fat diets, and virtually no one blames the diet. Well, I do, but I realize I’m a minority voice at this point.

    The American Dietetic Association tells diabetics to eat high-carb diets. Here is a source:

    Quote: "You need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Your RD will determine a specific amount of carbohydrates for each meal or snack to ensure your blood sugar stays in good control. Your job is to learn the number of carbohydrates in each food measured in grams, then keep to the planned number.
    Carbohydrate counting gives you wiggle room in terms of making food choices. However, to ensure you eat healthfully your focus should be on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and low-fat milk."

    If you are diabetic, you should not be eating grains AT ALL, and beans are not a good idea either. Low-fat milk is also too high in sugar. Why in the world would the ADA like Atkins? Atkins actually works for diabetics, and reduces or eliminates their need for drugs.

    I know people who are diabetic and who follow their doctors’ advice about what to eat. Every single one of them, without exception, maintains unhealthy blood sugar levels, EVEN if they are on meds. Their blood sugar could be normal if their doctors and dieticians would get over the dogma and start counseling them based on the actual science.

    The advice for healthy people stinks too. The ADA talks about avoiding fads but they themselves are participating in one. Everybody has advice these days about how to be healthier by eating lots and lots of vegetables. No one except WAPF-affiliated folks has any advice about the healthfulness of meat and how to obtain maximum nutrition from it. Meat’s viewed by the mainstream as a way to get protein and little else. The ADA even has advice pages on how to adopt vegetarianism. *shudder* Yet another reason they would oppose Atkins. You can do the later stages of Atkins as an ovo-lacto, but Atkins is almost universally viewed as a meat-eaters’ diet.

    And speaking of which. There isn’t anything unbalanced about eating only meat even if that *were* something Atkins advised. There are people who’ve done it quite successfully for decades. There are indigenous people who’ve done it their entire lives. The traditional Inuit, traditional Maasai and certain traditional Siberian indigenous groups all eat 90 percent or more of their diets as animal foods, including (at least in the case of the Maasai) dairy and fermented honey. (Fermenting, by the way, removes sugar.) Why aren’t they dropping dead of osteoporosis and kidney failure? I’ve heard that the Inuit suffer from osteoporosis NOW, but they’re also eating our junk food rather than, or in addition to, their traditional foods. If they weren’t eating our garbage, would they be suffering? I rather doubt it; their diet would have been high in calcium and vitamin D. The Maasai definitely don’t have bone problems. The traditional ones are tall and well-formed, with strong skeletons and straight, beautiful teeth–and they have room for all of them, even the wisdom teeth. How many people in our society following "balanced diets" can say the same? (Contrary to popular belief, wisdom teeth are NOT "becoming vestigal." The truth is that 90+ percent of us are deformed at this point, failing to develop properly because we are not eating properly. This is a problem plaguing all agricultural communities to some degree, not just ours–even in Weston Price’s studies, the traditional Swiss had more cavities than any other traditional group he examined.)

    A "balanced diet" is one in which you obtain all the nutrients you need for surviving and thriving, not a diet in which you get X number of servings from Group A, Group B, and Group C. If you can get all your nutrients from one kind of food then there’s no reason to obsess about it. And you can get everything you need from animals without too much trouble. You can even get vitamin C from animal foods because all animals except a small handful (mainly simian primates and guinea pigs) can make their own, so it is present in their bodies. And a person on an all-meat diet doesn’t need as much vitamin C because it doesn’t have to compete with all that excess glucose from plant foods. Every other nutrient is present in animal foods in large amounts.

    And even the 1971 Atkins diet wasn’t all-meat. I have a copy of the book, for Pete’s sake. (Good ol’ Goodwill again.) Atkins counseled his readers to start out with one salad and gradually re-introduce carbohydrate consumption until they reached their upper tolerance point, exactly the way he had his readers eating in later editions, except they started out with two salads instead of one. For those who were metabolically resistant he recommended starting out with zero carbs and then re-introducing as soon as weight loss kicked in, but that was meant to be a temporary solution. For all his revolutionary ideas (many of which weren’t even original to him–he only popularized them, as he admitted in his writings), Atkins was still a product of his training and his training told him that people need to eat plants.

    Plants *are* good as additional sources of nutrients, and many of them taste good and offer medicinal benefits. I wouldn’t tell someone who really loves plant food to go without it. But none of the plant foods are required to sustain human life. Think about it. We have not always been farmers, and have not always stored our food. We would have had to make do with what was available. What plants are available in winter when the ground’s frozen? How in the world did we survive the Ice Age? Needing plants makes no sense given our history. Even if you don’t believe we evolved, I have yet to hear a creationist argue that the Ice Age didn’t happen and that people didn’t live through it.

    As for "halitosis," that’s actually ketone breath, and it shows up mainly in people doing the Induction phase. It doesn’t happen in everybody, and even if it did, remember that many people who do Atkins and stick with it are people who started out with serious obesity-related health problems. (And no, ketosis is not the same as ketoacidosis, and is not dangerous, especially if you drink adequate water.) Do you really think they are going to care if their breath stinks? Do you imagine someone out there finds the
    smell of their breath more important than whether they will still have working kidneys ten years from now? I dunno, maybe some do–I feel sorry for them, though.

    Speaking of kidneys, that old idea that high-protein diets cause kidney failure has long been debunked. People are still trying to invoke it, but it has no standing. Here’s an example:

    Oh yeah. Protein doesn’t damage your kidneys if you’re healthy but gee, you might not be healthy so you might kill your kidneys. Oh, but eat vegetarian or dairy proteins and you’ll be OK. (I thought dairy proteins ARE animal proteins?)

    Frankly, I don’t think I could eat enough animal protein to damage my kidneys because I’d make myself sick. Meat is remarkably satiety-inducing. But anyone who’s studied the issue outside of mainstream thought comes to understand that even indigenous groups who eat a lot of meat don’t eat it by itself. They don’t go in for any of that "eat only lean meat" nonsense. They go straight for the fat, and eat lots of it. That seems to protect them from a condition known as rabbit starvation–here’s more info here:

    Even if you don’t go into full-blown RS, if someone tries to do Atkins without enough fat in their diet, I bet they’ll give themselves at least mild issues. That’s part of what happened to people following the Kimkins (scam) diet… do a Google search, it’s interesting.

    And here’s the last claim I’ll address here because I’m not doing everybody’s homework for them–the claim that low-carb diets cause "lethargy." It was mentioned in that UK article. Uh, no. Being low-carb doesn’t make me lethargic. Eating LOTS of carbs makes me lethargic. In the first few days some people do feel tired and suffer vague flu-like symptoms, but that’s the body switching over to a different metabolic pathway, not something that’s supposed to happen all the time. Unless they are really doing something wrong, most people start feeling better in the first week and some start feeling good almost immediately. It depends on how long it takes to burn off the glycogen in your muscles and liver.

    Sorry for the really long post, I just hate seeing this kind of misinformation perpetuated on a website that alleges to debunk mainstream dietary misinformation. Well, the mainstream says Atkins is dangerous and unhealthy, so keep that in mind when the critics show up again.

    By the way, Dr. Atkins expressed admiration for Nourishing Traditions–if I remember correctly (the book’s in the kitchen and I’m lazy at the moment), his endorsement is listed in the front pages of the book! Thought that might interest you.

    Sorry for the comment length. Hope it helps, anyway.


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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