Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer…is fat really the enemy?

It’s pretty obvious that obesity and related diseases have been increasing for decades and somewhere along the line, dietary fat started getting a bad rap.  As a result, many people started jumping on the low fat bandwagon and have gone crazy consuming processed high sugar “low fat” or “fat free” foods that are supposedly healthy for us.  So where did “low fat” fixation get us?  Obesity is still skyrocketing and more people than ever are struggling with their weight.  But are “fatty” foods really to blame?  Too often certain foods are referred to as “fattening” and the underlying problem is that a lot of people don’t understand it’s not just a single macronutrient that causes us to store fat, but too much of anything will. Our inherent fear of “fattening” foods make going to the store a bit of an indecisive nightmare.


Photo taken by Brian Talbot/Flickr

Saturated fats in particular have been demonized by the media.  It has been reported that these types of fatty acids were especially “bad” for us and unsaturated fats might be “better”, but those recommendations only lead people to consume processed inflammatory vegetables oils and chemically laden margarines full of trans fats.  Now, researchers reviewing the literature have made valid arguments that even foods with saturated fats are actually very nutrient dense and can be beneficial for us.  Considering that other cultures all around the word have traditionally followed a diet higher in fat yet still don’t have the same rates of chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer), you have to wonder if fat is really the culprit behind all these conditions.

There are many perks to eating healthy sources of fat.  It does wonders for the flavor of our food. Why would you avoid making eating an enjoyable experience? We need fat for optimal hormone production, insulation, and absorption of essential nutrients.  Eating fat causes us to release the hormone leptin in our bodies, signaling to our brain that we have had enough, which then helps us feel full for longer periods of time between meals.  The absence of this important macronutrient in our diet usually results in constant hunger, cravings, and an unhealthy urge to snack every two hours.  Eating moderate amounts of healthy fat with your meals helps minimize our need to binge on unhealthy high carb munchies later on.  In the long run, this can lead to an overall healthier diet while feeling satisfied with smaller portions of food.  Fat is also nourishing for our gut.  For example, butyric acid, which is a short chain fatty acid found in butter, helps maintain the integrity of the lining of our GI tract.  Most of already know that fish is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.


Photo taken by Blair_25/Flickr

Besides fish, other healthy sources of fat include olive oil, ghee (clarified butter with dairy solids removed), coconuts, avocados, eggs (yes, even the yolks!), seeds, nuts and nut butters, and meat from healthy grass fed pastured animals.  Dairy products from grass fed animals also contain many important nutrients, including higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids.  Coconut oil and butter or ghee are especially good for sautéing and cooking foods at high temperatures because they are more stable than other oils.  Foods cooked in more stable oils don’t oxidize as easily during cooking and therefore won’t generate toxic substances.  Coconut oil is especially beneficial for those who have impaired digestion or have had their gallbladders removed.  This is because the medium chain fatty acid is easier to break down and is absorbed better in the gut.  For more info on coconut oil, see our past article about the top slimming foods to add to your diet.

With all that said, don’t assume I’m recommending that everyone follow the Atkins diet or start binging on fried foods.  It’s important to look at the big picture with what you’re eating and your activity level. Instead of obsessing over how many grams of fat you ate today, look at your overall diet and everyday eating and exercise habits.  It’s no secret that sedentary lifestyles are also contributing to the obesity epidemic.  If you have been a couch potato lately, check out the latest article by Kelly on how to take your fitness to the next level without having to leave your house.  Eating a diet high in processed inflammatory foods and excess sugar will cause our bodies to store more fat and promote the formation of plaques in our arteries, not fat itself.  A healthy lifestyle consists of a clean diet of whole foods, reasonable amounts of nourishing fats, lots of fruits and vegetables, and adequate protein – along with plenty of exercise.  That’s it for now – I’m going to go enjoy some roasted vegetables with real olive oil and homemade bread with real butter 😉


Featured photo taken by Stéphanie Kilgast/Flickr

About The Author

Jennifer Musser
Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist

Jennifer Musser was born and raised in Seattle but loves living in Denver and enjoys most everything that the city and mountains have to offer. After receiving her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Food Science from Colorado State University, she became a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in 2004. As a Certified LEAP** Therapist, Jennifer has specialized training in food sensitivities and related inflammatory conditions. An experienced healthcare practitioner, she understands the importance of being mindful of what we eat and that both traditional and alternative nutrition therapies have a place in helping us look and feel our best. At Fitness Luxe, she will dole out sound and delicious advice on what you should be eating to make the best out of your diet for a healthy, fit and happy life. **Lifestyle Eating and Performance