The Misunderstanding of Fat
Updated: Apr 16
There are many misconceptions about fat in the food industry. Primarily, that eating any amount of fat will make you gain weight. But what is happening when we eat fatty foods? Is there such a thing as a healthy fat? And if so, where do we find them?
Understanding the way the body reacts to fat is a great place to start. To do this we need to learn a little about the hunger hormones and the way our bodies relate to food in general.
The Hunger Hormones
Knowing the key players that control our feeling of hunger and satiety is a great first step. Our bodies have built-in mediators that work together to facilitate digestion.
Ghrelin and leptin are two of the key hormones that regulate the feeling of hunger. The first stimulates and the second suppresses. Ghrelin promotes the storage of fat and leptin signals our bodies to stop. Ghrelin levels rise when we reduce our calorie intake.
Cholecystokinin (CCK), another hunger hormone, causes a feeling of fullness. CCK is stimulated by the digestion of fats and proteins. It makes you feel full by slowing down the movement of food out of the stomach.
Polypeptide YY (PPY), our last key player, lives in your digestive tract and performs a similar task to CCK. It slows down digestion in the small intestine and makes us feel full.
The levels of these hormones fluctuate based on our diet. If we are eating less, ghrelin levels rise to let us know that we are hungry. If we are eating more, CCK and PPY production increase to let us know our hunger is satisfied. Our hunger-suppressing hormone- leptin- is increased when we are overweight.
Our bodies were made to store food when there was an overabundance in preparation for a time of need. Fat storage is what enables us to be active for hours at a time without eating. Eating fat can also make us feel full faster and keep us from overeating.
However, not all fats are equivalent. Some fats are indeed detrimental to your health, but some are essential to a healthy body and digestive system.
All About Fats
If you have perused a diet magazine lately, you’ll know that our food contains several different kinds of fat. Our bodies react much differently to healthy fats than unhealthy fats. Trans fats, the most harmful of them all, have been banned from the USA altogether.
Saturated fats are neutral. They are in dairy and meat products, as well as in coconuts and dark chocolate. Saturated fats have the added benefit of being found in foods with high protein content. Protein makes us feel full quicker and with fewer calories. It can help control our ghrelin levels and keep us feeling full for longer after we eat. Protein also increases CCK and PPY production and makes us feel full. However, too many saturated fats can raise your cholesterol, so it is always a good idea to eat them in moderation.
A diet with higher levels of protein and fat, and lower levels of carbohydrates, has been found to burn fatty acids and ketones, which are stored in your body’s stored fat. If you are looking to improve your diet, keeping protein and fat is the way to go.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are by far the most beneficial for our bodies. Monounsaturated fats were at the forefront of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, avocados, and most nuts are an excellent source for monounsaturated fats, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential for a healthy diet. We need them to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are also crucial for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and also in flaxseeds, and walnuts. Foods with omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean, sunflower, and walnut.
Make The Change: Mindful Eating
Mindful eating allows us to recognize the feeling of fullness, and to distinguish between genuine hunger and an appetite motivated by boredom. Truly following your body's signals will take time. But once you learn to hear them, you will never want to go back to ignoring them.
If your body craves fat, you need to know where to find healthy fats to cultivate balance in your body. If your body reacts poorly to fatty foods, you may need to evaluate the type of fat you are eating. Either way, tuning into your cravings will help you relate better to the fats in your food.
There is no one size fits all diet. Take some time this week to identify your main sources of healthy and unhealthy fats. How is your energy after eating them? Do you notice a difference when you eat healthy fats vs. unhealthy fats? Notice if you naturally stop eating when you feel full. When you eat fat and protein do you feel full sooner?
As always, I am happy to help you demystify the fats in your diet. Feel free to leave a comment below with your favorite fats or different ways that you have found to incorporate healthy fats in your diet.