Even still today, some diets and weight loss regimes promote eliminating almost all fat from the diet. As a trained nutritionist I have always had huge concerns about people restricting it too much and was always encouraging my clients to eat fish, avocado and nuts. Many dieters literally recoiled in horror at this advice as they were so conditioned to not eating fat. The “No Fat” mantra has been almost a religion for many people. Now thank goodness, awareness is better and even dieters realise the essential role of fats in the diet, and why we need fat on our body. The Placebo Diet includes a super simple Colour Code system that allows you to put into practice the very best advice for the very best results.
The problem is that fat in the diet is not the same as fat on the body, it would actually be much easier if there was a different word for each! In this blog I’m going to talk about the fat on and in our body, what it does, and why we need it. Both in the diet and on our body there are 2 types of fat:
Saturated = solid at body temperature (solid as in dense jelly, not solid as in metal)
Unsaturated = liquid at body temperature (liquid as in can form a permeable barrier, not as in water)
The reality is that we need both, saturated fat is an essential component of a healthy body. It insulates and protects our organs holding them in place and is a great reserve for energy. Our body has two energy systems, much like in a house with electricity and gas; both have their uses and advantages. Every single cell in our body uses glucose for energy. Our brain especially burns around a teaspoon an hour when we are focusing. The problem is that we can only store around 2000 calories as glucose, because it’s actually very heavy. We store small pockets in our muscles, some in our liver, and we have some circulating in our blood as immediately available energy. Our optimal range of blood sugar is actually quite narrow, too much and it impairs brain function (hyperglycemia) and too little and we don’t have enough (hypoglycemia).
The body (as with all systems) is constantly trying to maintain homeostasis, that is the correct balance for optimal health. If our blood sugar is too high because we have eaten either too much or eaten foods very high in sugar such as white processed foods or sweets, then we simply release more insulin to convert the extra glucose into fat. In this way it’s possible to eat a low or even no fat diet, and still get very fat. As many failed low-fat diet fans found out!
Many low-fat foods contain sugar instead of fat to make them taste good; the excess fat we create as a result of a high sugar/refined food diet becomes saturated fat and protects our organs; when we have enough for that (which pretty much everyone in the western world does) it goes into our energy stores, as pure body fat. Unfortunately, this is a one-way process, once the extra glucose (sugar) is in the fat cells, it can only be burnt as fat and cannot be changed back into glucose. If you genuinely want to lose fat and improve your body composition, you have to tone and move your muscles, you can’t do it with diet alone. The good news is that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the gym! Research has shown everyday activities such as taking the stairs and being more active in daily life can make a huge difference, although of course if you do start doing some resistance exercises it will speed up the process.
The most important factor to remember is that whilst all cells burn glucose, it’s only muscle cells that burn fat. As we get older the amount of muscle tissue we have (Lean Body Mass, or LBM) naturally decreases, and as a result we are physically able to burn less fat. On the other hand, exercise or everyday activities such as walking up hill, preserves or even increases LBM. A very low calorie or a very low carb diet can actually reduce our LBM, even if we are losing weight, making weight re-gain a certainty.
The other fats we need in our body are the unsaturated essential fats. We use these to make our cell membranes. Of course, if our cells were made of saturated fat they would just be a blob, and nothing would get inside as they would be solid! So, we use the more liquid fats to make a cell; these membranes look a little like the bubbles that children’s toys produce. These cell membranes have an essential quality, and that is they can allow molecules to flow into the cell and expel unwanted molecules or toxins. They are highly fragile and delicate, but when they are made of good quality oils, they allow only good things into the cell, and shunt all the bad stuff and waste products of metabolism out. More than anything else the quality of our cells dictates our health. This is why it can be catastrophic in the long term to reduce the fats in your diet to the point where you cannot produce healthy cells.