The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Will I Get Fat Eating Fat?

May 27th, 2009 · 7 Comments · Posted in Blog

Fat makes things taste good

Fat makes things taste good

According to popular myth, eating fat is a surefire way to get fat, clog your arteries and pave the way for a future heart attack. But is that true? What happens to the fat you eat?

Turns out dietary fat once in your body is constantly alternating between a state of fatty acid, which can travel through the blood stream and between cells, and triglyceride, the form that fat takes when it is deposited in your fat cells. In order to be turned into triglycerides, however, fatty acids need help from an enzyme called alpha-glycerolphosphate, which is only present in carbohydrates.

So unless you are eating carbohydrates, the fat you eat will not be stored as fat in your body. It will be flushed out of your system. On the other hand, if you are eating lots of fat and carbohydrates as well–a juicy burger inside a big, pillowy bun, for instance–you’ve made a bad choice. The fat you’re eating has every chance of ending up around your waisteline.

That’s just one important factoid delivered by science writer Gary Taubes in this one-hour lecture at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Taubes, you might recall, authored the blockbuster book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” putting the lie to popular dogma that a low-fat diet is necessary to stay slim and avoid heart disease.

Listen closely and you will hear Taubes lay out the actual science of weight gain and obesity, wherein it has been widely known in the scientific community for decades that the mechanism responsible for getting fat is not fat, but carbohydrates–bread, beans, potatoes, sugar, fruit and anything else plant-based–and the insulin response that carbs induce. Insulin, a powerful hormone, is responsible for storing fat in the body. In the absence of insulin, a corollary hormone–glucagon–actually removes fat from the fat tissues and whisks it off to the liver for disposal.

So, two points to remember: the fat you eat will not become fat on your body unless you are consuming carbohydrates; and if you restrict your consumption of carbohydrates, the fat already on your body will begin to disappear.

For me, these are two excellent reasons not to eat carbohydrates if you have any issue at all with weight gain. In fact, as Taubes explains in this lecture, insulin at one point was used as a weight-gain therapy. When it is administered to emaciated patients, they invariably put on the pounds. It also explains why some people with a faulty insulin mechanism can become obese without consuming any more calories than their skinny neighbor.

This knowledge about insulin and carbohydrates was accepted wisdom in the German/Austrian scientific establishment prior to World War II, but almost completely forgotten after the war, says Taubes. As a result, we’ve been saddled with the false premise–repeated as if it were a scientific certitude–that people get fat from eating too much fat or too many calories. Our government and medical community now urge us to eat more carbohydrates instead of meat and fat–a perfect prescription for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis.

Is it any surprise we are witnessing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes?

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  • Amelia

    Hmm. Too bad so many of the tastiest foods are basically fat mixed with sugar or starch!

    I suppose the *ratio* of fat to carbs must make some difference, right? If one is not going to give up sweets entirely, for instance, then perhaps items that are *relatively* lower in sugar are a better option. I’m thinking of maybe a really dark chocolate, where the high percentage of cocoa solids leaves not much room for sugar. I like my chocolate verging on bitter anyway…

  • Ed Bruske

    Amelia, I’m sure it’s no coincidence at all that so many of the foods we love to eat are loaded with fat and sugar. They taste so good! Unfortunately, for many of they are also quite dangerous. And the process of insulin resistance (really, carbohydrate abuse) begins in childhood. I thought of that this morning as I watched a little 5-year-old girl devouring a gigantic chocolate muffin at my daughter’s school. On the subject of chocolate, I think you are correct. The benefits are from bitter chocolate, not dark chocolate. Choose a bitter chocolate with the highest cocoa butter content you can find. But enjoy in small doses.

  • valerierose

    This is interesting. I have to listen to the lecture, but the first question that comes to my mind is: what role does fiber play? I’m not really on the anti-carb bandwagon, just on the carbs-shouldn’t-be-most-of-your-diet bandwagon.

    Last night I had a cheese omelette and salad with balsamic vinaigrette for dinner. A lot of people I know would consider that a “fattening” dinner, but I don’t!

  • Ed Bruske

    Valerie, fiber falls into the carbohydrate column, but because it is considered indigetstable, you can substract it from the “total” carbs, leaving something called “net” carbs. Thus, if you were eating a carrot salad that had 15 grams of carbs, three of which were listed as “fiber,” your “net” carb value would be 12 carbs. Whole grain rice, for instance, has more fiber than polished white rice,lso it’s “net” carb value is lower. But the difference isn’t that great. Both convert into a lot of sugar once you eat them.

    Your omelet could be considered “high fat” depending on how big and omelet, how much cheese. But more important would be your total fat consumption for the day (saturated or otherwise) as well as your carb consumption. Oh, and if the omelet is made with pastured eggs, you are likely getting a nice dose of omega-3 fats with that.

  • patpaquette

    Well, now, Ed, would you have a recipe for low-carb lemonade? Because we have nominated you for a Lemonade Award. I have no idea how this thing got started, but someone nominated our site, and part of the deal is that you have to pass it on to ten others. The “rules” for the award are on our site.

    Since we are an astrology site, most of our recommendations were for that topic, but I am a big proponent of slow food (I lived in France for eight years, knew not only where the goat cheese came from but what the goats had been eating and where) and so wanted to nominate a slow food blog. Yours is really special and so informative! I can’t get over that bunless burger recipe.

  • Ed Bruske

    Pat, I am truly honored. My favorite lemonade involves making a simple sugar with thyme, and finishing with vodka. But since I am no longer eating sugar (carbs), you’d have to make a conversion to Splenda.

  • onebusymama

    Well, you all ready know I’m not concerned with fat haha 🙂

    What about using Stevia to make your lemonade? I would think that would be a great compromise. No carbs (that I’m aware of), we use it to sweeten some things here.