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How much fat is bad?

By: Dr. Sten Ekberg

The head line is actually misleading, but that's on purpose. It is the wrong question. What we really need to ask is; what kinds of fats are good or bad? Or - what makes something a high or low quality fat?

As a society we have swallowed a big misconception - hook line and sinker. Everywhere we turn we hear that fat is bad. Fat causes obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc. All food labeling is based on the premise that fat is bad. Labels should tell you how many fat grams and how many calories come from fat. There is low fat milk, low fat cheese, low fat yogurt, low fat ice cream, low fat candy and the list is endless. The underlying premise is always that the lower the fat, the healthier the food. Now they have even started to color code the labels on packages as well as on the edge of the shelf so you can quickly identify the "healthier" alternative.

The funny thing is, or actually not so funny thing is, that it is all a big myth. Fat is not generally a bad thing. Some fats are good and some fats are bad. The reason most people have a negative association to fat is that too many people accumulate fat on their bodies through inactive and unhealthy life styles and then mistakenly assume that it got there by eating too much fat. That belief is a complete myth and falsehood. That is not how it works. Eating fat does not make you fat.

Fat primarily gets stored in your body by a fat storing hormone called insulin. Insulin is triggered by anything you eat that results in elevated blood sugar. The blood sugar that is in excess of what you can burn in the present moment gets converted to fat. Fat does not elevate blood sugar.

Sugar and processed starches are the things that result in elevated blood sugar, triggers insulin and gets converted to fat. (More about this in detail in another article).

Good fats are some of the important things we can eat. To simplify the picture I would like to group all the fats into three categories. Good fats, bad fats and in between, where good fats will make you healthier, bad fats will make you sick, and in between fats that won't hurt you if you eat a good diet of predominantly whole foods.

In the first group of really good fats you find fats from fish and vegetables. Also fresh, raw nuts and seeds fall in this category. Unless you exaggerate something fierce you will pretty much get healthier the more of these fats that you can eat.

In the "in between" group are natural saturated fats. These are fats from coconuts and animals. Beef fat chicken fat, butter etc. These fats won't hurt you in moderation if you lead an active life style and eat mostly whole natural foods.

In the bad group we find all fats that are un-natural. These are margarine, processed vegetable oils shortening, trans-fats, partially hydrogenated oils and anything else artificial that you can't obtain without the help of machines and chemical labs. These fats are toxic, because the molecules have been altered so that your body does not recognize them anymore. In this category we also find any fat that used to be good but that has gone rancid from oxidation by heat and air.

Within reason, there is no amount of fat that is too much. The only real issue is whether it is a high or low quality fat. Fats are very satisfying and they are absorbed slowly, so they actually help to control both your blood sugar and your appetite, unless you eat them with large amounts of sugar and starch, in which case the drug effect of those will create a craving which overrides the satiating effects of the fat. An example of the latter would be virtually all desserts. If you are to have dessert, your best bet is to never eat it on an empty stomach and eat the richest and fattest dessert you can find so that you will be satisfied with a small quantity.

So in summary, in order to be healthy, eat as many natural foods as you can, including as many natural fats as you can. Avoid all processed fats, including vegetable oils, cooking oils, margarine and shortening. Avoid anything processed, especially containing partially hydrogenated oils. And in general avoid any packaged product that is low fat, because it is virtually guaranteed to make you gain weight.

Sten Ekberg D.C., Chiropractor
Cumming Chiropractor