How Does Eating Fat Make Any Sense?

So you want to lose fat. You’ve headed over to seek the wisdom of the interwebs on the latest greatest innovations in fat loss diets and guess what – it’s telling you to eat fats. There are paleo diets, high fat low carb, ketogenic. It can leave you thinking “Okay, what the heck, I have been eating low fat yoghurt for years now.” Let me take some of the guesswork out for you.  Back in 2015, the Lancet (a prestigious medical journal) found there was no evidence that low fat diets were better at keeping the weight off than the low carb Mediterranean diet. This was no surprise for researchers who have compared this low fat business with other diets for years. But before you go eating all the cake and cream hold up. They found that the low fat diet was better than no diet at all. Now, I had to cringe when that article said, “no diet at all” because let’s face it, if you are eating anything, then you have a diet. You just might not have a structured or intentional approach to it. I think the idea is that a structure is better than no structure. We all fall off the band wagon, and it’s important to have a treat every now and then (we have to live a little!) But making consistent choices and having healthy delicious treats is a good place to start (and stay if you can!). When you’re reading about these high fat, low carb or keto type diets, you’ll read about ‘macros.’ What are they? Macro is short for ‘macronutrients’. While sure, everyone is different and some diets will work better than others for you because of that fact, there are some human realities that are the same for everyone. One such thing is that there are three types of macros, and our body responds to each of them differently.
  1. Proteins. These don’t cause a change in blood sugar or insulin levels (unless we eat large amounts, in which case our body can behave like it’s just eaten carbohydrates).
  2. Carbohydrates: These cause your blood sugar levels to increase and therefore your insulin levels to go up along with it.
  3. Fats: These, somewhat surprisingly, don’t affect blood sugar and therefore don’t trigger insulin release.  
To understand all of this, we need to understand insulin. Insulin is a hormone created in the pancreas that regulates blood glucose levels. Our body needs to keep a steady level of blood glucose levels. You know when you give a kid a red frog or they have a lot of sugar, they tend to go crazy?! This is that increase in blood sugar and it’s insulin’s job to decrease these levels by converting the sugar (glucose) into fat. Diabetics have a problem with producing insulin so they need to take external insulin as well as monitor their blood sugar levels as they may need to eat more sugar in some circumstances (ie. may have used too much insulin) Insulin is a fat storage hormone basically – one that’s a big deal for blood sugar.   The Insulin Resistance Problem Let’s talk a bit more about Diabetes. There are three types; Type I- an autoimmune destruction of the beta-cells in the pancreas (the ones that produce insulin). Type II- Diet/Lifestyle induced in this case, Diabetics first become insulin resistant (or less and less sensitive to insulin) this is because they have been having high amounts of carbohydrates and sugar for a long period of time, resulting in the bodies receptors becoming desensitised. The last type is Gestational, which affects pregnant women and can be a predisposing factor for Type II diabetes in the future. So! We eat carbs This leads to insulin being released to maintain steady blood sugars→ over time this can lead to insulin resistance where the body can’t keep up any more→ blood sugars start to creep up → a person then becomes prediabetic → over time, this leads to Type 2 Diabetes Here are some (un)fun facts for you:
  1. The drugs we are given to increase our insulin level and help bring down the blood sugar levels are good in the short term. There are some long term effects though: One such thing is a shortened life expectancy.
  2. Your blood sugar will go down with insulin to begin with, but that won’t last forever. You’ll have to increase your insulin dosage.
  3. Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 threat for someone who is Type 2 diabetic.
  4. High blood sugar levels make your blood thick and sticky, this isn’t so good for our blood vessels.
  5. Insulin not having a normal affect, can make your blood sugar levels go up and increase inflammation.
If you’re sitting here reading and thinking, “But I’m not diabetic,” great! Let’s keep it that way. Read on. (If you are diabetic, stay under the care of your primary health practitioner. Don’t go ditching your management plan.) The problem with a low fat diet is, often, that we eat more carbs, which can create the problem you just read about. Proteins and fats don’t cause the same insulin response. (Remember not too much protein though!) Meet the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet comprises high fat, moderate protein and low carbs. It causes fat loss because the body has to switch from burning glucose to burning fat. The fats in this case are called ketone bodies. Anyone who has metabolic issues can benefit from a keto diet. Metabolic disorders include prediabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. If you are thinking of going keto (as ketogenic diet devotees call it), there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • There are risks, so do your homework.
  • People with hyperchylomicronemia should not do the ketogenic diet. If you are that one person in over 10,000 people, it is an absolute no-no for you.
  • If you are missing a gallbladder, which secretes bile to break down fats, you can still do the ketogenic diet. You just might need to take some digestive supplements at first, or make some minor adjustments to the diet.
  • If you are an organ transplant recipient, you’re still good to do keto.  
  • If you aren’t doing it right, you can end up with the keto flu. If you do, it means you aren’t getting enough salt. A liquid magnesium supplement will be your best friend.
  • High fat might make you scream “woohoo!” but you’ll still have to watch your kilojoule intake. Hit the avocados and eggs before you hit the double cream.
  • Listen to your body. There are some experts who say keto should be followed for short blocks of time, followed by a rest. If you are feeling great, then you are probably on a good thing. If you start to feel tired or having your hair fall out, you might need to take a rest.
Right! So where’s the best info on this stuff?
  • Sarah Hallberg of Virtua Health has some wisdom you’ll want to check out if you’re diabetic or prediabetic. Check it out here.
  • Nutritionist Dr Cyndi O’Meara gave an interview that might help you understand the fertility and hormonal benefits of Keto, as well as giving you the heads up on what to look for if it’s time to move on from the diet for a bit. Check that out here.
  • Some other great resources are ‘Ketones- The real meal revolution’ and Ketotarian both great books and information to get your ketosis journey started
So there you have it! I haven’t touched on why fats are needed to make our hormones, but that’s a topic for another blog. Right now, all you need to know is this: fat isn’t all bad. If you do it right, it can help you drop a few kilograms. Here’s to better health! Dr Anthea   Image sourced from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mediterranean-style-the-healthy-fats-and-healthy-carbs-diet
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