The dreaded word.  The thing to be avoided at all costs.  There is good reason to fear fat – this country has a higher rate of obesity than any other place in the world, and it’s not because we overdo it on the vegetables. It seems like common sense, from a weight loss perspective, that consuming foods high in fat such as milk, butter, red meat, etc. contribute to weight gain. But what are the true root causes?  Does eating fat make you fat? Let’s start at the beginning.  


  • Is one of the three main macro nutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates).
  • Serves both as energy sources for the body, and as stores for energy in excess of what the body needs immediately.
  • Fatty acids that are set free by the digestion of fats are called essential because they cannot be synthesized in the body from simpler constituents. There are two essential fatty acids (EFAs) in human nutrition: alpha-linoleic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).  Other lipids needed by the body can be synthesized from these and other fats.
  • Some vitamins, (A, D, E, and K) are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with fats.
  • Plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function.
  • Serves as a useful buffer towards a host of diseases. When a particular substance, reaches unsafe levels in the bloodstream, the body can effectively dilute—or at least maintain equilibrium of—the offending substances by storing it in new fat tissue. This helps to protect vital organs, until such time as the offending substances can be metabolized and/or removed from the body.

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Doesn’t sound so bad anymore?  From a scientific perspective it seems that fat has gotten a bad rap.  Studies done in the 1970’s concluded that saturated fat was the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, and since then we have removed fat from our diets in an attempt to be healthy. The food pyramid  of the 90’s urged us to eat fats ‘sparingly’, while recommending we consume 9-11 servings of bread, rice, pasta A DAY.  Interestingly, over the past 30 years fat intake has dropped from 40% to 30% but obesity has doubled!  On top of that, cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in this country.  Was fat framed?

New research has begun to dissect the studies done in the 1970’s, dismissing fat as the culprit.   A 2010 study release by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.” (   New research points to sugar as the true root cause of obesity and disease.  In fact, the low-fat craze led us straight to an increased consumption of carbohydrates and sugar.  Even the American Heart Association agrees that sugar is more of a threat than saturated fat. A high-sugar diet increases your insulin levels (associated with some kinds of cancers, heart disease, etc.), compromises your immune system, contributes to weight gain, and is associated with increased mortality.  (Check out this article from JAMA Internal Medicine).  

This doesn’t mean go out and gorge on hotdogs.  Not every source of fat is equal. This study published through the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine found that the consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CHD and diabetes.

Bottom Line:

  • Don’t fear fat – it’s essential!
  • Spending a little more on food (especially fats from quality sources) is preventative health care!
  • Be conscious of sugar intake to prevent risk of CHD and obesity.

While it may seem strange to reach for the full-fat yogurt, remember your FAT facts!