Fat Phobia

Are you afraid of using fats when cooking? Avoiding fat cuts of meat? Buying “no fat” or “low fat” products?

You are not alone. Most of us are brainwashed to believe that fat is bad for us and that eating fat makes us fat.

This misconception seems to be based on two factors:

  1. Fat has 9 calories per gram as compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein. Trying to cut calories, it seems logical to reduce fat to get most “bang for the buck”. This approach is totally disregarding effects on blood sugar, satiety and nutritional needs.
  2. An effort back in the 50’ies by a doctor (Keys) to prove that saturated fats cause clogging of arteries. His theory was never proven but it was still accepted by the medical community and became a mantra repeated to this day.

The fat phobia is driving people to try low fat diets like Kimkins. Kimkins is catering to consumers that hear that a low carb diet is the best way to lose weight. Kimkins being low carb and low fat must then be even better, right? It is also low calorie and to eat less to lose more weight makes sense, right?

Not so. The equation isn’t that simple. Food composition plays a role. Metabolism plays a role. Nutritional requirements play a role. Blood sugar response plays a role.

There are many examples of people losing as much, or more, weight with a low carb diet without fat or calorie restriction as with the Kimkins starvation diet. And with a proper low carb diet like Atkins, there is no need to feel deprived. Deprivation generally leads to binges, weight regain and yo-yo dieting.

While starvation works for weight loss, you might end up losing more than scale pounds. What’s the point in being thin if your diet caused permanent damage to your health due to nutrition deficiency? Isn’t losing weight supposed to make you healthier instead of the other way around?

Going back to my fat rant, I found a great article on a blog: Fats and Oils – Rethinking Our Fat Phobia.

The article gives excellent explanations to why it’s unjustified and wrong to fear fats. USDA has not yet seen the light however.

While the latest USDA recommendations were updated in 2005 and acknowledge that we need some fat, I still don’t agree with most of what they say:

Fats and oils are part of a healthful diet, but the type of fat makes a difference to heart health, and the total amount of fat consumed is also important. High intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol increases the risk of unhealthy blood lipid levels, which, in turn, may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. A high intake of fat (greater than 35 percent of calories) generally increases saturated fat intake and makes it more difficult to avoid consuming excess calories. A low intake of fats and oils (less than 20 percent of calories) increases the risk of inadequate intakes of vitamin E and of essential fatty acids and may contribute to unfavorable changes in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) blood cholesterol and triglycerides.

The recommendations continue with:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
  • When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
  • Limit intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fatty acids, and choose products low in such fats and oils.

The only thing I agree with from this last section is to avoid transfats. Transfat is a man made substance and it is no surprise to me that it has been found to be largely “toxic” to the body. [For the same reason, I try to limit my use of the man made Splenda. They haven’t found any ill effects of it, yet, but it hasn’t been around for a long time either.]

The rest of the recommendations just make me exasperated. “Lean, low-fat, or fat-free”? Why? Even with the calorie in /calorie out hypothesis that I need to reduce calories to lose weight, why do I need to cut calories from fat? To be able to eat more carbohydrates? Sugar? What good will that do me?

Other nutrition experts are following suit. They now say that fats are to be used in “moderation” and then just the “good” fats. “Good” fats are unsaturated fats; vegetable oils and fish oil. “Bad” fats are saturated fats; butter, coconut oil and fats in dairy. If they even explain why these fats are “bad”, they still reference Keys’ false assumption of saturated fats “clogging the arteries”.

Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories did a good job to show how unfounded the bad rep of saturated fats is. It’s an excellent book but not easy to read as it’s packed with references and facts. Well worth the time though.


Butter sculpture displayed at a Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA.

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Great post, Mariasol. Thanks for the information and the link. This is something I’m still trying to educate myself about. I have much more to learn. This really helps.

MrsM – I actually never read the USDA recommendations before. Just saw them referenced to. They make me speechless. How can they continue to refer to “facts’ that have been proven to have no foundation? I’m so glad that I’m not a nutritionist that has to recommend people to follow them.

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Excellent, informative post. I wanted to add that Barry Groves is a quicker/easier read than Taubes (which is excellent) and has excellent explanations about fat and saturated fat that jive with what is written here. There is even a chapter called something like “Why your low carb diet must be high fat, not high protein.” It is an excellent resource.

Thank you, theTRUTH. I’ll add a link to Barry Groves. You are so right that he gives a very easy to read overview.

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