What’s the Deal With Fat?
Fat is a necessary part of a person’s diet. Fat is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions. What can be tricky is that there are numerous types of fats both good and bad; therefore we have to be conscious of the type of fats we consume. The fat that is found naturally in food is dietary fat which can be found in plants and animals. Though fat can be beneficial its dark side is that it is high in calories and a consistent excess of calories can lead to weight gain and other related issues. Managing one’s intake of fat can be trying because fat has found its way into many food items. Americans on average are exceeding the recommended maximum consumption of fat by more than 50 percent.
Fat has always had a negative connotation and has always been distinguished as unhealthy. A pile of oil atop of a piece of three cheese pizza may not look appealing but the brain swoons once it is inside of the mouth. Fat is as much a feeling as it is a taste. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for transmitting sensations from the mouth to the brain. “Fats and fat-soluble molecules are responsible for the characteristic texture, flavor and aromas of many foods and play a major role in determining the overall palatability of the diet” (Drwnoswski and Schwartz 1990) “the sweeter and denser stimuli were perceived as lower in fat, despite the fact that the actual amount of fat remained constant.
Taste buds have five primary tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (a savory taste). Fat has no such receptor but is extremely alluring to the brain. The affect that fat has on the brain was investigated in a study done on sugar and fat done by neuroscientist Edmund Rolls in 2003. It found that fat is just as potent to the brain as sugar, “Fat and sugar both produce strong reward effects in the brain,” Rolls said. Scientist Adam Drwnowski studied just how alluring fat is. “There was no bliss point, or break point for fat,” found Drwonski “The more fat there was, the better.” This means that unlike sugar, which has a point of there being too sweet fat did not, there was never too much.
Surveys have shown that grocery shoppers who stop to read nutrition labels look first and foremost at the fat content of foods. This has led to the over saturation of products that claim to have less fat or lower fat, and it has initiated a host of marketing tricks the industry uses to make it seem like they have cut back. “Low-fat”, “reduced fat”, or “fat-free” products are not necessarily healthy and they can also cause the consumer to mistaken the product to be healthier than it actually is. Simply put, the health halo effect leads people to overestimate the overall healthfulness of a food based on one narrow attribute. Studies have shown that people eat far more low-fat foods than they do traditional versions. In order to reduce the amount of fat in a product food manufactures have to compensate for the change by replacing it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or starch. The exchange for switching out fat for sugar is not justifiable because sugar has now been shown to be even more harmful to your diet.
Fat comes in many forms, a few that are recognizable or “visible” – table spreads and salad and cooking oils – or “invisible” fats included in meat, dairy products, and many process foods. The different kinds of fat are usually seen as good or bad:
- “Good” fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish.
- “Bad” fats—saturated and, especially, trans fats—increase disease risk. Foods high in bad fats include red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream, as well as processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.
Low-fat is an age old diet myth, what is important is the type of fat. Some sources of fat are undesirable for instance Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat stated “Americans now eat as much as 33 pounds or more cheese a year, triple that amount we consumed in early 1970s.
Saturated fat has been demonized since the 1970s when a landmark study concluded that there was a correlation between incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol, which then correlated with the percentage of calories provided by saturated fat, explains Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist in a recent article at the British Medical Journal (BMJ). “But correlation is not causation,” he says. Nevertheless, we were advised to “reduce fat intake to 30% of total energy and a fall in saturated fat intake to 10%.” “It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity.”