In 1913, Russian physician Nikolai Anitschkow, working in Freiburg, Germany, studied the effects that consuming fats had on rabbits. His research showed that his bunnies, when fed a diet of animal fats, developed lesions on their arteries similar to atherosclerosis, a disease that causes hardening and plaque buildup in arterial walls, one of the leading causes of death today.
It was studies like these that eventually led nutritionists to propose the fat-free diet craze of the 1990s where everyone would eat plates loaded with pasta, bread and cookies—but, hey, they were all fat-free, so they were supposed to be good for us.
So how could it be then that, today, more than one-third of all Americans are obese?
It’s because we realize now that not all fats are bad for you.
Thankfully, many nutritionists are coming around to this. In fact, there’s been a significant pushback against the fat-free diet for obvious reasons: human bodies are smart. If you consume more carbohydrates than you can burn as calories, your body will store them as fat deposits and will make you fat.
And, really, who thought it was a good idea to use bunnies, which are vegetarians, to study the effects of fats on human beings, anyway?
What do we know about fats today?
FATS ARE REALLY GOOD
Human beings need fats, especially women. Fats regulate key processes in our bodies, such as menstrual cycles, hormones and our moods. Essential fatty acids also insulate our bodies and are great stores of energy.
Essential fatty acids help the body process and store critical nutrients. These are what are known as the so-called “fat-soluble” vitamins, A, D, E and K, that are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues. Without these, our bodies would wither and die.
Essential fatty acids pack more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates or proteins. That’s why our bodies store them so well. Obviously if you drank a gallon of whole milk, you’d get fat pretty quickly. But individuals who consume healthy amounts of fats and get adequate exercise can actually lose weight. That explains why recent studies found that men who consumed whole milk and yogurt made from whole milk were in better health overall than those who drank low-fat and fat-free milk.
FATS AND OBESITY
The common belief is that eating fats makes you fat. But several recent studies contradict this. “We continue to see more and more data coming out [finding that] consumption of whole-milk dairy products is associated with reduced body fat,” Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, told National Public Radio earlier this year. Scientists have yet to figure out exactly why this is the case, but it is believed that, among other things, fats make one feel full and consequently eat less.
It’s a misconception that all fats are bad for you. They key is eating fats that are actually healthy for you. Since these play a vital role in growth, development and normal body functions, they also help to give our immune systems a boost in times of need. A study in 2013 found that fish oils can help promote health by aiding in the fight against infection. According to Sci-News.com, fish oils “aid immune responses associated with pathogen clearance, while possibly dampening the totality of the inflammatory response.”
Of course, this is not to say that all fats, such as those in fried chicken and other processed foods, are good for you. What kind of fats are good for you? Good fats fall into two broad categories: omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s can be found in whole grains, olives and nut oils, as well as fatty fish, such as halibut, tuna and salmon. Omega-6s occur in nuts, vegetable oils and meats.
One last thing: Have you read my special report, “Survive in the Age of Superbugs”? It’s free on Rabble’s website. All you have to do is sign up for their electronic newsletters, many of which I write.
Chris DePaulo is a staff writer for Rabble Magazine, focusing on health, nutrition, lifestyles and the environment. To download the free special report “Survive in the Age of Superbugs,” sign up for RABBLE’s free e-newsletter on the website, RabbleMagazine.com.