The word ‘bacon’ grabbed your attention, didn’t it? People love to talk about bacon and how much they love it, but what about bacon makes it so desirable to many people? On a psychological level, a hankering for a hot, dripping slice of crispy bacon goodness is probably tangled up in its ‘forbidden fruit’ status for those trying to lose weight or keep a healthy heart. Physiologically, the craving is related to the fact that we require a certain amount of fat in our diets to regulate countless essential functions within our bodies. Considering that I enjoy bacon as much as the next person, I have been intrigued by the increasing number of recent reports rejecting low-fat diets and re-considering the role of fats, including the previously frowned upon saturated fats, in the diet.
A few decades back when Americans started realizing that they were gaining weight at about the same breakneck pace as reality TV was skyrocketing in popularity, they desperately searched for a way to trim back their diets. Fats (9kcal/g), being twice as dense as carbohydrates (4kcal/g) or proteins (4kcal/g) in caloric value, were denounced as the cause of expanding waistlines, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. By cutting the fat out of a food, the total number of calories can be decreased. Conventional wisdom says that weight management depends on the careful balance of calories in versus calories out, but it seems that there is in fact more to the equation. Cutting out fat also means cutting out flavor, as well as fat’s important role in providing satiety. To improve flavor, food manufacturers add sugar, sugar substitutes, and salt. By acting like engineers, taking things out and adding other things in, food becomes increasingly processed and distant from its natural, most nourishing state.
While monounsaturated (olive oil, canola oil, avocado) and polyunsaturated fats (sunflower and safflower oil) have been fairly well accepted as heart healthy, the reputation of saturated fats (bacon, cheese) has been less favorable. Information sources including Harvard Health, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post reveal that previous studies warning about the dangers of saturated fat were based on only a few shaky studies. Harvard Health characterizes saturated fats as ‘in-between’ fats that are not tied to ill health in moderation. Further, they seem to be neutral in their effect on blood sugar (insulin) levels, which is crucial to weight management and prevention of chronic diseases, like Type 2 diabetes.
Those who fear fat, consider this. Fat plays a critical role in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food. Ever seen someone restricting their diet who’s skin was cracked and dry, hair and nails brittle and dull? A diet rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, with moderate amounts of saturated fats makes hair shiny and silky smooth, skin clear and radiant, and nails strong. It’s not about a vain interest in appearance, these outer indicators are directly correlated to the health of the body below the surface. Fat also plays key roles in building cell membranes, sheaths around nerves, and in hormone regulation.
So does this mean that you should start gorging on bacon everyday? Eating all the ice cream and pizza that you want if fat is okay? No! That is not what I am recommending. I am saying there is no need to be fat-phobic. Fat should be one part of a healthy diet along with high quality carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid fat that comes from processed food items. Make your own nourishing versions at home instead.
Reading about and ruminating over the fat debate reminded me what we all tend to forget sometimes- there is not one singular nutrition rule that will keep us in good health and at an appropriate weight. Let’s do away with the disjointed and archaic fat-free, low-carb diets of the past. It’s all about real food. Embrace all unprocessed, whole foods- fresh fruits, vegetables, full fat meat and plain whole milk dairy products, whole grains, nuts/seeds, even some treats in moderation. When possible, choose organic, sustainably farmed, non-GMO, and animal products from humane farms. Take the time to sit down and enjoy your meals with people you care about. Commit yourself to a holistic approach to health. It’s nourishing in more ways than one.
Notes: Some of you may notice that my views on nutrition are constantly evolving as I talk to more professionals in the field of food, nutrition, and wellness. I am always striving to learn more about health and deliver the best, most informed information to my readers that I can. What remains constant is my belief in unprocessed, real, whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible.
Today’s topic was inspired in part by Elyse Kopecky, a food writer and whole foods chef. Check out the awesome new cookbook she is writing with her friend and olympic marathoner, Shalane Flanagan: http://www.runfasteatslow.com/#cookbookproject
Title for this article was inspired by Christine.