Why Eating a Low-Fat Diet May Be Harmful to Your Health

Fats are an important building block for the development of cell structure and for other important roles in the body.  For example, fats are a source of energy and are burned during times of sustained activity. Fat is also a major component of the myelin sheath, which is the protective layer found around nerve cells, so fat is critical for neurological function.  Your body is constantly making fat in the form of cholesterol, which serves many purposes. Cholesterol acts as a precursor to the creation of several important hormones in the body, including testosterone and estrogen. Additionally, cholesterol is key in the production of vitamin D.  On a cellular level, perhaps the most important role of fats is to create the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane. This membrane defines the boundaries of the cell, controls what goes into and out of the cells, and keeps the cell’s components inside the cell.

Because fats are so prevalent in structures throughout the human body, it is important to provide your body with the fuel that it recognizes in order for it to function properly.  Eating a low fat or poor fat diet may lead to health problems down the road.

If you do not have enough fat in your diet, you will not have sufficient building blocks that your body needs to carry out its normal functions.  Similarly, if you supply your body with poor quality fat, such as hydrogenated or trans fats, your body will take in those fats as it would a higher quality fat.  Your body would then use this fuel to support its daily functions. However, as the components being input into the body are either insufficient or of suboptimal quality, the end result or output is suboptimal structure and function.  Cells that are of suboptimal quality are weaker and more prone to invasion, damage, or death. On an organismal level, this can lead to disease and a general lack of vitality.

Most people fail to recognize that what they put into their bodies on a regular basis truly impacts every last cell in the body in some way or another.  The old adage “one bite won’t hurt”, when referring to eating foods that are less healthful, may not always be true. Though our bodies are fairly resilient, continual intake of a poor diet is not sustainable for the body and eventually, our bodies will begin to break down.  Supplying your body with good quality fats goes a long way toward achieving optimal health.

Why Fat Won't Make You Fat

At a whopping 9 calories per gram, fat packs more of a caloric punch than its macronutrient siblings, protein and carbohydrates.  With this fact in mind, it might make sense that eating fat will contribute to the fat stores in your body. Contrary to popular belief, fat is not usually the culprit when it comes to packing on the pounds.  Most often, it is consumption of excess carbohydrates, particularly high-sugar foods, that will actually make you fat. The reason for this makes perfect sense when you consider the physiological activities taking place within the body when you eat sugar.  

As carbohydrate enters the body and moves through the digestive system, it is eventually broken down into sugar, which is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. Sugar molecules are now floating freely within the blood, causing a rise in blood glucose levels.  In order to maintain balance and get blood sugar back down to optimal levels, the pancreas secretes insulin. This is a storage hormone that facilitates the transfer of glucose into the body’s cells, which use glucose molecules for energy production. Once the cells have enough glucose for their purposes, any remaining glucose in the bloodstream is shuttled by insulin into liver and muscle fibers in the form of glycogen.  Once the liver and muscles’ glycogen stores are full, glucose is converted to triglycerides and cholesterol and stored in adipose tissue. As carbohydrate consumption increases, so does the need to continually store excess glucose into fat tissue, which ultimately leads to an expansion of fat cells.

Eating fat with meals contributes to greater satiety - a feeling of being full, without needing to eat large quantities of food.  Removing fat from the diet often leads to a situation in which a person feels the need to eat more and more food in order to feel satisfied, which leads to increased blood glucose levels and storage of glucose in fat cells.  Furthermore, eating some fat with carbohydrates can help to blunt any blood sugar spikes that may arise from eating carbohydrates on their own.

The mainstream media has perpetuated the misinformation about fat consumption for many years, and the fat-free fad really started taking off in the 1980s.  In the food industry, when fat is removed from a food, manufacturers replace it with sugar in order to continue selling products that will still taste good enough for people to want to eat.  Unfortunately, the fat-free craze led to a surge in obesity, and today the majority of Americans are considered overweight, if not obese. The incidence of Type II Diabetes has risen so dramatically over the past 30 years that it’s almost a given that an adult will contract the disease at some point in their life.  Fortunately, the tides seem to be turning in favor of eating more fat, and people are slowly starting to come around to the idea that excessive sugar consumption, not fat, leads to obesity.