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.