The Big Fat Deal

by Rachel on April 19, 2010

Last month, after I had my cholesterol tested and then subsequently freaked out over the results, I finally calmed down because I was directed toward the emerging evidence about cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease. Rumors were flying that saturated fat doesn’t cause high cholesterol…and that high cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease. This goes against everything we’ve been taught about a healthy diet, so at first, I was pretty skeptical.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time since then doing research on my own, reading books and articles on this topic, and now I’m definitely a believer. Research is research and the research is pro-butter.

Two books really helped me reach this conclusion: Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes and Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is about as dense as a stick of butter, packed with a lot of science. But it’s pretty compelling; in the intro, Taubes just lays it out and explains how basically, the idea that saturated fat is bad became a widely-accepted truth because of politics and a few overzealous researchers — not actual fact.

From the Washington Post:

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes tries to bury the idea that a low-fat diet promotes weight loss and better health…Taubes is a relentless researcher, shining a light on flaws in the scientific literature. Taubes’s tales of lame science and flawed laboratory tests are at times brilliant and enlightening.”

The book is pretty serious stuff, because, like the Post said, it’s relentlessly researched. (Which is why it’s not exactly light beach reading.) But his bottom line is: all saturated fat isn’t bad for us and high cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad for us either.

If you want to read more on the topic, definitely check out these two articles: Men’s Health’s  What if Bad Fat is Actually Good for You? and Slate’s End the War on Fat.

Good Calories, Bad Calories doesn’t promote any specific diet, which is what I liked about it. It’s really just about evidence, from a science journalist’s point of view. Eat Fat, Lose Fat is really a diet book, but it actually came out before GCBC and has a lot of great evidence as well. It may as well be called “the coconut diet,” because it promotes a diet high in fat from coconut oil, coconut milk, as well as full-fat organic dairy in the form of cream, raw milk cheese, and butter. The argument is that not only are saturated fats not bad for us — and some are good — they are also delicious and satisfying. They keep us full, happy, and healthy.

While this completely challenges conventional wisdom, so did the research on unsaturated fatty acids in the last decade. Like I said, research is research. And that research has compelled me to make changes in my diet; namely, I’m incorporating many of the foods that have come up time and again in this research as healthy saturated fats: organic unsalted butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, full-fat coconut milk, raw milk cheese (raw milk cheese is better for lactose intolerant people anyway, as are most full fat-dairy products), eggs, organic and nitrate-free bacon and bacon fat, and full-fat Greek yogurt. I’ve started slowly making these changes in the past couple weeks and all I have to say is…Hallelujah.

The main thing I’ve noticed a huge change in how hungry I am. When I eat animal fats, I’m fuller longer. It’s not magic; there are times when I’m hungrier than others. But when I have eggs cooked in butter, bacon, veggies sauteed in bacon fat, and toast with butter for lunch, I don’t need an afternoon snack. So while I didn’t aim to change how many calories I eat in a day, I find myself often taking in less because I’m just not as hungry.

And while the whole idea of portion control comes up a lot, just like it does in discussions on unsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts, etc….the thing is, it’s pretty hard to overeat butter or other animal fats, especially when you’re eating whole, real foods. I can easily overeat fatty foods that contain a lot of sugar, carbs, and vegetable oil, but I tend to automatically stop myself when I eat richer animal fats. I can tear into a bag of Doritos and not want to stop, but debating whether to fry a third egg in butter just doesn’t ever happen.

Since I’ve embraced this, I’ve also been eating a ton more produce. Why? Because veggies just taste really good when you cook them in butter! So does fruit! When I first heard the idea of sauteing fruit in butter or coconut oil, I think I said, “Is this some kind of a f*cking joke?” But it’s an amazing snack or dessert — and I find myself eating less than if I had had fruit and a nut butter. And my cooking has improved overall. Why? Because butter tastes really good. There’s a reason it’s in French food…and French food is amazing…and yet we have the French paradox. (Or we did until recently, when French people started eating a more “American” diet.)

It felt really weird at first to go against conventional wisdom, but if we didn’t accept science and change, we’d still be dying in childbirth and using leeches in surgery. So yes, I’m embracing butter, and my recipes and meals will begin to reflect that. I definitely recommend everyone read some of this compelling research and swap in some butter! You might be surprised by how liberating (and tasty) it is.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christie {Honoring Health} April 19, 2010 at 8:28 am

I have recently significantly increased my fat intake as well. I don’t digest dairy or meat very well but I have increased the amount of eggs, fatty fish, coconut oil/milk and olive oils, avocados and have noticed a significant increase in how satisfied I feel. I find myself eating way less and weight is melting off of me. I completely agree that you can’t actually overeat these fats (as long as you are listening to your true hunger signals) and that I eat more vegetables as a result.

It took me a while to mentally accept this because of years of being told that fat was bad. But, I am pretty much on the band wagon now.

Three cheers for fat!

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2 Rachel April 19, 2010 at 8:31 am

Christie — Seriously, mentally accepting it is the biggest part, I think!! It’s also funny because it’s harder to find full-fat products now…they’ve totally fallen away. Also, I don’t digest dairy too well either, but I’ve found that the higher the fat, the easier it is to digest so you may want to experiment! And ghee (clarified butter) is apparently even easier to digest than butter.

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3 Emma April 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

Hellz yeah! I recently started eating more fats – especially in the form of *whole* egss and avocados – and I’ve noticed a tremendous difference as well. I’m not *craving* sugary, carby foods all day, and I’m just less hungry in general. It’s pretty much amazing, but really, makes a lot of sense when one thinks about it. I LOVE what you said about sauteing fruit in coconut oil – I’ve never tried that, but it sounds like it could be sensational! Thanks for the idea ;-)

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4 Emily April 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

So true! Thanks for the great post and reminder that cooking with butter isn’t a sin (sometimes I forget).
.-= Emily´s last blog ..The Fewer Dishes to Wash, the Better =-.

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5 Kelly April 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

After reading this post, I thought you would really enjoy looking at the research done by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Inc. or listening to their podcasts http://www.weightandwellness.com/index.html. They are a a nutritional counseling service in Minnesota and they preach about the benefits of animal fat. I really enjoy listening to the archives of their radio show, although I cannot remember for the life of me how I ever found out about them, since I definitely do not live anywhere close to Minnesota. :) Anyway, their philosophy is very similar to yours about fat, so I think you’ll enjoy the information they provide on their website and radio show.

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6 Ashley April 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

You know, this just became of interest to me last night. I gave blood over the weekend and they e-mailed me my cholesterol results — 217! I was furious. But I had eaten a cheeseburger and fries about 20 minutes before my donation. I don’t know how much that could skew it. But I have a lot of reading to do now, too!
.-= Ashley´s last blog ..A funny thing happened when I lost 120 pounds =-.

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7 Suzanne April 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters”, and while it’s not as well researched as “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, it’s very compelling. He recommends lowering our intake of all animal products for optimal health and to have less of an impact on the environment. However, he points out that there’s no conclusive research that saturated fat is worse than any other type of fat and actually raises both good and bad cholesterol equally. He recommends using more foods like butter and bacon to add flavor to our cooking and therefore be able to reduce our overall consumption of animal products. One small pat of butter does a lot more for my tastebuds than a whole chicken breast does!
.-= Suzanne´s last blog ..11 Miles, Done and Done =-.

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8 brianne April 19, 2010 at 10:19 am

amen! i’ve found that (SHOCK AND HORROR) i can get away with intermittent fasting, which is something i started doing once adding more fats into my diet (focusing on fat, meat, and veggies) – it’s amazing how long you stay satiated.

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9 shelby @ eatdrinkrun April 19, 2010 at 10:53 am

I could not agree more with this post! I cook fairly clean/healthy most of the time but I don’t shy away from fattening ingredients. They really are so much more satisfying. And the thing that I love most about bacon is that a little goes such a long way toward flavoring a dish!

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10 skinnylatte April 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

You’re right, it’s definitely a mental shift, if you’ve been fat-phobic for years on end! I recently started to use oil in cooking again, and have healthy oils in my salad dressings again – five years ago I balked at the use of oil (and I weighed well over 200 pounds so go figure!). I stopped buying light coconut milk and things like that – it’s all about flavour these days, and feeling satisfied. I am yet to embrace butter fully again….but when I go to a restaurant and there’s french butter to go with the oven fresh bread I don’t say no :)
.-= skinnylatte´s last blog ..the grumpy run =-.

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11 Josie April 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

wish i’d read this 30 minutes ago. i would’ve fried my grilled cheese in a little butter instead of a dry pan.

a few days ago i was thinking, wonder what it would taste like to sautee a pear in butter. perfect timing.

thanks for the delicious research!

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12 Rachel April 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Josie — Hope you love your new butter lifestyle! Let me know how it goes!!

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13 brandi@BranAppetit April 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I love this post :) So refreshing to read a post on this topic that isn’t full of dumb rules or life-threatening scenarios from eating butter.

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14 Marie December 7, 2010 at 11:04 am

Hey Rachel, I recently decided to re-embrace fat this past October and I agree– so liberating. So delicious. I now eat full-fat Greek yogurt on almost a daily basis, have learned to let myself love tasty organic unsalted butter, and use cream in my coffee again. I saw my boyfriend’s family at Thanksgiving for the first time since the beginning of October and his mom kept commenting about how much weight I’d lost. I honestly haven’t noticed! I’ve also been running less (injured knee), but stretching more (modified sort-of yoga). I was trying to think of how I could have lost weight and I realized, thanks to reading this post today, how well it coincided with me reintroducing full-fat dairy products (I’m a vegetarian so I won’t reintroduce bacon). How crazy, right? It’s true though, I think I’ve just been eating less because I’m more satisfied throughout the day, especially when my breakfast is plain full fat Greek yogurt with nuts and pumpkin butter. Yum. Love this post! Now that I’ve had this epiphany I’ll have to write up a blog post myself. Thanks as always, Rachel!
Love, a fellow fat lover

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15 Rachel December 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Awww, I’m so glad to hear you’ve discovered the wonderfulness of fat and have had the best side effect — somewhat effortless weight loss! That’s so great to hear!!

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