Why eating fat may not make you fat

With the increased awareness and publicity about the dangers of obesity, many, in recent years, have taken conscious care to watch their weight. Obesity has been linked to various diseases and conditions ranging from bone problems to heart diseases. As a result, lots of researches have gone into determining the cause and possible cure to an increased waistline.

As our diet is the major culprit in the accumulation of body weight, it became widespread that a diet containing fat, especially a high-fat one, was largely responsible for one getting fat. Certain schools of thoughts suggested that one did away with fat if one wanted to lose weight.

Mrs Opeyemi Akinola, a nutritionist and dietician says, “It’s wrong for one to believe and act on the notion that fat is bad. The truth is our bodies need fat from food because it is a major source of energy. Fat works in various ways in the body. Some of its functions include helping in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, building cell membranes which are the important exterior of each cell and the sheaths surrounding nerves as well as assisting in blood clotting and muscle movement. The key is to decipher good and bad fat and take the ones that are beneficial to the body. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (these come mainly from nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish). Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats (on product labels, this is typically as “partially hydrogenated oil” and several researches have shown that for every two per cent of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23 per cent). To completely cut out fat from one’s diet, especially without expert advice/recommendation can spell more trouble for the person.”

Of late, new studies have also countered the notion that fat should be completely eliminated from diet to lose weight and have in fact stated that eating more of certain types of fats may help one lose weight and maintain a healthy waistline.

In the study published in the June 2016 edition of the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, men and women who followed a high-fat, Mediterranean diet that was rich in either olive oil or nuts lost more weight and reduced their waist circumference more than the people in the study who were simply instructed to reduce their fat intake, according to the study.

The Mediterranean diet, rich in healthy fats and plant proteins, has been linked in previous studies to a wide range of health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes — two conditions that are also linked to obesity.

But despite such benefits, “obese people [have] continued to be reluctant to eat vegetable fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and nuts, because they believe these foods lead to weight gain,” said Dr. Ramon Estruch, an internal medicine physician at the University of Barcelona in Spain and the lead author of the study.

The findings of the new study show, on the other hand, that a diet rich in dietary fats and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet, does not promote weight gain, Estruch said.

In the study, the researchers looked at data on people who had participated in the PREDIMED trial, a five-year study in Spain that looked at the effects of the Mediterranean diet on heart health. There were nearly 7,500 older adults in the study, the majority of whom were overweight or obese and all of whom had either type 2 diabetes or at least three risk factors for heart disease.

The people in the study were asked to follow one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet with at least four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil each day, a Mediterranean diet with at least three servings of nuts each week or a control diet, where the participants were advised to generally avoid fat in their diet.

Both olive oil and nuts contain relatively high amounts of fat, but the fat in them is primarily monounsaturated fat, which is thought to be better for health than the saturated fat found in animal-based foods such as meat and cheese.

The researchers found that after five years, the people in the olive oil group had lost a small but statistically significant amount of weight, compared to the control group: The people in the olive oil group lost about 1 lb. (0.4 kilograms) more, on average, than those in the control group.

The people in the nut group also lost a small amount of weight as well, compared to the control group. However, the difference between the olive oil group and the nut group was not statistically significant (meaning it could have been due to chance).

In addition, both the olive oil and nut groups experienced slight reductions in their waist circumferences compared to the control group, according to the study.

The key finding is that neither diet, although rich in fats, led to weight gain or increases in waist circumference, Estruch told Live Science.

The researchers noted that although the participants in the olive oil and nut groups were not instructed to limit their calorie intake, the people in both groups did end up consuming fewer calories on average than they had consumed before the study started. This may have been due to the filling effects of fat, the researchers wrote in their study.

Maintaining a certain body weight requires balancing the calories you consume versus the calories you burn, but it seems that calories from vegetable fats have different effects on weight than calories from animal fats, Estruch said.

Though the participants in the study were overweight or obese older adults, Estruch said that he believes that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on weight and waist circumference could extend to people of any age and weight, including young men and women.

This is not the first study to suggest that eating more plant-based fats does not lead to a larger waistline. The results of this study are consistent with a range of observational studies suggesting that eating more plant-based fat is not linked to a change in people’s weights.