The facts on fats: do fats really make us fat?

  • Feb 25, 2024
  • By Rikke Svartangen
  • 0 Comment

Conventional thinking over the last few years (decades for that matter) has been that fat makes you fat and that if you quit eating fat, you'll lose weight without even trying.  Afraid to say, cutting out fat doesn't work - as you've probably already learned.

Fats play a crucial role in a balanced diet, providing energy, insulating and protecting vital organs, and supporting cell function. So yeah, they're pretty important! 

So what are the Facts on Fats? Why are they so despised by the diet community? Let's discuss…

table showing various sources of unsaturated fats

Dietary Fats and Their Properties

You should be aware of the variety of fats that are present in your daily diet. While it's easy to lump all fats into the 'bad' category, you'll do yourself a service by understanding the different types of dietary fats at your disposal.

You might be thinking, "Why should I bother? Aren't all fats unhealthy?" Not quite! Let's debunk that misconception...

Here's your cheat sheet to the world of dietary fats:

Unsaturated Fats

Often hailed as healthier than their saturated counterparts, these come from plant-based foods and oils. Olive oils, canola oil, avocado oil, nuts and flax seeds are popular sources. Some popular sources of unsaturated fats are: 

✅ Olive oil
✅ Canoa oil
✅ Avocado oil
✅ Nuts
✅ Flax seeds

green table with avocado's, nuts and oils.

Digging deeper into unsaturated fats presents two subcategories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Monounsaturated Fats: Found in avocados, olive oil and some nuts; they improve HDL cholesterol levels while potentially providing anti-inflammatory benefits – a real boon for heart health.  

Polyunsaturated Fats: Located in fish, nuts and seeds; aim for those with a higher Omega 3 content (fish oils) and limit those with a higher Omega 6 content (Seed Oils).

Saturated Fats

These are primarily found in animal-based products like red meat and dairy. However, certain plant sources such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil also contain saturated fats. 

Some common sources of saturated fats include:

✅ Butter
✅ Tallow/Lard
✅ Cheese
✅ Fatty cuts of meat
✅ Tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil) 

close up image of a spread of read meats including sausages

Trans Fat

Trans fats are unhealthy fats, simple. They're not natural and have been 'changed' by the human hand. 

Not all fats you consume are good for your health. Trans fats, a type of unsaturated fat, undergo a chemical change known as hydrogenation. This process makes them solid and more stable at room temperature. You can typically find trans fats in certain processed foods like baked goods, snack foods, and fried foods, primarily because they prolong the shelf life of these products. Also, your favourite local takeaway is probably delivering trans fats along with their tasty fast foods, giving your blood cholesterol levels a workout in the process!

These trans fats have a negative effect on your cholesterol balance, this imbalance can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. 

The UK government has taken notable steps to limit the use of trans fats in food production, leading to a marked reduction in their consumption. So it's best that you stay clear of them!  Yes Butter is best (avoid Margarine at all costs!)

Fats and Health

Does eating fat actually make us fat?

Because fat is, well, fat, it has a reputation for being fattening... 

The idea here is that the fat we eat requires little chemical transformation before it is stored as fat under our skin and elsewhere in our bodies.

Saturated fat is also blamed for the rising obesity rates seen in many countries because it contains roughly twice as many calories as carbohydrates or protein. So, in theory, eating a lot of fat means consuming a lot of calories, something which one might expect to increase our risk of piling on the pounds.

But it just doesn't work like that!

If you are overweight already, and suffering from metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, chances are you shouldn't be cutting fats from your diet at all! You should be cutting carbs!

You might be scratching your head right now, thinking "Does eating fat really make me fat?" You're not alone in this thought. It's a common misconception as, logically, it seems likely that the fat we consume would easily transform into body fat.

Here's an interesting fact: despite saturated fats containing roughly twice as many calories as carbohydrates or protein, they aren't solely to blame for rising obesity rates across the globe. This assumption oversimplifies how our bodies process food.

Now you may wonder why is this so. Well, here are three reasons:

Body Metabolism: Our bodies don't directly convert dietary fats into body fat. They go through complex metabolic processes. 
Insulin Resistance: If you're already overweight and suffering from condition like metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, cutting out fats isn't necessarily the solution. 
Carbohydrate Intake: More often than not, it's excessive carbohydrate intake that leads to weight gain. 

In essence, rather than fearing all fat consumption, you should consider adopting a new diet plan - perhaps something like the Keto Diet. Remember though that serving others starts with taking care of yourself first; so it's important to choose what works best for your health & well-being!

Is a Calorie a Calorie?

The concept that fat’s calorific nature is inherently fattening is founded on the principle that eating more calories than we burn metabolically in the body will lead to weight gain. This ‘calorie principle’ forms the basis of pretty much all advice ever given to individuals wishing to lose weight. This usually translates into a blanket recommendation to those wanting to shed pounds to eat less and/or exercise more.

When weighing up daily calories, or calorie balance in the body, most health professionals do not distinguish between different types of calories. In other words, the general view appears to be a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, and that the form it comes in is quite irrelevant to the human body.

This obsession with calorie balance seems to have blinded most health professionals to the fact that different types of calories are ‘burned’ differently in the body, and some burn more efficiently than others. We can think of the body’s metabolism as rather like a fire which, say, easily burns small bits of dry wood, but has more difficulty with larger, soggy pieces of wood.

Could it be that for some individuals, eating fat is like putting small, dry pieces of wood on that fire?  

Now, imagine you're at a campfire. You've got a pile of wood varying in size and dryness, and your goal is to keep that fire burning brightly. The small, dry pieces ignite easily and burn efficiently, keeping your fire roaring with minimal effort. On the other hand, larger or damper pieces require more work—they smoulder rather than blaze and might even douse your once lively flames if not handled properly.

Just like maintaining this campfire, managing your body's metabolism isn't as simple as counting calories—it's about understanding how different types of calories are metabolised. You see, the common belief that 'a calorie is a calorie' doesn't hold water when we delve deeper into nutritional science.

It's important to remember:

❗Not all calories are created equal. 
❗Some types of calories burn more efficiently than others. 
❗Fat can be an efficient fuel source for some individuals, especially on Keto! 
❗Calorie intake should always be balanced with physical activity. 
❗Individual metabolic responses can vary greatly. 

The usual advice you hear—eat less and exercise more—might seem sound based on the 'calorie principle.' This principle suggests that weight gain results from consuming more calories than what our bodies burn off. However, this approach often oversimplifies the complex nature of human metabolism.

What if for some folks eating fat is like tossing those small, dry pieces onto their metabolic bonfire? Could it be possible that they could consume high-calorie foods without gaining weight because their bodies metabolise these fats efficiently?

When serving others through health guidance or support, it's critical to understand these nuances. Don't let the prevailing obsession with calorie balance blind you to the individuality of metabolic processes. Recognise that there's no one-size-fits-all solution but instead a myriad of paths leading to healthy living.

How Effective are Low-Fat Diets for Weight-Loss? 

One way to put this theory to the test is to assess the weight loss effects of diets that contain the same number of calories but are made up of varying amounts of fat, carbohydrate and protein. 

If it’s only the total number of calories that counts, then diets that contain the same number of calories should have the same effect on weight, irrespective of the composition of the diets. Actually, studies show this simply isn’t the case:

📝 This research was focused on examining the impact of an extremely low carbohydrate diet on weight loss and heart disease risk factors, in comparison to a low-fat diet. The study involved a random trial with 53 overweight women. They were divided into two groups; one followed the extremely low carbohydrate diet, while the other adhered to a calorie-restricted diet that consisted of 30% fat. 

After six months, it was observed that the group on the very low carbohydrate diet lost more weight and body fat than the group on the low-fat diet. 

📝 This study aimed to contrast the impacts of a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCK) and low-fat diet (LF) - on weight loss, body configuration, trunk fat mass, and resting energy expenditure (REE) in overweight/obese men and women. The study involved 15 men and 13 premenopausal women. Both diets were structured to achieve a calorie deficit of -500 kcal/day. The VLCK diet targeted less than 10% of energy from carbs and initiated ketosis, while the LF diet adhered to national recommendations (~60:25:15% carbohydrate:fat: protein).

The VLCK diet resulted in higher fat intake (63%) and lower carbohydrate intake (9%) compared to the LF diet (22% fat, 58% carbohydrate).

Despite consuming slightly more calories on the VLCK diet, men experienced more weight loss, total fat loss, and trunk fat loss compared to the LF diet.

Most women also reacted more positively to the VLCK diet, particularly in terms of trunk fat loss. 

In order to get an idea of the overall effect of low-fat eating on weight, several relevant studies were assessed in a review published by the highly-respected international group of researchers known as the Cochrane Collaboration in 2002. The researchers were particularly interested in the ability to participants to sustain weight loss over a long period of time. 

The average amount of weight lost in low-fat and control diets was assessed at 6, 12 and 18 months. The following table summarises the findings of this review.

 Average weight change on a low-fat diet (KG) Average weight change on a control diet (KG)
6 Months - 5.08 - 6.50
12 Months - 2.30 - 3.40
18 Months +0.1 - 2.30

 

You will see from this table that any initial weight loss seen on a low-fat diet declines in time. This was also true of the control diets, but not nearly to the same extent!

The fact that the control diets outperformed the low-fat diets at every stage will be alarming to most. And perhaps most importantly of all, at 18 months, those instructed to eat low-fat diets had, on average, actually gained weight! 

Fats on the Keto Diet

You've likely heard all that 'low-fat' chatter for most of your life, but the keto diet turns it all on its head. 

how keto works
It's a high-fat, low-carbohydrate strategy that nudges your body to burn fat instead of carbs for fuel. That metabolic switcheroo is called ketosis. Notably, the fats in a keto diet usually come from animal products like meat and dairy or oils such as coconut and olive oil.
According to the UK Government, around 26% of adults in England are obese and this figure rises to 40% in America— a stark reminder of why it's crucial to take control of our health through diets like Keto! 


Your body is an amazing machine. It's designed to adapt to a wide variety of conditions and dietary changes. Among these changes, you might consider the ketogenic diet - a low-carb, high-fat regimen that promises weight loss and improved health markers. But there's a catch - it's best you get choosy about the fats you consume.

Here are some important facts about fats on the Keto Diet:

Saturated Fats:

✅ Originate from animal sources such as butter, cream and other dairy products, plus meats like bacon, ham and their associated fats such as tallow/lard. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. 
✅ Natural saturated fats are safe when you're riding the keto wave. Women need more than men to support hormone balance. 

Monounsaturated Fats: 

✅ You'll find these heart-friendly fats in avocados, olive oil and nuts. 
✅ They're not just good; they're great since they reduce inflammation while boosting heart health. So make sure you include them in your daily meals! 

Polyunsaturated Fats:

✅ These are found in fatty fish like salmon along with some plant-based sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
✅ Aim for Omega-3 fats from oily fish, and reduce your consumption of heavily processed seed oils.  

    Remember though:

    Trans Fats should be avoided even if you're doing the high-fat Keto dance. Stick to a low-carb lifestyle, and you'll be far less likely to encounter these bad boys! And avoid margarine like the plague! 

    Processed foods: Be wary of so-called 'keto' products filled with artificial ingredients or those promising ketosis within minutes. Fastest route into ketosis? Good old fasting without spending a single penny! 

    So go ahead! Incorporate those healthy fats into your meals, slash those carbs down low, and you'll be strolling down Ketosis Lane sooner rather than later!

    💻 RELATED: If you want to know more about how to get started on a low-carb or keto diet, you may want to read our article 👉 How to Start a Keto Diet

    Finally... On the Facts on Fats

    So yeah, Maybe it's time to reconsider ‘Low-fat’ thinking?

    That being said, you should generally stay away from trans fats, regardless of which way of eating you subscribe to! Cutting carbs will lead to good health quicker than cutting fats. 

    If you are looking to lose weight, then it may be worth considering a low-carb, high-fat diet such as the Keto Diet. It can lead to faster body composition changes, faster weight loss (especially around the waist), and healthier blood markers than a low-fat diet.

    But beware! Not all fats are created equal:

    ✅ It's not just the number of calories we consume, but the form they come in that has an influence on body weight. 
    ✅ Eating a diet relatively rich in fat is not, in itself, a barrier to weight loss. 
    ✅ Actually, all things being equal, eating more fat and less carbohydrate tends to lead to more effective weight loss. 

     If you are looking to lose weight, then it may be worth considering a low-carb, high-fat diet such as the Keto Diet. It can lead to faster body composition changes, faster weight loss (especially around the waist), and healthier blood markers than a low-fat diet.


    The facts on fats are this: Eating fat doesn't necessarily make you fat! And the success people have on the Keto Diet proves that! 

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