Where Does Fat Come From?

Many of us want to lose weight. But where did we find it in the first place?

Thanks to the Atkins diet there is greater public awareness about the negative ill effects that simple and refined carbohydrates have on health—people are eating less white bread, white pasta and sugar. This is good news.

But there are too many health risks associated with low-carb diets and the long-term health effects are not yet known—we must be cautious.

The general understanding of fad diets tends toward overgeneralization.

Previously we believed that fat was bad and carbohydrates were good. We became obsessed about low-fat and fat-free foods. We increased our consumption of carbohydrates indiscriminately -- not necessarily only the “good carbs” like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and beans. We also increased our consumption of refined carbs like white bread, French fries, white flour, sugar and soda. Not surprisingly, such foods lack nutritional value and lead to weight gain and increased health risks.

We gained weight because we put too much emphasis on avoiding fat. In the process we stopped eating good forms of fats and instead increased our consumption of “bad fat” (saturated and trans fat) found in French fries, other deep fried foods such as fried chicken, baked goods, store-bought snacks, chips, baked goods, doughnuts and fast foods in general.

A diet comprised of highly refined carbohydrates in the form of overly processed foods combined with unhealthy forms of saturated and trans fats is unhealthful. Amira ElganBut such a bad diet coupled with a peculiar absence of healthy forms of fat from nuts, seeds and vegetable oils and complex carbohydrates rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and important antioxidant is the biggest culprit of our obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer epidemics.

Once again we are making the same mistake. Because of the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets, the oversimplified belief is that carbs are bad and fats are good – or at least acceptable.

We have not learned our lesson about the problems associated with diets that eliminate or limit a specific food group.

We are designed to consume a balanced and diverse diet—a diet that includes the nutrients naturally found in plant foods. Our evolution as hunter-gatherers is a good indication—we’re not meant to eat mainly fat and protein. We need to eat a healthy combination of all the basic nutrients: Protein, fat and carbohydrates. And the sources and forms of these nutrients do matter.

Again, the food industry is following our lead. If there is demand, they will supply. These days you can find Atkins products everywhere, even big chain restaurants have incorporated Atkins approved menus and low-carb friendly meals. It’s a huge industry and the big winner is the Atkins organization.

Let’s not forget that excessive weight is not the core problem – it’s a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle. The other symptoms are disease, discomfort and early death.

Rather than becoming slimmer at the expense of health, let’s actually become healthy. Weight loss will follow, along with a much better life.

Yes, we eat too many carbs. But, more to the point, we eat too many bad carbs. And, yes, we eat diets that are too high in fats. But more importantly, we eat too many bad fats.

A low-fat diet – ignoring all other factors – is not the solution, nor is a low-carb diet that ignores other aspects of a healthy diet.

Rather than ignorantly cutting down on fats or carbs, we should cut down on ignorance itself and embrace healthy organic vegetarian diets that give our bodies what they need without polluting them with overly refined, processed junk food, fatty meat and other ingredients of a diet that made the majority of Americans so heavy and unhealthy.

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Reader Comment

You did a good job with the Atkins issue, I thought. But I just read a new study that tried to find out if it was true that people lost weight on low carb diets because they ate less. And they found out it wasn't true. One of the groups ate 300 calories MORE than the people with the "balanced" diet, and they lost more weight. The contention of the low-carb people is that the problem is insulin. They make a good argument that our bodies have not evolved with a lot of carbohydrates in the diet, and so our bodies are producing far more insulin than they ought to be, and it has a cumulative effect, including a slow, steady weight gain. That doesn't seem to be happening to you, however. You look great.

A. K., Bellevue, Washington


The Atkins diet places too much emphasis on the fact that insulin enables the body to store fat. Insulin offers vital functions such as enabling our cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream to use it for fuel. Low-carb diets adhere to the idea that carbohydrates are the main stimulant for insulin production. In fact, all the foods we eat stimulate the production of insulin.

Another false belief is that insulin stores fat only when carbohydrates are ingested. Nothing could be further from the truth—the body will store anything as fat only when too much of any food is eaten and it doesn't matter whether it's in the form of fat, protein or carbohydrate. When it comes to storage of fat, it is the body’s biochemistry what is at play. Consuming more calories than we burn in a day forces the body to store the excess calories consumed as fat (no matter what the source) resulting in gradual and steady weight gain.

The study conducted by the Penelope Greene of the Harvard School of Public Health presents interesting data and we do need to be open-minded. Nonetheless, we also need to consider other factors about this research, which was paid by the Atkins organization (though it is claimed it had no input in the study’s structure or analysis).

In this very small and short-term study that lasted 12 weeks, 21 overweight volunteers were randomly divided into 3 groups. The first two groups consumed 1,500 calories per day and followed either a low-carb or low-fat diet and the third group followed a low-carb diet and consumed 300 extra calories (1,800).

At the end of the 12 weeks everyone lost weight, the first two groups on the low-carb and low-fat diets lost 23 and 17 pounds respectively and the third group on the low-carb diet with the additional calories lost 20 pounds.

The first finding is that of the two groups who consumed the same number of calories, the low-carb dieters lost 6 more pounds than the low-fat group.

The second finding is that the low-carb dieters who consumed the 300 additional calories still lost 3 pounds more than the low-fat group. It’s all very intriguing indeed.

It’s very common, however, for people on the Atkins diet to lose more weight more rapidly than people on low-fat diets, though losing weight too rapidly does possess health risks.

Carbohydrate intake is essential. The most important function of carbohydrates is to provide a constant supply of energy to the body. The body takes the energy it needs for immediate use in the form of glucose, then it stores what it can for times of famine or starvation in the form of glycogen and all the excess is stored as lipids or fat tissue beneath the skin.

The breakdown of carbs as well as the reserves of it for later use require a lot of water retention in the body, which add up to body weight. The Atkins diet pushes restricted eating consisting mainly of animal fats and proteins and limited amounts of low-carb foods, especially in the initial induction phase of the diet.

Low-carb diets starve the body from it’s preferred form of energy, carbohydrates, which are broken down into glucose in order to enter the bloodstream, forcing the body to tap into fuel reserves called “glycogen” stored in the liver and muscles.

When glycogen is depleted by dietary restriction, as is the case with carb-restrictive diets, or intense, strenuous exercise, glycogen must be broken down and reconverted to glucose. Glycogen requires several grams of water for every gram that is stored in the liver and muscles. The reconversion process of glycogen to glucose as a result of lowered carbohydrate content in the body puts demands on body protein so lean muscle tissue is lost.

The rapid weight loss low-carb dieters experience over dieters on “low-fat” diets is because of the significant loss of water and muscle tissue prompted by the depletion of glycogen.

Glycogen depletion is a major reason Atkins dieters lose more weight faster than people on other diets. Muscle and water are denser than fat, so the weight comes off fast -- at the expense of health.

The body is made of about 70 percent water, all of the body functions, organs, tissues and cells require lots of water to occur so the Atkins diet instructs dieters to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.

Low-carb diets literally deplete the body of necessary water and energy reserves that are designed to be stored in muscles. Probably the same reason the Atkins diet gradually increases the intake of complex carbs dieters are allowed to take--not doing so could be a major health hazard. In addition to the over consumption of animal fats, the problem with the Atkins diet is that carbs are consumed in neither the right proportions nor sufficient diversity.

The Atkins diet contradicts the overwhelming majority of large scale and long-term nutrition studies on how to lose weight in a healthy manner. Many health experts and professionals believe the Atkins diet to be unsafe.

The Atkins diet is popular because it exploits our desire for instant gratification. The promise is that you can lose weight quickly, while continuing to indulge in greasy steaks, sausages and the like.

The bottom line is that there are many factors yet to be studied for the low-carb diets to be considered truly successful. For me, it will be the test of time, when dieters adopt this diet as a permanent way of eating and can sustain it for life without health complications as a result of it.

Words of Wisdom

“The most solid comfort one can fall back upon is the thought that the business of one’s life is to help in some small way to reduce the sum of ignorance, degradation and misery on the face of this beautiful earth”.

George Eliot

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Brown Rice Pilaf (vegan)
Serves 8

This is a basic rice dish that can go with many dishes including the pinto beans soup recipe on last week’s issue. Though this is a simple recipe, it is very tasty and can be used not only as side dish but also in recipes that call for cooked rice. It can also be made simply plain or with more vegetables, baked tofu cubes, beans and nuts for a complete one dish meal.

Preparation time: 3 minutes Cooking time: 40 minutes

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
1 fresh garlic clove, crushed or pressed
½ small onion peeled and finely chopped
1 cup Basmati brown rice
2 cups vegetable broth or stock
1 cup water
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen)
1 cup frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot heat oil over low heat. Add garlic and onions to oil sautéing over medium heat for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Add rice and sauté for 3 minutes. Add water and broth, lightly cover with lid and cook for 30 minutes. Without stirring, if it looks too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water then add corn and peas. Let it simmer covered for another 5 minutes and turn heat off. Add salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

Cook’s tip: sometimes brown rice can take more time to cook. Simply add a ¼ cup of water and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Adding too much water, however, will make it mushy.



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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.