The Big FAT Debate

Having admitted to slathering his face in coconut oil, Rude Health’s Nick is a self-proclaimed fat-fanatic. But for years we’ve been told that fat is the prime cause of heart disease and should be avoided like the plague. So in this year’s ‘The Big FAT Debate’ at Abergavenny Food Festival, our panel of experts tackled the question: ‘Is fat good for us?’

In this debate, we investigated what the true causes of the cardiovascular epidemic were and uncovered the reasons why we were misled. We discussed the importance of fat in food and considered whether all fat is equal.

A Brief History

“Genetically speaking, 99.9% of man’s history, those who survived had been able to survive on good fatty meats and water. I’m sorry but that’s true.” – Nick Barnard

First up is our very own Nick Barnard who sums up the changing perspectives on fat throughout history and the reasons why we’ve been so misled. Our ancestors embraced fat and in pre-industrial cultures, fat made up 20-25% of our daily calorie consumption. Post WW2 however, a huge number of middle-aged male professionals were struck by an epidemic of cardiac disorders. A frantic search into the reasons behind and solutions to this terrifying epidemic ensued. In a flash, fat had been demonised.

Changing Perspectives on Fat

So who vilified fat? And why? Nick points an accusatory finger at American scientist, Ancel Keys. Using questionable scientific methods, Keys correlated the fact that countries with a high incidence of heart disease were also countries that ate a lot of saturated fat. His findings were published in 1952, and this has dictated government policy and legislation ever since. To this day we are continually advised that we must limit our saturated fat intake to as little as 3% of our daily calories. Keys’ ‘experiment’ has created a fat fear in which we all think that fat makes us fat!

Does Fat Make Us Fat?

Dr Peter Roley is up next; he works for both a private practice and the NHS. Peter assures us that eating a diet high in fat in the absence of refined carbohydrates does not make you fat; it is actually one of the best ways to achieve fat loss. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, a high cholesterol diet does not increase cholesterol in the blood but may actually decrease it. Peter maintains that the surge in heart disease and diabetes was caused by smoking and high carbohydrate consumption. Peter pinpoints Ancel Keys’ vested interest in corporations, rooted in the profitability of carbohydrates over good quality fat sources, as the reason why we were lead to believe that fat is public enemy number one.

Diets Don’t Work 

Ruth Tudor is next to speak. She lives on an organic farm in Monmouthshire with her husband who owns a charcuterie business. Inspired by nature, she works as a Psychotherapist and Equine Therapist. In the charcuterie world, fat is essential; it helps to preserve the meat and adds the flavour. As a psychotherapist, Ruth observes that manufacturers take advantage of the lucrative dieting market – quoting:

“Diets are a ‘revolving door’ industry. If diets succeeded, Weightwatchers wouldn’t exist.” The main reason we are vulnerable to these mixed messages is because we don’t have a sense of ourselves. Instead of telling people what they should eat, Ruth argues that it is more important to bring awareness and broaden people’s experience to what they eat, quoting: “Food is a deeply intimate act. When we eat food we are relating to the world.”

Fat Gives Flavour 

For chef Brad McDonald, fat equals flavour. As Head Chef of Southern American Restaurant, The Lockhart, it is McDonald’s job to make food enjoyable. He advocates frying chicken in different sources of fat to increase the flavours in the meat.

Not All Fat Is Equal

Last to offer her voice is Aine Morris, festival director of Bristol Food Connections. Aine argues that ‘not all fat is equal’. She thinks it is great that we are starting to embrace saturated fats, rather than relying on harmful, hydrogenated and processed fats perceived to be ‘healthy’. But Aine worries that people will consume more fats – and continue to eat copious amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Our current food system makes these extremely difficult to avoid – and this is where the danger lies.

She also argues that people need to make healthier food choices, and consider where, and how, their meat and fish has been reared. She hazards: “we also need to remember that any toxins or chemicals in the meat will be stored in the fat.”

Aine contends that it’s crucial that we educate ourselves, and others, so that we are free to make our own better food choices. Books such as Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes and The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz are great places to start.

Food & Fat For Thought

Ironically ‘The Big FAT Debate’ wasn’t such a raucous or divisive debate after all. Regardless of their foodie background, our panel were unanimous in their trophying of fat. Perhaps fat has finally shrugged off the villainous cloak wrapped round it. We hope so.

Watch the full debate here on our YouTube Channel