Redefine Your Understanding of Fat

The ancient Greeks had three distinct words for love. Philia, a love borne of loyalty and familiarity, would never be used to describe the passionate attraction of eros or the deep contentment of agape. I think we need to take that concept—having words that describe the intricacies of a more general term—and apply it to the word “fat.”

redefine-fat-gheeHere’s my take:

  • Food Fat – This is what what’s clinically called “dietary fat.” This actually applies to a class of macronutrients that consists of several different types of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and so on, which can be broken down further into omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, etc. Although it was demonized for making us fat, it has since been proven that there is no direct link between dietary fat and weight gain.
  • Body Fat –  The fat on our bodies is comprised largely of what is called “adipose fat.” Beneath the skin, it insulates our innards. Around our organs it acts as a protective buffer. And all fat in our body is on call to burn for energy when needed. Body fat, in correct proportions, serves several vital functions. It’s when we have too much that it becomes unhealthy.
  • Thought Fat – This is my term for the way we throw around “I’m fat.” It’s the cultural judgment we impose on ourselves and others for carrying an excess of body fat.

Why is this important? Because all three terms have distinctly different meanings, yet we tend to muddy them all together in our minds and sentences. A glug of olive oil (a healthy food fat) will elicit a response of “that will make you fat.” And in that sentence is the implication that the olive oil will add adipose fat to your body (which it won’t, not directly anyway) and that adipose fat is a bad thing (which it isn’t in correct quantities). You can see how those five little words carry three misconceptions and a grand assumption that a little bit of a healthy oil will lead to an excess of body fat, which in and of itself imposes a judgment.

This week, catch yourself—both what you say out loud and the chatter in your head—and redefine your understanding of fat.

Finding Satisfaction in Indulgence

It’s the holiday season, a festive time when we’re expected to indulge. Yet the media also serves up advice to avoid overdoing it, along with plenty of low-cal, low-fat seasonal treats. For years, I rode that bandwagon. Then, this year, I went to culinary school and a funny thing happened. I found satisfaction.

Why? I made a happy truce with fat.

candied-bacon-creditMaybe it was finally cooking with abandon, using all the butter, cream and eggs a dish needed to be truly delicious (it was a French-based cooking school, after all). Whether it was boeuf Bourguignon, made with luscious fatty short ribs, or pasta carbonara, enriched with egg yolks, cream, bacon, and cheese, I soon yielded to chasing flavor rather than running from fat.

I also dropped about 15 pounds while enjoying this fare. Granted, cooking, especially in a restaurant setting, can mean being on your feet all day hoisting heavy pans and running around to fetch ingredients. But my mate, who also enjoyed my educational efforts, lost closer to 30 pounds . . . and he wasn’t doing the hard labor. I began to suspect it was the deep satisfaction we were getting from the food I was cooking that really deserved the credit.

This theory was driven home on the last day of my advanced baking course, which was devoted to lighter pastry techniques. With my background as an editor at a national food magazine devoted to light cooking, I’d come home, culinarily speaking. After months of full-fat decadence I was back on the familiar turf of low-fat chocolate tarts and custard made with nonfat milk and cornstarch. But I had an epiphany as I sampled the finished product:

I had one bite.

Then another.

And a third.

Suddenly, I was plowing through the whole thing not, I realized, because I was enjoying it, but in search of something the virtuous, low-cal, low-fat treat ultimately couldn’t offer: satisfaction. After having experienced the real deal, I realized this counterfeit lacked the intense flavor and wonderful mouthfeel of its authentic counterpart and no matter how hard it tried, it couldn’t satsfy.

The experience encapsulated one of the most important lessons I learned during my culinary training: A few bites of truly good food both satisfies the belly and nourishes the soul. And if you prepare a truly indulgent dessert in a way that has portion control built in, you’ll send yourself a smart signal about when to stop. That’s the idea behind Mini Dark Chocolate Puddings with Chocolate Shavings, which are served in petite, 2-ounce ramekins. Cookies, like these beauties, work the same way. Redolent with dark chocolate, pecans, and candied bacon, they pack plenty of flavor–and big satisfaction–in a small package.

One really is all you need.

alison-thumb-frameA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times and Natural Health.

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