Fat, Glorious Fat.

Got annoyed reading this snippet in this month’s Marie Claire

“… just one high-fat meal makes us more prone to stress… Keep trail mix and chopped veggies on hand… The odd bit of Cadbury won’t hurt either.”

Not only was it a casually thrown in ‘fact’ with no reference in sight, but it was telling readers “don’t eat fat, it’s bad… but eat Cadbury, it’s OK”.

I like chocolate as much as the next peep, but having a sliver of 80% dark chocolate and wolfing down Cadbury Crème Eggs (something I was VERY guilty of during my school days) are two entirely different things.

Dr Nat then...

Dr Nat then…

Dr Nat now

Dr Nat now

[BTW, I’m not downing Marie Claire or Cadbury… Or promoting Lindt. Just to illustrate a point.]

Some quick study results on fat / stress:

  • Highly stressed people who eat a lot of high-fat/ high-sugar foods are more prone to health risks than low-stress people who eat the same foods. They also have higher levels of a stress-related biomarker, peripheral Neuropeptide Y;
  • Fat cells grow faster in response to junk food when the body is chronically stressed;
  • Chronic stress, COMBINED with high-fat/ high-sugar diet, shifts sympathetic signalling towards Neuropeptide Y and leads to obesity and metabolic syndrome;
  • Sadly for the ladies, women are more prone to stress eating than men… When women work long hours, they are more likely to smoke, snack on high-fat/ high-sugar foods, and drink caffeine. Only one saving grace – they drink less alcohol;
  • And finally, the study I THINK this magazine is referring to… Someone who has eaten a single high-fat/ high-sugar meal will have a higher blood pressure response (“cardiovascular reactivity”) to a stress-inducing event than someone who has eaten a “healthy” meal.

Soooo… it seems:

  • Stress makes us prone to stress-eating, which is usually on high-fat/ high-sugar foods, which have deleterious effects on health; (note the HIGH SUGAR component)
  • The combination of stress & poor diet is dangerous; (either alone is not great, but not as bad as the two together)
  • The ‘fat’ that everyone is blaming is fat in the context of fast food – what about meat prepared in a non-fast-food manner? Avocados? Butter? Nuts? Food that’s a bit closer to its source and less processed?
  • For the study in question, the authors state that the ‘high-fat’ meal has caused the cardiovascular reactivity but haven’t addressed the effects of the HIGH-SUGAR in the fast food meal and therefore (incorrectly) apportion all of the ‘blame’ to the fat.

“A calorie is not a calorie.”

This magazine needs to get with the times. Their statement implies that high-fat foods are bad and the research is increasingly showing that they are not – indeed it is the TYPE of fat that is important.  Additionally, studies are showing that sugar is the enemy, not fat.

It’s not just this mag that is behind the times – even the National Heart Foundation states on its website to “replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat to reduce the risk of heart disease”. Er…. No.

A hot-off-the-press BMJ meta-analysis has shown that consumption of saturated fat is NOT associated with increased death from any cause, coronary heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Trans fat consumption however is associated with increased risk of death from any cause, and coronary heart disease. Well ain’t that the direct opposite of what we’ve been told all these years?

  • Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal and dairy products;
  • Trans fats are naturally found in small amounts in meat and dairy, but in larger amounts in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats. Yes, those fats that everyone has been using as ‘healthy substitutes’;
  • The top foods with trans fats are:
    • Commercially produced/ available fried foods (because hydrogenated oil lasts longer without going rancid)
    • Non-dairy milk substitutes (usually sold as the ‘healthy’ alternative, and low-fat, or fat free)
    • Commercially available cookies, crackers, cakes, snacks
    • Salad dressings
    • Cake mixes, frosting & pie crusts
    • Popcorn

The classic example is someone who uses margarine rather than butter because it’s ‘healthier’. Sorry, not true!


Aschbacher K, Kornfeld S, Picard M, Puterman E, Havel PJ, Stanhope K, Lustig RH, Epel E. Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Aug;46:14-22. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 Apr 13.
Kuo LE, Czarnecka M, Kitlinska JB, Tilan JU, Kvetňanský R, Zukowska Z. Chronic Stress, Combined with a High-Fat/High-Sugar Diet, Shifts Sympathetic Signaling toward Neuropeptide Y and Leads to Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2008;1148:232-237. doi:10.1196/annals.1410.035.
O’Connor DB, Jones F, Conner M, McMillan B, Ferguson E. Effects of daily hassles and eating style on eating behavior. Health Psychol. 2008 Jan;27(1 Suppl):S20-31. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.1.S20.
Jakulj F, Zernicke K, Bacon SL, van Wielingen LE, Key BL, West SG, Campbell TS. A high-fat meal increases cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress in healthy young adults. J Nutr. 2007 Apr;137(4):935-9.
de Souza RJ, Mente A, Maroleanu A, Cozma AI, Ha V, Kishibe T, Uleryk E, Budylowski P, Schünemann H, Beyene J, Anand SS. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ. 2015 Aug 11;351:h3978. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h3978.

If you have found a spelling or grammatical error, please notify me by highlighting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *