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The truth about FAT (are you making this mistake?)

R ecently I read an interesting book. It’s called ‘Real Food’ and no prizes for guessing it’s all about the benefits of eating real, whole food and avoiding the usual suspects of anything processed and packaged.

One of the things I enjoyed most was hearing about the author, Nina Planck’s journey to finding a balance between enjoying food and being happy with her waistline.

Like me, Planck grew up on a farm. And also like me her mother just cooked real food, without any thought of whether it contained ‘fat’ or ‘carbs’. It was just food.

Then during her teens, Planck started to gain weight so she embraced the popular advice to eat ‘low fat’ and became a strict nonfat vegetarian. Her weight struggles continued until in her 20s she started eating real food including animal products and ‘fats of all kind’.

She then continued to lose 20 pounds, not overnight but without any real effort. And has pretty much maintained her new healthy weight for over a decade while ‘eating more than ever, never skimping on fat and exercising only half as much’.

Which mirrors my own experience.

So what is the truth about fat?

You’ve probably guessed it. The truth is, eating fat doesn’t make you fat.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my homage to butter, eating fat is not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your health in general.

Why were we told to go low fat?

For starters, it sounds logical that eating fat would make you fat. Doesn’t it?

The second reason is that fat is more ‘energy dense’ than protein or carbs. If you burn 1 gram of fat you get about 9 calories. Whereas 1 gram of protein or carbs only gives 4 calories.

So in a simplistic world, eating less fat would mean eating less calories. Which in theory would be waistline-friendly.

But as you know, our bodies are complex systems. Basically, it’s not that simple.

Surely it can’t be good to eat loads of fat?

Of course, ‘too much’ of anything is still too much.

So I think the best approach is to follow Plank’s simple guidelines.

“REAL FATS ARE GOOD (even the maligned saturated fats) and INDUSTRIAL FATS ARE BAD.”

In case you’re wondering, industrial fats include grain and seed oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, safflower and sunflower oils. They also include trans fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening.

LYW video 3D Cover

Like to learn more about how ‘Real Fats’ can help your waistline?

To see how my latest eCookbook ‘How to Love Your Waistline and Your Food’ can help your waistline go to:

coconut chicken & greens-4

coconut chicken with greens
serves 2

One of the things I don’t love about chicken breast is that it drys out easily. The gentle poaching in coconut milk here keeps our chicken breasts lovely and moist.

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 small chicken breasts
1 can coconut milk (400mL / 1.5 cups)
1 large bag spinach leaves

1. Heat a little oil in a small saucepan. Cook garlic on a medium heat for 30 seconds or until just starting to brown.

2. Add chicken and cooconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 5 minutes.

3. Cover. Remove from the heat and stand for 20 minutes.

4. When the time is up, remove chicken from the pan and slice finely. Divide between two plates.

5. Add spinach to the pot and simmer until the spinach has just wilted. Season generously and serve greens and sauce with the chicken.

short on time? – skip the garlic and simmer the chicken for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. Skip the standing step.

different greens – most greens will work well here, kale, silver beet, chard, cavolo nero even chinese broccoli or bok choy.

hot! – add in a little dried chilli with the coconut milk.

vegetarian / vegan – replace the chicken with 200g (7oz) dried red or green (puy / french-style) lentils. Simmer, uncovered in the coconut milk until lentils are tender (10-20 minutes). If it dries out too much add a little water.

– serve sprinkled with fresh basil or coriander (cilantro) leaves.


video version of the recipe


now available!

LYW video 3D Cover

To see how my latest eCookbook can help your waistline go to:

With Love,
Jules x

ps. Like my new image slider at the beginning of this post? Tell me what you think in the comments.


{ 63 comments… add one }

  • NancyNurse 8 August, 2012, 10:00 am

    Are you kidding? Fat ABSOLUTELY makes you fat! Take a look at The China Study; Dr. John McDougall’s website, Jeff Novick, Dr. Joel Furhman, Dean Ornish. I have been on every diet in the world trying to lose the fat and stop my angina and nothing has EVER worked until I stopped eating all fats! The weight is dropping off like water and I have not had ONE episode of chest pain since. Also read Dr. Esselstyn’s book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. You can actually SEE before and after pictures of an angiogram from another doctor that experienced a heart attack. After going off all of meat and dairy products as well as fats, his arteries are repairing themselves! amazingly wonderful news!

    • Allie 8 August, 2012, 12:39 pm

      I don’t think Jules is saying that it’s a simple equation of eating fat makes you lose weight. But the way that food is digested and the impact and effect that it has on our bodies is more complex than just bodies taking the calorific value of each food and storing or expending it. We’re talking about products in their more whole, “full” state – not fat-enriched things, or diets full of fatty foods cooked in fat with a side of fat.

      The way foods affect appetite and the feeling of ‘fullness’, and how long this lasts, are a key thing. There are also psychological effects at play – I remember reading a study that looked at how much yoghurt (I think it was yoghurt?) people consumed when they were told that it was full fat, and low fat. People ate less when they thought it will full fat. Similarly with diet soft drinks and regular ones.

      Basically, everything in moderation – I don’t think anyone is saying that a good, healthy thing to do is go out of your way to eat fat and maximise the amount of fat you eat.

      • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:36 am

        Thanks Allie
        I’ve seen that yoghurt study too. Interesting how our ‘perception’ can influence how much we choose to eat of a particular food.

    • Jackie 8 August, 2012, 11:13 pm

      The China Study has been thoroughly debunked. It’s just bad science. Check out Denise Minger’s China Study article on Raw Food SOS. She’s a former raw vegan, so she’s experimented with a lot of diets, too.

      It’s the processed vegetable oils, like soybean, cottonseed, and canola oil that make people fat. Fats from factory farmed animals are not too healthy either. Natural fats that humans have been eating for thousands of years are the fats people should eat. Heathly fat is from grassfed cows, pastured pigs and chickens. And coconut oil is awesome!

      Your brain and body need fat to function. I just don’t understand how people can think that old foods that have been around forever are causing the new age obesity and obesity-related diseases we have today.

      • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:20 am

        Thanks for commenting!
        You’re so right it’s about natural foods that have been around for years.

      • Lin 27 November, 2012, 8:31 am

        Denise Minger was never a vegan and has been debunked by Durianrider. Peace

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:34 am

      I’m not kidding. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience though. You’ve raised a super important point. We are all different and the most important thing is to find what works for you and your body. If you’re happy with your health and diets that’s the most important thing.

  • jazziefizzle 8 August, 2012, 10:20 am

    I totally agree with you – I have switched to full fat dairy (but am vegetarian so no animal products) over the last 6 weeks and I must say the change in my appetite is amazing. I feel full so fast after eating a meal that contains fat – and am slowly beginning to listen to my body more closely (as have still made the mistake of over eating a number of times but really feel the consequences).

    Moderation is definitely key, but fats are absolutely crucial for your brain and many other body systems, and essential vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K) can only be absorbed in the presence of fat.

    Of course the situation is a little different if you already have an established heart condition (as outlined by NancyNurse), however I think that ‘cutting out all fats’ is oversimplifying the situation. If you have cut out a lot of industrial fats during this process that may be the reason why the benefit that is seen – it has been proven that many fats are beneficial (the fats found in fish for example protect against heart disease), and even upon searching the medical literature it is obvious that this is still a point of contention and controversy.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:38 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience Jasmine
      Glad to hear you’re finding eating full fat dairy helpful.

    • Lin 27 November, 2012, 8:33 am

      Check out the FAQ at foodnsport to read about the harmful effects of eating too much fat and protein. Also natureasintended’s channel (youtube) Peace

  • SueG 8 August, 2012, 10:22 am

    I have had the same experience, also growing up on a farm eating fats, meats often our own, vegetables grown, fish caught locally. As a young adult/student I was converted like most to packets and cans, pastry etc I have tried vego/vegan diets and even after following the rules usually just felt tired. It was when I went back to plain, recognizable (in the final stage) foods and cut out sugar, processed foods and as much wheat as possible that my energy levels skyrocketed, my skin looked better and I maintained a good weight easily. I eat fat but never from processed foods and in moderation. I love butter and dairy and have never felt better. There is also Dr. Lundell’s (heart surgeon) research that supports this method. Also the fact that older people did not die of heart problems in the numbers (ratio) that people do now and fats were a big part of their diets.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:37 am

      Thanks for sharing your story Sue!

  • Shaun 8 August, 2012, 2:43 pm

    This is a gutsy post — and it’s sad I have to label it as that!! If I can encourage you Jules, my doctor has advised me similarly regarding fats and whole food. Fat definitely has a place in our diets — it’s not just about eating “the right fats” which has developed into a bit of a fad (which isn’t totally bad at all especially in countries with highly processed foods) but about monitoring the source of those fats. Like you discussed in your post on Butter, of you eat butter from the right source your body will be pretty happy with it! I had a nutritionist friend who always urged that people not eat margarine or other synthetics — simply because your body doesn’t know what to do with it.

    A happy body and happy eating habit is about balance.

    Thanks for the post Jules.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:31 am

      I’m surprised but very happy to hear that this is what your doctor is recommending. You are lucky to have such an enlightened physician!

  • Tony 8 August, 2012, 3:30 pm

    So true! Fats are more useful for our body than most grains, so it is actually better to eat a bit of peanut butter, or cheese instead of a slice of white bread – filling and nutritious! Also, for me, eating fat has not affected my weight (have always been skinny) but it does affect my skin and especially my hair – it grows like mad when I starting eating more of the healthy fats (nuts and oily fish). So before you go for that low-fat yoghurt think twice and get the real thing – it might be better for you and, of course, much tastier – total win!
    Thanks for the post and the recipe, Jules, I love coconutty things, so I will definitely try this soon!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:30 am

      Thanks for mentioning the benefits to hair and skin…

  • Jean 8 August, 2012, 3:54 pm

    Hi Jules. Thanks for this post, I’ve started to put weight on recently and it’s a subject that means a lot to me right now.

  • Rachel H. 8 August, 2012, 4:15 pm

    That recipe sounds lovely. I must try it.

  • Jimmy 8 August, 2012, 6:49 pm

    Anything in excess is a problem. There was a avoid-all-fat fade and that was probably not a good idea for most people. However some people are not capable of digesting fat so well. Certain people need to avoid eating too much fat in a given meal due to certain gastrointestinal diseases.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:25 am

      You’re right Jimmy, too much fat is still going to cause problems

  • Maz 8 August, 2012, 8:13 pm

    Thanks for the recipe (kaffir lime leaf would also go well) and sharing your thoughts on fat. I also think there is nothing wrong with full fat varieties of food. Part of the trick is also taking pleasure in the eating which I think helps us feel full and fulfilled by the flavours and leads to a more intuitive portion control of richer foods, which really should only form a minor part of our diet when compared to veggies, lean proteins etc.
    Anyway that’s my 20 cents worth-but what I really wanted to say is that Jules I think your blog is looking great. Keep up the great work, I always enjoy your recipes and thoughts!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:23 am

      Thanks Maz!
      And yes the pleasure part is really important part of satiation… thanks for the reminder.

  • Micala 8 August, 2012, 9:16 pm

    Hi Jules,

    I’m not a science person, just a food eater so can’t comment on the above!

    I really like the slider, and am always in awe of your beautiful photography and presentation.

    I just wanted to let you know I’ve bought your “Waist-line” ebook and with my husband we are absolutely loving it. Every recipe has worked brilliantly and tasted fantastic. We made this coconut chicken one the other day and everyone, including our two little children, gobbled it up with pleasure. Thank you so much!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:21 am

      Thanks so much for supporting Stonesoup by buying my book. And so glad you and you’re husband are loving it!

  • Tish 8 August, 2012, 11:20 pm

    I am a firm believer in the idea that eating fat isn’t what makes you fat. It’s all about the refined carbohydrates, but I guess everything in moderation.

    Posting for the first time because this recipe is almost identical to a Filipino dish called Chicken Ginataang. All that’s missing is the fresh ginger. Try adding a few pieces next time!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:17 am

      Thanks for the ginger suggestion! Would be really lovely with fish as well

  • Bridget 9 August, 2012, 5:35 am

    Thanks for this post! Fat is soooo good for your body. I never buy low-fat anything — but I also don’t buy bad foods =\ healthy fats in vegetables & meat are necessary for a healthy diet.

    You could even say I love fat ;)

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:17 am

      Yay Bridget!
      I love it too

  • Chloe 10 August, 2012, 1:02 am

    Hi Jules,

    Good article, & I’m totally in agreement with your stance on fats.

    The image slider did not work at all using Google Reader to read your rss feed. It came up as a huge white space, a couple of pages long.


    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:16 am

      Thanks for the rss feedback Chloe!
      I hadn’t thought to check there.

  • Rachel Southwood 10 August, 2012, 8:11 am

    Oh gosh I could not agree more with this! I feel like it is such a major problem especially with gen y. Especially in Australia, it would just be amazing to be able to change this overnight. Hopefully food education becomes more popular very soon!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:14 am

      Hi Rachel
      Thanks for agreeing! I think there’s so much interest in food these days it won’t take long for the message to get out.

  • Willem 10 August, 2012, 4:32 pm

    It’s still about food-choices and portion control … Even saturated fat has health benefits, but also inherent dangers if you take too much of it.

    Also, the other day I compared Calories and found out that the low-fat variant actually had more Calories per serving than the “high”-fat one. Go figure.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:13 am

      Yes portion control is important regardless of what you’re eating. As I said, too much is still too much. And you reminded me that saturated fat from factory farmed, ‘industralised’ animals should be avoided as well.

  • Gift 10 August, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Sounds nice and easy!!!! I love how all your recipes are so simple, but you already know that ;) I might try adding some dried chilli, lime juice and a tad of honey to cut the flavor… . haha reminiscence of Tom Kha Kai (Thai coconut chicken) — I can’t help thinking of Tom Kah Kai when i see chicken and coconut milk…

    • Gift 10 August, 2012, 6:16 pm

      ohh and galangal if you can find one… hmmm its so hard to find in the States :(

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:11 am

      Great suggestion to add lime juice and chilli… be careful with the honey as I find coconut milk tends to be pretty ‘sweet’ tasting on its own.

  • liza 10 August, 2012, 9:51 pm

    I’m wondering about seeds oils. You mention that sunflower oil is industrial. Here in Vermont, USA, we have a local producer of sunflower oil. They grow the flowers and press the oil. I’ve met them and they say that their sunflower oil has lots of benefits (besides being very locally sourced, at least for those of us in the neighborhood). What would be your definition, then, of industrial oil? Is it because it comes from a seed, rather than the “fruit” such as olive?

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 7:09 am

      Hi Liza,
      Great question!
      It’s more about the process used to extract the oil rather than the source. So industralised oils are extracted using chemicals and/or high temperatures which damage the oils. Traditional oils use traditional extraction techniques such as cold pressing which don’t damage the oils.

      So if your local producer is using cold pressing then their oil will be much better than chemical or heat extracted sunflower oil.

      Then there’s the problem with the types of fatty acids contained in the oils. Oils from grains and seeds tend to have a higher proportion of ‘polyunsaturated’ fatty acids which are less stable than ‘saturated’ and ‘monounsaturated’ fatty acids.

      The other problem is the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We humans run best when we have about 1:1 of omega-3 : omega-6s in our diets. The grain and seed oils tend to be much much higher in omega-6 which out balances the ratio.

      Since you mentioned olive oil. It tends to be high in monounsaturated fatty acids and has less polyunstaruated which is good from a stability point of view. Most good quality olive oils will tell you that they have been ‘cold pressed’ on the label.

      But it is possible to get ‘industralised’ olive oils which have been heat and chemical treated to extract the oil. Best to avoid these.

      Hope that helps

  • Corinne 10 August, 2012, 10:50 pm

    I’m making this tonight, but with fish instead.

    This is an awesome post and I absolutely agree with eating full/normal fat. I’ve recently lost 35 pounds through eating better (cutting out the processed junk) and running and lifting weights over the past 7 months. I had plateaued about a month ago and two weeks ago I started putting the weight back on. I had actually gained 6 pounds back when I panicked and took a really close look at what I was doing differently. I realized I had started to let the processed foods sneak back into my diet, and as soon as I went back to the whole food/recognizable food, those 6 pounds came right off and I’m down another 2 pounds this week. I’m sure as heck not starving myself (I get nauseous if I don’t eat) and I’m eating all full fats – either Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Grass fed Butter, and Coconut Milk and Oil.

    Everything in moderation – eat the good stuff and you wont be wanting more!

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 6:57 am

      Wow Corrine!
      Thanks for sharing your story. Really wonderful to hear!
      Keep up the good work.

  • Alanna 11 August, 2012, 9:58 pm

    Hi Jules,

    Absolutely love your recipes. I have gone from doing a lot of meat heavy slow cooking to now amazing 10 minute meals. I have shared your blog with many friends!!

    We made the Coconut chicken last night and I can’t say it was one of the best. Perhaps my palate is geared toward more intense flavours?? The chicken did however turn out beautiful as you said, I think maybe a little bit of curry paste like red or green thai style would make it amazing.

    Thanks for the great foodspiration!


    • jules 13 August, 2012, 6:55 am

      Hi Alanna
      Thanks for helping to spread the word about Stonesoup! Really appreciate it.
      Sorry to hear you weren’t so keen on the coconut chicken… It is a more subtly flavoured dish so it’s important to get your seasoning right especially with the salt. But it may just be like you said, you need more intense flavours.

  • Carly 12 August, 2012, 11:04 am

    Hi Jules

    Thanks for the post. The recipe looks amazing as does your photography.

    I would suggest you read a book called “Sweet Poison” by David Gillespie. It also talks about the fact that fat does not make us fat. it is actually the sugar (fructose) laced foods we are eating. I learnt so much from this book including- barbecue sauce has more sugar than chocolate topping. Scary Stuff!!

    Thanks again.

    • jules 13 August, 2012, 6:52 am

      Thanks for the book recommendation Carly!
      Will have to check it out.

  • Corrie 14 August, 2012, 4:15 pm

    very sexy image slider! :-) I also don’t believe in total fat free diets as it is not healthy…however I should cut a lot of fat out of my food as it is also not healthy with how much I am having at the moment….but its soooooo cold lately LOL. Will try your chicken in coconut.

    • jules 23 August, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Thanks for the image slider feedback Corrie!

  • Imogene 15 August, 2012, 3:51 am

    Hi – just wanted to say that I tried this recipe tonight and enjoyed it greatly. I did add a teaspoon of green curry paste and a sliced spring onion to the coconut before letting the chicken simmer. The coconut was still really prominent, but with a “gentle kick” of flavour. I served it over some boiled white rice. With the sprinkling of corriander on top, it was perfect! Cheers xx

    • jules 23 August, 2012, 12:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing your version Imogene!
      Sound delish

  • Tom 17 August, 2012, 5:51 pm

    Over the course of 6 months, I went from a high fat diet to a balanced fat diet from “real” foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, yogurt, etc. I lost nothing, it wasnt until I eliminated fat as much as possible that I lost weight, 50 lbs in 2 months, with no exercise to speak of.

    I think everyone has their own foods that make them gain/keep/lost weight.

    • jules 23 August, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Thanks for sharing Tom
      I agree… everyone is different

  • Brian 1 September, 2012, 8:14 am

    Hi Jules!
    I made this last night, and it was delicious – even my chicken adverse Wife said so. I’ll definitely be adding this to the rotation.
    I did make a couple of minor tweaks – salted the breasts with kosher salt before cooking, and simmered them longer, checking for doneness with a meat thermometer (making sure that nothing was pink, as a nod to the Wife agreeing to at least TRY a chicken dish!) and used Arugula for the greens. Their peppery flavor was perfect with this.
    I am also following a ‘Paleo’ diet, and in 6 weeks have dropped 13 pounds. For those who argue that eating fat makes you fat, I’d recommend reading ‘Deep Nutrition / Why your Genes need Traditional Food’ by Catherine Shanahan. It is packed with information about how your body processes foods, and how it is converted to fat and stored, or burned as fuel, or excreted. It’s kind of a dense read, but you’ll never look at sugars and simple carbs the same way after reading it.
    Cheers, and thank you for your blog!

    • jules 15 September, 2012, 3:27 am

      You’re welcome Brian!

  • Leah 3 September, 2012, 3:03 pm

    Discovered your website by accident yesterday – made this for dinner last night. I added some fresh red chilli when cooking and sprinkled some more over the top before serving. Looked and tasted great. Thank you :)

  • Jennifer 10 September, 2012, 7:58 pm

    Finally got around to making this tonight and loved it. So easy and I felt like I’d eaten something healthy for a change. First time my husband has eaten spinach without turning his nose up. He actually said the spinach was his favorite bit! I don’t normally enjoy chicken breast as it is too dry, but this method resulted in a tender and juicy meal. Will cook this again for sure! Thanks!

  • Patricia 4 October, 2012, 10:51 am

    I finally made this chicken and coconut milk recipe. It was absolutely delicious. Thank you so much for it.

  • Juls 9 January, 2013, 5:44 pm

    going to try this tonight. Thanks for the wonderful recipe. Also on the fat comment, since going high fat high protein low carb my heath numbers have improved massively. My dr is sceptical but even he isn’t arguing with the improvement in my results.

  • Leahmaria 28 January, 2013, 11:16 pm

    I just found your blog a few months ago and it has been fantastic!!! I made this chicken tonight, and it was divine! Thank you so much for such awesome recipes and ideas – and variations on recipes. You are wonderful!

  • tirzah 15 May, 2013, 9:52 am

    I’ve made this recipe twice now and both times, the chicken needed a lot more cooking. five minutes at simmer and 20 with a cover on did not cook the chicken through! What am I doing wrong? The taste was still good when it finally cooked through, though.

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