Is fat good or bad for our health? Down the century, we have heard differing answers from so-called experts. Some claim that all fats are bad and we should have a low-fat diet to attain optimum health. Others argue that fats are healthy and they are a rich source of energy. In searching for the right answer, who should you listen to? Are we left in just choosing who we should believe and hope for the best?
Thankfully, we can go to the Master Creator who designed our human body. If there’s one Being who can tell us whether fat is good for us or not, it should be the Supreme God of the Universe. We are not left in the dark when it comes to finding the truth about this matter. We can always turn to God’s inspired word and read the Bible to know the answer.
So, what does the Bible say about eating fat? Does God care enough about our health and leaves us a dietary guideline? In this post, let me share with you a quick, comprehensive, and easy-to-understand study on what the Bible teaches about eating fat.
When asked where in the Bible discusses the topic about eating fat, most people would turn to the following scripture:
- Leviticus 3:17: “This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must NOT eat any fat or any blood.”
- Leviticus 7:22-25: The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘DO NOT EAT ANY OF THE FAT of cattle, sheep or goats. The fat of an animal found dead or torn by wild animals may be used for any other purpose, but you must not eat it. Anyone who eats the fat of an animal from which a food offering may be presented to the Lord must be cut off from their people.’
From these verses, it is very easy to see that God forbids eating of fat. However, other scriptures seemingly contradict this assumption. Some of these verses include the following:
- Genesis 45:18: And take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you will eat the FAT of the land.’
- Nehemiah 8:10: Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
- Luke 15:22 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.’
Comparing all these verses, we have a dilemma here. Does God forbid the eating of fat or not? Was God a double-minded God who changes His mind every once in a while? Of course not! So how can we explain these verses and reconcile them to each other?
A specific kind of fat is forbidden
Now here’s the truth about eating fat according to the Bible: God does NOT forbid eating all types of fat. There is just a specific type of fat He wants us to avoid. We can learn about this fat as we take a deeper look at what the Bible really says about eating fat.
Leviticus 1-7 discusses the different instructions about how to give a sacrifice to God. Leviticus 1:8 tells us:
“And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar.”
If you look at the Hebrew word translated as fat from this verse, it is “peder.” Strong’s Dictionary defines this as “From an unused root meaning to be greasy; suet: – fat.” The term “peder” was only used thrice in the Old Testament and it was consistently used in relation to the animal sacrifices.
“Peder” is derived from a root word which means “greasy” and it refers to the HARD FAT in the animal, usually located around the kidneys, loins, and liver. This is supported by the scripture as we read the following verses:
- Leviticus 9:10: But the fat, and the kidneys, and the caul above the liver of the sin offering, he burnt upon the altar; as the LORD commanded Moses.
- Leviticus 3:4: And the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.
The fat and the kidney can be readily understood. But what is the “caul above the liver?” Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines caulas as the “liver-net, or stomach-net, which commences at the division between the right and left lobes of the liver, and stretches on the one side across the stomach, and on the other to the regions of the kidney.”
Now, why would God command such restriction? All of these fats and tissues are for the purpose of either holding, filtering, and storing waste products and toxins that can be harmful to the body. God knows the purpose of these fats and tissues and therefore, considers them as unfit for human consumption.
So in discussing about fat, God specifically identified the suet or greasy, hard fat of the animal as something dangerous to our health. God wants to make sure that these type of fats are burned during the sacrificial ceremony and therefore not be eaten by His people.
The relation between fat and milk
Now, here’s a startling and amazing fact that most people don’t know about fat and milk. They share the same unused Hebrew word that means “to be fat!” As we have discussed earlier, the Hebrew word for fat is “peder,” but there is also another Hebrew word from where the word fat is derived. It is “cheleb.” Milk has almost the same Hebrew word which is “Chalab.” Remember that the original Hebrew text does not contain any vowel. So, whenever we see fat or milk in the Hebrew text, it is equivalent to “chlb” and it is up to the translator whether to translate it to “fat” or “milk” depending on the context.
So, what is the significance in understanding this concept? Milk is considered as fat! In fact, we find MORE THAN 400 different fatty acids in milk and most of them are saturated fat.
Here’s the question now, “If God forbids His people to abstain from fat, then should we stop drinking milk?” The obvious answer is NO! We read:
“And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a LAND FLOWING WITH MILK and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8).
Time and again, God reiterated that He would bring the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27; and Deuteronomy 31:20 just to name a few). So what does this tell us? It teaches us that God does not forbid the eating of all types of fat, but He specifically identified a certain type of fat that we shouldn’t eat.
A rule of thumb to follow
I want to repeat the instruction of Leviticus 7:23:
“Ye shall eat no manner of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat.”
We can derive a general principle from this verse. We should not eat any of the visible fat of clean animals.
During the ancient time, God specified the areas of the animal where we can normally find the fat deposit from their bodies. Those farmed animals ate on the pasture where healthy, green grass was present. Moreover, these animals had a daily dose of exercise. Thus, we can be sure the animals during at that time were healthy and provided nutritious meat with minimal harmful fat.
However, during our modern times where commercialism dominates, the main objective is to get your livestock as fat as possible. The fatter the animal, the bigger their price. To this end, farmers feed their cattle with commercialized feeds. Worse, the farmed animals receive little to no exercise as they are kept in cages.
While times may have changed, the motive and intention behind God’s instructions about eating fats remain the same. We should avoid visible fat as much as possible.
Today, we can’t entirely avoid eating fats from farmed animals. There are just some fats that are difficult to see. We don’t see some fats that are mixed with the protein of the meat. Personally, I believe that it is acceptable to eat fats that we don’t see which are also found together with the meat’s protein. I also think that God was referring to the visible fat when He gave the instruction on which type of fat not to eat. Please note that this is my personal view.
Something to consider
When we consider God’s multiple references of giving the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey, we can see that God does not warn His people about eating too much fat.
Take, for example, the butter. Butter is a concentrated form of milk and fat. When the God who later became Jesus Christ came and visited Abraham together with the two angels, we see that Abraham offered butter to them (Genesis 18:8). Even Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would eat butter (Isaiah 7:5). From this scripture, the Bible endorses the consumption of butter.
It is worth noting that the ancients did not consume butter the way we consume butter today. They don’t just use butter as a means of spreading them on a sliced bread or adding butter to their meals. They consumed butter in a larger quantity compared to how much we consume in the modern times. Butter is actually a main part of the Middle Eastern diet and it is freely and generously available.
So, what’s the point in all this? The point is that God does not warn us against eating too much fat. He only instructed us not to eat a certain type of fat and that is the type of fat we were discussing earlier.
Another thing to consider is the olive oil, which also contains fat. In the Biblical times, olive oil was used in baking, frying, and cooking. It is also generously added to soup, salads, and vegetable. With this in mind, we can’t possibly conclude that the Bible encourages a low-fat diet.
The bad and ugly fat
If there’s one type of fat that we all should avoid, it would be the trans fat. While trans fat is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, we can obtain certain principles to why trans fat is bad for our health.
We read in the Bible that butter is good for our health. However, we know that the natural human mind is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). So, man went on to say butter is not good for our health and created his own version of butter and thus, we now have margarine.
There are basically two types of fats: saturated fats and the unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are solid and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. What makes saturated fats “saturated?” They are saturated with hydrogen molecules. On the other hand, unsaturated fats lack hydrogen molecules. Thus, food scientists have an easier way to meddle with unsaturated fats.
When scientists add hydrogen to unsaturated fats, they become hydrogenated fats and thus, we arrive at having the “hydrogenated fats” or better known as the trans fat.
Why do scientists need to “hydrogenate” fats? Well, for one, they want to turn healthy liquid fat into solids and prevent them from becoming rancid. The whole process transforms healthy and beneficial oils into health-wrecking fats. When you look into food labels, you should avoid food with hydrogenated fats, trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oil.
Back in the days when trans fats are making its way to popularity, it was first found in margarines and vegetable shortenings. As people discover more uses of trans fats, it has become commercially available and most processed food contain it such as pastries, cookies, and fast-food French fries (here’s another reason to stop eating French fries)!
Why are trans fat bad for you? Trans fat increases the amount of bad cholesterol in your body and decreases the amount of good cholesterol at the same time. Trans fat is also linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
God promised the physical nation of Israel to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. As part of God’s blessings, He gave the fat of the land to be a source of food for His people. The fats found in dairy products, eggs, clean meat, and olive oil are intended for human consumption. However, God was very specific for us not to eat the solid fat of animals.
So does God forbid the eating of fat? We have seen the answer and that answer is depending upon the type of fat we are talking about. So, the next time someone asks you whether we can eat fat or not according to the Bible, you definitely know the answer.
Joshua Infantado works as an online freelance writer. Aside from motivational speaking, writing about God’s way of life and truth is among his passions. He has authored two eBooks, The Power of His Word and The Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews.