A Big Fat Fib: Low-Fat is Not the Answer
A Big Fat Fib: Low-Fat is Not the Answer
It all started a few decades ago, when well-known health experts began recommending that people eliminate fat from their diets. A lot of people jumped on the no-fat train because some studies at the time seemed to point to fat as the villain of our modern diet. It soon became obvious to health professionals that completely eliminating fat was not any kind of solution. First of all, most people couldn`t stay on this type of extreme diet for any length of time. Secondly, health problems like cancer, infection, fatigue and depression ran rampant when fat was eliminated.
So over time we have seen a steady trend reintroducing the idea thatfats can be a part of a healthy diet. It seems that every few years medical experts slightly raise the recommended amount of fat one should consume. It`s been happening so slowly it`s almost indiscernible, but if you look closely, low-fat diets are no longer in style.
Even so, many people are still under the impression that a low-fat diet is healthy, and most people believe cutting out fat is still the best way to lose weight. This is a popular misconception that makes sense on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper the concept begins to unravel.
First, it`s important to look at what the body actually does when you go on a low-fat diet. The most common belief is when you stop eating fat, your body will burn its own fat for energy. In reality what really happens is a little more complicated. Here are some common results of a low fat diet:
- People who drastically lower their fat intake generally increase their carbohydrate intake.
- Even complex carbohydrates can cause a rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, especially when they aren`t consumed with adequate protein and fat.
- With this sudden influx of excess carbohydrates, there is simply too much sugar in the blood to be used for energy. The rest is converted into fat and cholesterol.
- Without adequate fat and protein in the diet (which is common during a low-fat diet), the body is forced to break down lean body mass to use the nutrients it needs to function. This includes muscle and bone mass.
- Losing lean body mass shows up as drastic weight loss on the scale at first, which may thrill the dieter, but over time the body uses less energy because of the loss of muscle. Combined with excess fat storage because of high insulin levels, eventually weight loss on a low-fat diet is almost impossible and you may even start to gain weight.
Moreover, a low-fat diet can be downright harmful to your body, especially in the long-term. High insulin levels and the breakdown of lean body mass are not healthy. Over time, these factors can cause serious hormone imbalances and can even contribute to health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Cutting out fat is merely swinging the pendulum to another extreme that will have negative side effects.
A 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine may interest dieters who think low-fat is the answer. The report showed the results of a study which compared the effectiveness of low-fat, low-carb and Mediterranean diets. The study was partially funded by the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation. There were 322 participants in the study, all of whom were moderately obese. One of the three diets was randomly assigned to each person.
Study participants on the low-fat and Mediterranean diets had moderate calorie restrictions, while those on the low-carb diet did not have any. Overall, the low-fat diet had the least effect on both weight loss and cholesterol profiles, while the low-carb diet was most effective (the Mediterranean diet was a close second). It should be noted the low-carb dieters were consuming about 120 grams of carbs per day, which is a more balanced approach compared to extreme low-carb diets of yesteryear.
So, it begs the question, is fat really all that bad? Well, that`s a loaded question if there ever was one. In our society fats can be good or bad, depending on the source and how they`re prepared. Processed fats that have been exposed to heat, light and air can be rancid and oxidized. Polyunsaturated oils like soybean, canola and corn oil are most susceptible to damage. These damaged oils are linked with many health problems such as cancer, premature aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer`s. Then we have oils that have been purposely altered like hydrogenated oils. These are chock full of trans fat, which is known to sharply increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer. These types of over-processed, damaged fats should be avoided as much as possible.
Instead, if we are supposed to increase our fat intake, it should be with healthy, unprocessed fats from as natural a source as possible. Organic fats are best, since harmful chemicals and hormones tend to be stored in fat.
Again, what we are really looking at here is a balance of nutrition. The body utilizes carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Cutting out any one of these nutrients is a mistake. To achieve optimum health, the best thing you can do is eat a diet consisting mostly of natural, unprocessed foods with an overall balance of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
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