Have you noticed lately that more and more products on your grocery store shelves have labels that read “made with real butter” and “made with real cream?” Consumers, it seems, are getting wise to the fact that real is better. Additionally, consumers seem to be less afraid of fat content than they were only a few years ago.
That is probably a good thing as evidence is mounting that the low-fat diet trend, which started back in the ‘50s, may actually be making us sick.
The Rise of the Low-Fat Diet
Much of the propaganda surrounding the low-fat diet started with a man by the name of Ancel Keys. In his Seven Countries Study, Keys compared 13,000 middle aged men across seven countries and found that those who consumed larger amounts of saturated fat were more likely to develop heart disease. The problem with this study is that it ignored 16 other countries in which the population and diet actually contradicted the results of the study (such as France where the diet is high in saturated fats but has a relatively low incidence of heart disease).
Nevertheless, Keys aggressively defended his position and, in 1961, he was able to convince the American Heart Association (AHA) to issue the first guidelines to target saturated fat.
The Low-Fat Resistance
Even from those early days, there were many who questioned and even disputed Key’s theory – many of whom faced public ridicule as a result.
English researcher John Yudkin published a paper in 1970 arguing that it was sugar and not fat that was the culprit in heart disease. Keys fought to have Yudkin’s research discredited.
While others may not have faced the same ridicule, they were largely ignored by the health industry. These included science writer Gary Taubes in 2002 with his article in the New York Times entitled “What if it’s all a big fat lie?” and an article by Nina Teicholz published in Men’s Health entitled “Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”
Recently however, more scientists and nutritionists are admitting that the health industry has had it wrong all these years – and it is now Keys’ research that is under attack. Most notably in 2014, Time Magazine changed its course to support those who challenged Keys’ research.
What Fats to Include in Your Diet
If you’re convinced that the low-fat diet is not the way to go, you may be wondering what kinds of fats you should be eating – after all, you’ve probably heard talk of “good fats” and “bad fats,” right?
In general, good fats tend to be saturated or monounsaturated and contain higher levels of omega-3s, such as unrefined animal fats, fish oils, and certain fruits, vegetables and nuts including olives, avocados and coconuts.
The Arguments Against a Low-Fat Diet
It would be bad enough to find out that a diet that you thought was good for you wasn’t actually providing you with any benefit. But it’s far worse to learn that a diet that you thought was good for you may actually be harming your health.
Sadly, however, that may be the case for millions of people who are following a low-fat diet. Here’s why:
1. Increased Sugar
As the Western world started to adopt the low-fat philosophy, food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started creating low-fat versions of their recipes. The problem, of course, it that much of food’s flavor is contained in its fat.
So because food manufacturers needed a way to replace the lost flavor, they added more sugar. This is particularly true in the case of dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream. The problem is that more sugar elevates triglycerides, which is one of the main causes of obesity. Excessive sugar consumption has also been linked to other diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
2. Vitamin Absorption
Have you heard about how some vitamins are water soluble while others are fat soluble? Well, fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K require fat for your body to absorb them. Fat soluble vitamins are important in order to have a well-functioning immune system. Without enough fat in your diet, you risk deficiency in these vitamins.
3. Mental Health
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and 6s are important to your overall mental health as they have been shown to insulate the nerves in the brain and to affect mood and behaviour. A study from the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that abnormally low-fat intake could increase levels of depression. Deficiency in omega-3s has been linked to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and eating disorders.
4. Reproductive Health
Not having enough fat in one’s diet has been cited as a common cause of infertility in women, while men have experienced reduced level of testosterone from not including enough healthy fats in their diet.
5. Cholesterol Levels
One of the main reasons for the low-fat diet in the first place was the theory that high- fat diets raise cholesterol levels. But what some experts are arguing now is that the low-fat diet is lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol and actually therefore increasing the probability of heart disease.
6. Unbalanced Diet
If you’re short-changing yourself in the amount of fats that you need to eat to stay healthy, chances are good that you are compensating by eating more carbs and/or protein than you should. Overeating carbs has been linked to problems such as type-2 diabetes, while overeating protein is hard on the liver and kidneys and has been linked to osteoporosis.
So, the next time you feel tempted to order that beef burrito with extra cheese, don’t feel guilty about it. Order some extra guacamole along with it and enjoy the benefits of healthy fat.
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