Trying to lose weight? Is your fridge filled with things like zero fat yogurt, low fat sour cream, skim milk, low fat cottage cheese, and margarine? Sorry to burst your bubble, but your low fat diet might be having an opposite effect on your weight loss. Commercials, television shows and magazine articles have brainwashed us into thinking that low fat foods equate to health, vitality, and slimmer waistlines; think again.
One of my patient’s has been trying to lose weight for years. She has two grown children, eats 3 meals a day, has vegetables with at least one or two meals, drinks water, is moderately active and tries to eat healthy to keep her cholesterol and weight down. Though she’s been watching what she eats for years, buying predominantly low fat foods, she’s never actually been able to achieve her weight loss goal!
I personally believe that all meals should be macronutrient balanced. Macronutrients meaning fats, carbohydrates and protein. These are the building blocks that our bodies require to grow, heal, replenish and rejuvenate. Unfortunately, in this fast paced world where meal prep is sometimes not possible and pre made items are ideal, we don’t always get the nutritional balance our bodies require. Or if a box says that it is nutritionally balanced you still have to be aware of added sodium, sugar and other additives that your body does not need. Our bodies can handle a lot but I sometimes wonder when and if we’ll ever get it right and just go back to basics.
So where did this whole low fat will help you lose fat, idea come from? Trends have to start somewhere and this low fat, high carb diet surfaced in the late 1970’s early 1980’s when North America, particularly the United States, saw a spike in deaths mostly caused by heart disease. At this time, it was detected that saturated fats did increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) but due to limited technology there was no means to tell just how complex the role of saturated fats in our body was, and all the good that it was also responsible for. However, from that point on, saturated fat was deemed the ‘evil villain’ and blamed for weight gain, heart disease, and high cholesterol. People were then told to reduce their fat intake and increase their carbohydrate consumption. They were ‘brainwashed’ into thinking fat was bad. Now the people giving these new nutritional guidelines to increase carbohydrates were actually talking about complex carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables and fruit, to be fair. Unfortunately, this must have gotten lost in translation because instead of increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables it was commercially packaged products, sugar and simple carbohydrates that surged instead.
Now for a population who has just been told to avoid saturated fats, who can blame them for partaking in the new low/zero fat food market. Even today, more than 20 years later, you can still buy a fat free version of most things. The funny thing is, that in order for manufacturers to remove the fat out of a product like yogurt, for instance, they must replace it with something to maintain flavor. Fat is flavor, so to keep products tasting good they replaced fat with sugar. Instead of eating full fat yogurt for breakfast, people are eating low or no fat yogurt loaded with sugar. Instead of bacon people are choosing cereals and low fat muffins. Good fat, mainly saturated, has been swapped out for something that is much worse…sugar! Sugar wreaks havoc in your body. It contributes to obesity, Type II diabetes, weakened immune systems and provide a hospitable environment for disease to flourish.
The truth is, our bodies NEED saturated and unsaturated fats from whole food, animal and plant sources. Our bodies need cholesterol too. Did you know that your body will make 80% of its cholesterol on its own and that only 20% of the cholesterol it makes is directly affected by the food you eat! We’re working so hard to keep our cholesterol low by eating all these low fat items, when the reality is it will have little effect on our cholesterol level. The sugar that’s replaced the fat will have a greater negative impact! Saturated fat, the kind from real non processed sources, provides building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, helps with the conversion of carotene into vitamin A, provides optimal fuel for your brain, assists in mineral absorption like calcium, can help lower cholesterol levels, keeps you full longer, and is an important carrier for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. This doesn’t mean you should go out and only eat saturated fats. It just means that you shouldn’t cut it out completely. Some people may need to eat it in greater moderation than others but being told to cut it out completely is just unfortunate.
I do want to emphasize that good saturated fat needs to be sourced from whole food, animal and plant sources. Don’t be fooled by packaged goods, processed meats and other foods alike that contain saturated fat. Saturated fat from packaged and processed products will not have the same benefits in your body and may have added harmful effects because they are not naturally sourced.
Nutrition is complex and personal. Every person is biochemically different, and what works for one person may not work for the next. I know it may be difficult for some to accept or understand that fat is good and that our bodies need it. Especially if they have lived their whole life thinking the opposite, as my patient has. I ask you to research further if you’re still not convinced. You know yourself better than anyone else, so do what’s right for you. I truly believe that my patient has not reached her weight loss goals because she avoids fat wherever possible. Without realizing it she has removed fats and replaced them with sugar. She is slowly trying to accept that good fats may actually contribute to a healthy weight loss but she is a product of her environment and has difficulty letting go of what she grew up being told.
Change can be hard, but live life in moderation, be happy and enjoy some good fats!!