I’m a child of the 80’s. That means I was growing up during the meteoric rise of the low-fat diet. Just about EVERYTHING that was marketed as healthy used the words “low fat,” “fat free” or “less than 1% fat.” We bought it all, tried to ignore the bland taste, and patted ourselves on the back for making healthy choices.
For my family, it began after my dad had a high cholesterol reading, and the bestselling book by that Pritikin bloke said that the road to health involved loads of grains, switching to skim milk, reducing eggs and avoiding fatty cuts of meat. We thought we were doing the right thing. Hot, skinny chicks popped up on the TV, marketing everything from low fat milk to breakfast cereals, “healthy” frozen dinners, fat free yoghurt and meal replacement shakes. We were even assured that fat-free confectionary was ok to enjoy with reckless abandon.
But something happened.
As a nation we became fatter. Energy levels plummeted. Hormones were askew. Osteoperosis was on the rise. Moods were all over the place. And we were hungry. All. The. Time.
So what went wrong?
The marketing behind low fat diets has conned us into thinking we’re doing something good for ourselves, with promises of flat tummies, skinny thighs, beach bodies and being able to fit into slinky red dresses. But what they don’t tell us is this:
Low fat diets don’t satisfy our hunger. It’s FAT that makes us feel fuller for longer. It’s FAT that buffers the carbs that we eat, stopping them being dumped as glucose into our bloodstreams all at once. And it’s fat that tells us to stop eating when we’ve had enough. You can’t get that from a low fat microwaveable pasta “meal,” a serve of overly processed “special” cereal, or some kind of low fat breakfast bar.
So, if the meal we eat spikes our blood sugar and doesn’t curb our hunger, what’s the consequence?
Mostly sugar cravings. Sometimes carbs. If we’re eating less fat, then by a process of elimination, we’re eating more carbs and/or sugars. Unless you’re some kind of protein junkie (and too much protein has it’s own lovely list of side effects).
Sugar and carbs, when not buffered by adequate amounts of fat and protein, are rapidly dumped into the bloodstream as glucose, causing our bodies to respond by releasing insulin. Insulin tells the body to store that glucose as… wait for it… FAT! Usually around the abdomen. Bye bye flat stomach.
Hmmm…. that wasn’t in the brochure.
And moods? Well, they’re affected by the insulin response too. Cue – tiredness, drowsiness, grumpiness, and hangriness (yep, it’s a thing!).
If that’s not bad enough, there are a bunch of long term side effects from low fat diets too.
Firstly, we need fat in our diets in order to produce hormones. That’s a scientific fact. Low fat intake = reduced hormone production. This can affect everything from thyroid hormones to reproductive hormones. Cue – weight gain, tiredness, sluggishness and fatigue. At worst, you may be up for fertility problems and serious thyroid issues.
We also need good fats in our diets in order to have healthy brain function. It is well documented that brains of depressed patients have been found to weigh less than brains of healthy patients. What’s missing in the depressed people’s brains? You guessed it – FAT.
Low fat diets are also deficient in fat-soluble vitamins like A and D. Deficiencies in these vitamins have a whole host of health implications, including osteoperosis, allergies, autoimmune diseases and digestive disorders. That’s kinda serious, wouldn’t you agree?
So are you ready to include more healthy fats in your diet?
Great! Make sure you start off slowly, so as not to shock your body (otherwise you might end up on the toilet). Start by adding a small amount to each meal, building up over time. Include some raw nuts and seeds, fresh fish and avocado in your diet, aiming for a serve of at least one of these each day. Then – add a spoonful of healthy fat either on top of cooked food or in dressings, starting off with 1 teaspoon and working up to a dessertspoon. Try some of the following:
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Macadamia oil
- Sesame oil
- Butter or ghee (if you’re not dairy intolerant)
Cooking with these oils doesn’t really count, because as the oils are heated up, they lose some of their healthy properties.
Fat doesn’t make you fat. Excess carbs and sugars make you fat. The 80’s weren’t the best era for fashion, and it turns out it wasn’t the best era for nutritional advice either. Low fat diets deserve to be banished for good, along with those fluro leg warmers, glitter wigs and blue mascara. And the best news of all is that your food will taste better when you make the switch!
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