For the better part of the last 50 years we have been told to stick to a low fat diet if we want to slim down, avoid heart disease and stay healthy. Fat was clearly portrayed as the devil inside, clogging up arteries and wrecking people’s lives
and health. We breathed a collective, grateful sigh of relief when industry experts and chemists came up with vegetable spreads, low fat yoghurt and fat free gummy bears! The birth of ‘diet’ foods was hailed as the answer to the western health and obesity crisis and from now on, it would be child’s play to achieve a stunning body fitting into a red dress like the lady on the cereal box!
But reality has taught us differently. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity are on the rise. Overall mortality from cardiovascular disease has never been higher and we are a nation on a slippery ‘low fat’ slope, slowly drowning in skimmed milk and Diet Coke.
So what has gone wrong in the last half century? Why did your great, great grandmother live healthily into old age despite a diet of lard, double cream and meaty stews? Because FAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FAT…SUGAR DOES!
For once, fat deserves a place in the spotlight for all the right reasons. It is revered by the body as a supreme source of energy, the secret weapon against inflammation, the agent that keeps your cholesterol in check, the saviour from depression and diabetes and even the holy grail of weight loss. Yes, you did just read the words ‘fat’ and ‘holy grail of weight loss’ in the same sentence. And, by the way, this concerns ANY fat, as long as it is natural, raw and unprocessed.
It is sugar, not fat, that should be sent into the naughty corner. The only part of your body which truly needs sugar is your brain. One teaspoon a day is sufficient to keep the human computer in tip-top working condition, and we are not talking a helping of white table sugar. Naturally occurring sweetness in starchy vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes and the odd piece of fruit will take care of your daily quota of sweetness. Any excess is readily converted into fat pockets and conveniently stored in your arteries, liver and around your middle.
Fat is also a carrier of flavour. When removing fat from foods like yoghurt and other ‘diet’ products, you end up with a charming concoction that tastes of little more than cardboard. To inject some excitement back into your ‘healthy choice’ food, a generous helping of sugar is added while still maintaining an innocent front of low fat goodness. In addition, a lot of vitamins such as D, E, A and vitamin K are found in the fatty part of foods. So a fat free, strawberry flavoured diet milk shake is little more than a sugary lactose beverage that not only denies you vital nutrition but also actively helps you pile on the pounds! You might even go so far as wondering if the ‘low fat’ industry wants you to stay overweight so it can sell you more ‘diet’ products…
If you have heard enough now about confusing marketing messages and if you are tired of fighting your way through the supermarket jungle, you might just decide to eat whatever you want and take a diet pill instead. So-called ‘fat binders’ such as Alli are freely available on the high street and they do exactly what it says on the tin. Once you swallow this ‘magic pill’, the tablet binds to the fat in your food and prevents its absorption, sending you swiftly to the toilet. This might sound like the perfect solution but the long-term consequences are rather ugly. By giving into the temptation of a quick fix, you are depriving your body of essential fat and you will switch to starvation mode. Your fat cells will eagerly wait for the rare occasion when some lipids actually reach your stomach and think that Christmas has come early. Because there is no way your body can predict when you will next decide to reach for a pill, it will pack away any available fat for storage as a preventative, self-preservation measure. In the short term you might see some weight loss, but a few months down the line you could be heavier than ever before and at an increased risk of developing inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and eczema.
There is no doubt that fat in moderation can be good for you, as long as it is in its natural form – unprocessed and pure. A diet consisting of at least 40% fat, 40% protein and 20% carbohydrate can actively support weight loss and might be one of the important preventative measures against 21st century disease.