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Trying to stay in shape is particularly confusing these days. It seems that with every passing week there’s a new fad diet that’s apparently revolutionizing the way in which we eat. They all have accreditation from a prominent dietician and promise that this diet will succeed where all the others had failed because this is how human beings are supposed to be eating. You’ll see images of astonishing transformations and think to yourself “This one, this one right here will be the one that changes my life!”. You’ll sign up, buy the book or join their monthly subscription service and likely see some initial gains… But these tend to peter out after a while.
That’s because of most trendy diets a common factor. They often exalt one food group above all others and tell you to eliminate one from your diet altogether. One minute fats are the enemy and should be eliminated from our diets altogether. The next minute fats are absolutely fine, and it’s carbohydrates that are the devious forces behind our ever-expanding waistlines. Dr Atkins and Dr Dukan say one thing (albeit with very different emphases), Dr McDougal says quite another and for the neophyte who just wants to clean up her diet a little, it can be difficult to know which way to turn. There was a time when a lack of information impeded people from reaching their fitness, goals but in the digital age, we have the exact opposite problem. With such a wealth of information out there (and so much of it so completely contradictory) it can be extremely discombobulating. With so many food groups demonized, it can add a side helping of guilt to every bite.
Here, we’re going to be looking at fats.
The very word makes your skin crawl a little, doesn’t it?
We’ve become so accustomed to the demonization of fats that when an Atkins diet or a Dukan diet comes along, so many people flock to it simply because of the paradigm shift that they represent. But have fats always been so smeared by the diet industry… Let’s take a look.
The fat smear campaign
Nobody in their right mind could deny that many places across the world, particularly in the US are facing an obesity epidemic. Lots of Americans have a fairly high protein, high-fat diet, comprised of mostly meat and dairy products or starchy vegetables like potatoes and white bread. There’s so much that’s wrong with the diet that’s making people obese that it can be hard to pick a target and while fat is part of the problem, it would be an oversimplification to label fats as public enemy number one.
The low-fat fad began in the 1970s and while on the surface it seemed to make sense (eating less fat makes you fat), the studies upon which the low-fat fad was based were flawed and have since been debunked. Nonetheless, the low-fat fad created a huge boom in heavily processed “health” foods that actually contributed far more to the US obesity epidemic.
Here’s the thing, kids. When you take the fat out of food, it tastes nasty. Food manufacturers were cognizant of this and thus loaded their supposedly healthy low-fat foods with refined sugars.
This created far more problems than it solved. In eliminating fats, people began eating carbohydrates indiscriminately. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. A bowl of oatmeal is very nutritionally different to a sugar loaded cereal. Which brings us to…
All fats are not created equal
Just as we shouldn’t be indiscriminately treating carbs the same, so we should distinguish between healthy fats and damaging fats. There are plenty of sources of healthy fats out there that can easily be incorporated into your diet. But just as treating all carbs the same is potentially dangerous, so too should be wary of consuming all fats indiscriminately. While a great many fats are beneficial, many fats from processed foods like trans fats can be extremely damaging to our health. Processed meats like bacon, ham, salami, and pepperoni should be avoided as these are type 1 carcinogens. That’s the same category as cigarettes!
Learn the value of moderation
None of this is to say that you should abstain entirely from the foods you love. That’s the surest way to give yourself cravings that will offset your diet goals. If you really want a pizza or a Boos Philly cheese steak, go ahead and have one, just be aware that these are treats and should be treated as such. Fast food is a fun treat that we shouldn’t deny ourselves on occasion, but more and more people are consuming it on a regular basis.
Keep it real
The surest way to ensure that you’re getting enough healthy fats is to cook more often, make things from scratch and avoid processed foods wherever you can (including ready-made dressings and sauces). Stick to vegetable fat sources such as avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds. These are all great sources of omega 3, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids that can actually help to lower blood cholesterol. Getting these from natural sources will likely also help to ensure that you get plenty of the much-needed fruits and veggies into your diet which are essential for their nutrient density and fiber. Even if you’re too busy to cook a meal, a little avocado or peanut butter and some chia seeds in your smoothie are quick and easy ways to get more healthy fats into your diet.
The simple truth is that fats should neither be eliminated outright not devoured indiscriminately. A healthy diet is not as simple as excluding or overindulging on one food group at the expense of all others. Fats can be healthy and they can be unhealthy, it’s the source of the fat and the kind of fat that’s most important rather than the food group itself. Oversimplification when it comes to fat can not only compromise your weight loss goals but seriously compromise your health.
This post is a contributed post.