Fighting the 'Low Fat' Myth

ALL too often a new client will proudly tell me they ‘eat pretty healthily’ – and justify this claim on the basis that they always choose the ‘low-fat option’.

The conviction that fat is the bogeyman of health who needs to be avoided at all costs still holds strong despite recent pronouncements to the contrary - earlier this year the national press reported that a group of health experts had called upon the Government to rewrite its dietary advice limiting the intake of fats.

Perhaps this resistance to accept that fats are good and necessary is understandable. After all when you’ve heard ‘fats make you fat’ and ‘too much fat will kill you’ for 30-years it’s hard to suddenly disregard these beliefs and do the exact opposite.

Yet the truth is that we need fats to survive. Fats play a vital role in numerous chemical reactions in our bodies. We need fats to make hormones, we need fats to form the membrane that surrounds almost every cell in our bodies, we need fats to release fat-soluble vitamins that are essential to health.

Some fats are so important that they are actually called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) more commonly known as Omega 3’s and Omega 6 fatty acids - you’d have thought the name would have been a clue as to their overall importance. Without these fats we simply die.

But because most of us have grown up hearing that fat is the enemy and that we have to avoid it at all costs. And considering a gram of fat has twice as many calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate to a nation of calorie-counters it would seem to make sense to stay away from fats.

The problem with this strategy is twofold. First, staying away from fat means the biochemical processes that require fats are compromised which in turn leads to compromised health.

Secondly, in staying away from fat and choosing these low-fat meals we are unwittingly choosing foods that are filled with huge amounts of sugar to make them more palatable.

The truth is we are hardwired to like the taste of fat – presumably because it is calorie dense and kept us alive in caveman times - and as a result food without fat tastes far less appealing.

Ironically the result is that the supposedly ‘healthy’ low-fat option that many of us chose is so filled with sugar that this leads to an unhealthy spike in blood sugar levels and a subsequent rise in insulin levels that sees excess glucose molecules – of which there is a huge amount - stored as the one thing we were trying to avoid origninally- fat.

Even worse after repeated exposure to high levels of insulin our cells become resistant to insulin meaning more and more has to be produced to force cells to accept blood sugar until the pancreas – which produces insulin - packs in.

Such problems have a more familiar name - Type 2 Diabetes.

And yet the person who developed this condition – which has been on the rise since the whole ‘low-fat is healthy eating’ theory rose to prominence – started off with the good intention of staying healthy.

The take-home lesson is to stop fearing fats. Now this doesn’t mean that you should start gorging yourself on chips, pizza, kebabs and other foods that you believe are fatty-foods.

What is does mean is to stop instinctively grabbing low-fat options off supermarket shelves. The fats we want to consume more of can be found in nuts such as walnuts and macadamia, oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout as well as eggs. Oils such as flaxseed and hemp oil are other good sources. Although don’t fry with these oils.

Other good fats can be found in hard cheeses and Greek yoghurt. In fact there is growing evidence that even saturated fats – the fats that even proponents of high fat diets have told us to limit - may not be anywhere as near as bad for us as was once supposed.

But that is for another day, in the meantime just try and become more comfortable with the thought of allowing fats back into your life.