After all we’ve learned in recent years about the importance of fat in our diets and its essential role in heart, brain and gut health, I’m still amazed when I see people at the market reach for something on the shelf, then recoil in horror when they realize they’ve picked up the dreaded full-fat version, instead of the fat-free or low-fat they (wrongly) think is better for them. What most fat-o-phobics don’t realize is, by dropping full-fat like the package is on fire, they’re actually creating more health problems, not solving them.
But how did we get here? In a nutshell, about 50 years ago, a deeply flawed, heavily promoted study by an influential physiologist, Ancel Keys, managed to wrongly convince the American Heart Association (AHA) and virtually the entire medical community that saturated fat was to blame for heart disease.
The AHA guidelines that ensued led millions of people down the wrong dietary path and helped give rise to a new profit center within the food industry – the low and fat-free ‘Frankenfood’ business. And though the idea of fat as the root of all evil has long since been debunked in numerous studies – most recently in a 2014 meta-analysis of over 80 studies and a half million subjects which found that those who ate more saturated fats did not have more heart disease than those who ate less – the ‘fat equals heart disease’ equation remains ingrained. You better believe the multi-billion dollar Frankenfood industry won’t be disabusing the general public of that notion any time soon. I, however, am happy to!
To my mind, the message is clear: You absolutely do not need to eat low and fat-free foods. You should purge them from your fridge, your diet, and your life – and here’s why:
1. No and Low Fat Foods Help Make You Sick and Fat
Despite decent intentions, all that fat-free living has had the opposite effect on health. Instead of making us healthier, we’ve wound up with an obesity and diabetes epidemic, which many attribute to the no-fat movement’s terrible trade-off –swapping fats for carbohydrates like sugar which stimulates the release of insulin, facilitates fat storage and encourages inflammation throughout the body. Bad news for just about everyone, unless you’re burning a huge amount of carbs, running a lot of 10Ks or plowing the lower forty, sans tractor.
2. Low-fat Foods Rob Your Body of Nutrients
If it’s in a box, bag, can or container, chances are your low or no fat food is also a processed one and processed foods do little to support health, even less when fat is reduced or removed. Then in order to get you to keep buying the stuff, food manufacturers have to replace the removed fat with something else roughly similar in taste to the full-fat version. What fills the big fat void? Health tanking add-ins like sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical flavorings and preservatives. Your body’s denied the nourishing fat it needs and fed a lot of crap it doesn’t need, making low and no-fat foods the worst of all possible worlds.
What you have to keep in mind is that fats, including saturated fats, are on a mission – they feed your brain, help with vitamin absorption, help build cell membranes – so cutting them down or out altogether limits your body’s ability to nourish, heal and repair itself. And that ridiculous fat-free salad dressing you’ve forced yourself to like (sort of)? It actually inhibits your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in your salad! Seems a bit crazy, eh? Add a little olive oil however and you’ll get a bigger vitamin-absorbing nutritional bang – and a tastier one at that.
3. Low-fat Foods Don’t Satisfy Hunger
Ever notice how after eating a “lite” or fat-free treat you’re hungry for more ten minutes later? Start by blaming those missing satiating fats and extra sweeteners that get processed into the mix, which spike blood sugar, and cause hunger pangs. Full-fat foods however are satisfyingly tasty and digest more slowly, giving your brain and hunger-regulating hormones more time to register fullness, so you’re less likely to overeat in the meantime.
So, next time, instead of trying to fill up on unsatisfying low or no-fat Franken-snacks, trade up and try loading up on snacks with healthy fats, like a few slices of avocado, a handful of almonds, or a scoop of nut butter. You’ll be fueling your body with healthy nutrients, enabling it to feel fuller for a lot longer than you would after eating a sugary, chemical concoction. Better taste, less hunger, more satiety, no extra sugar or chemical additives? Everybody wins.
BE WELL BONUS:
If you’ve been on a self-imposed or even doctor-prescribed fat-free regimen for a while now, it’s time to come back to the fold. Here’s a bit of fat for thought:
- Eat real foods. Avoid foods labeled low-fat or no fat – which are also processed ones.
- Eat fat from healthy sources. My general rule of thumb for fat — if it comes from nature, its probably healthy and if it’s made in a factory, it’s probably not.
- Avoid factory farmed meats. It is not necessarily the meat that is the problem, but what we feed them, inject them with and how the animals are treated.
- Cook with healthy oils. Use olive oil at lower temperatures and avocado oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee at higher temperatures, instead of processed vegetable oils.
- Let go of fat fear — your body needs fat for a strong immune system and to support brain, nerve, heart and gut health.
To learn more about the importance of fat, read my Q & A with Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.