In recent times, thanks to the increased awareness for healthy eating and largely due to increased efforts to combat the ‘obesity epidemic’ and heart disease in the West, low fat foods flooded the market. You may ask what has West got to do with how we all eat? We are largely influenced by Western media and since in the world of science, we always look up to them for new frontiers in research, we swallowed the low-fat evangelism – hook, line and sinker. Note that the rise in obesity and heart disease may have had more to do with the increasing sedentary lifestyle.
The argument against fat was that fat was making us fat and we needed to replace all that fat with carbohydrates. Fat was kicked out from food production, food manufacturers had to come up with a better way to make the foods more palatable – what did we get? Processed low-fat foods high in sugar.
This led to a lot of misconceptions and sadly an increase in the same diseases that we set out to prevent. (please note that carbs are not the enemy either. Good nutrition basically entails having a sizable amount of all classes of food during meal times). Contrary to what the manufacturers say, “low fat” foods contain as much calories as the ones that contain regular fat (if not more). The low-fat label was simply a guise to sell more products.
I cringe when I see people promote low fat foods as part of a healthy diet or for weight loss. Thanks to this trend, it is common to have clients tell me on our first coaching call ‘oh I have been eating low-fat A or low-fat B’. My advice is always, ‘throw it away, you don’t need it’. You are better off eating your full fat in moderation, getting all the amazing benefits of good quality fat and ditching all that over-processed sugar (too many chemical bonds) that your body has to struggle to digest.
The fat you want to avoid are the fats that raise cholesterol levels, clog the arteries and cause overall problems to the heart and organs. These are the trans fats usually on the ingredients list as partially hydrogenated oil.
Most foods labelled low fat contain trans-fat. This fat is gotten by adding hydrogen to the natural fats to make it solid that way, it can stay longer on the shelves. Trans fat increases risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
Again, low fat foods contain stunning amounts of sugar which keeps the consumer hooked on the product – think food addiction & cravings. These sugars also come from refined carbs. Our bodies digest refined carbs more quickly. As a result, this will cause a spike in the blood sugar, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol levels.
They are also laden with salt/MSG to enhance taste. High salt content can cause high blood pressure. (Also note, not your regular table salt).
The good news is fat is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, maintaining healthy blood vessels and the correct functioning of the nervous system. It helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and minerals. It is also a great source of energy.
Did you know your hormones are made from fat? Eliminating good quality fat from our meals will result in deficiency of these vitamins and that can impact your immunity and limit the body’s ability to heal itself.
Here are some foods that contain the healthy fats your body will be grateful for.
Seeds and nuts – walnuts, flax seeds, chia etc.
Fish – Salmon, mackerel, sardines, cord, are great sources of healthy fat. They are rich in Omega 3 which is essential to maintain optimum health.
Avocado – Full of healthy fats, they’re also abundant in vitamin K, B vitamins, potassium and much more. If you cannot stand eating it alone, there are so many ways to incorporate it into your meal daily – using it as a spread on your toast, adding it to your smoothie blend (powers up your smoothie and keeps you fuller for longer), adding it to a salad or having it as a side dish.
Eggs: Rich in protein and healthy fats. Be sure to always include the yolk as well as the egg whites, to get the best of both worlds. In the past we were made to believe the yolk was full of cholesterol and not good for the body. Just in case you haven’t read the latest news/research, egg yolks are good for you. I mean what is an egg without the yolk?
Don’t forget your oils too. Oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and palm oil.
And if you love a warm glass of milk like me (except you are lactose intolerant), please say goodbye to skimmed milk, that is the height of punishment.
In summary, there is a lot of evidence to show that healthy sources of fat improve heart health. There is no long-term benefit of low-fat diets with regards to weight loss and disease reduction.
Eating your fats from whole food options is your best bet, but if you must get it in packed foods, ditch the low-fat labels in front and inspect the food label at the back closely. Reading your food label is a great way to ensure that the food actually contains the promises on the packet. Most importantly, get active. Make it a habit to take ‘walking breaks’ while at work. Find an activity you love and get in your feeling with it.
The problem is not that we are eating fat, the real problem is – we are not using it for fuel.
About Ezinne Meribe
Dr. Ezinne Meribe is the host of Beyond A Dress Size podcast; a podcast series that creates stimulating conversations to pull down misconceptions on nutrition, weight loss, health and body diversity while empowering women to live life beyond the numbers on the dress label, scale or tape.She is the Lead Wellness Coach/Founder at Zinnyslifestyle, where she leverages her professional qualifications and personal experience to teach women how to OWN & LOVE their bodies and LIVE in it fabulously; having successfully won the struggle with being overweight and loving her body. A UK certified Wellness Professional with a Bachelors in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS), she completed her postgraduate training in Public Health at Kumamoto University, Japan. As a Medical Doctor and Public Health Specialist, she continues to promote preventive medicine as the number one way to combat the severe health system constraints in developing countries.
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