For the past forty years we have all been taught to believe that eating fat is not only bad for the waist line but also the health of your heart. As we’ve discovered over the past few years though from the works of Nina Teicholz and Gary Taubes, we’ve found that the science behind this thinking was exceptionally flawed.
With the demonising of high fat products, it pretty much gave the food industry the green light to get it out of our foods. And the age of the low fat product was borne.
What’s now being shown though is this broad generalisation of “fat being bad” for us really may not be the case. In fact eating a low fat diet could actually be damaging to the heart.
LOWERING THE FAT IN FOOD MEANS SOMETHING HAS TO BE INCREASED
If you’ve ever tried a food product that has had the fat taken out you’ll know that it isn’t the nicest tasting of things. This is because fat in our food is what gives it the nice palatability and mouth feel. When food manufacturers steam rolled into making low fat products, removing the fat meant something else had to be added in; enter sugar. If you look at the back of any food labelled low fat you will almost definitely see one (if not more) forms of sugar lurking in there. As sugar has about half the calorie content of fat, it was believed that replacing it for fat would actually be more beneficial to us. How wrong we could have been. Today we’re now learning of the detriments that too much added and refined sugar can have on our body, especially our heart health.
SWITCHING TO COOKING WITH VEGETABLE AND SEED OILS
Along with the increase in low fat products, the message to switch to using vegetable and seed oils for cooking also came into effect. It was deemed that anything that was high in saturated fat was too damaging for the health of the body, especially the heart. Although it has been shown that these oils can reduce cholesterol in the short term, the long term results are a lot more damaging. These oils if eaten in excess and if cooked with (as you reach a certain temperature it can change the chemical structure of the fats), can actually be very inflammatory to the body and result in an increased risk for heart disease.
LOW FAT CAN RESULT IN POOR CHOLESTEROL PROFILES
Again the age old saying and belief is that if you have a problem with cholesterol you must go straight onto statin drugs and team this with a low fat diet. Aside from the many problems with statins which we won’t get into here, simply going onto a low fat diet in no way will promote a great cholesterol profile. Often when someone is told they have high cholesterol it’s just their total figure they’re given. Total cholesterol is simply one part of a very large picture on the effects to your health. When we look at cholesterol what we really need to know is the breakdown: HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (pattern A being more healthy than B) and Triglyceride levels. What you really want to see with your cholesterol is a high HDL level and a low triglyceride level. These two readings are in themselves determining factors of metabolic syndrome. Following a low fat diet not only increases your triglyceride level (especially if you eat a lot of refined grains) but also dramatically reduces your HDL level. This makes your ratio totally off and it’s this that is more determining of your risk of heart disease than the total level.
DISCOURAGEMENT OF HEALTHY FOOD
Growing up I always remember my mum not letting us have more than 2 eggs per week. Having more than this in the week was deemed as really unhealthy, bad for your cholesterol and your heart. Even today if you eat out at certain restaurants, generally you have to pay more for an egg white omelette. Even I held this belief all throughout university studying my nutrition degree, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Other foods that are often seen as “bad” include things like avocados, nuts and coconut products. Really when we look at it though, all of these foods are perfectly natural, whole and more importantly, real. Eaten as part of a healthy, balanced (we won’t debate what that means here) diet, these foods can actually do wonders for your health, not hinder it.
By Emily Maguire
*originally published in February 2016 issue*