Should we really be avoiding fats?


We live in an age where just about every food has been deemed ‘bad’ in one way or another. Don’t eat carbs if you want to lose weight, avoid all saturated fats, don’t eat natural sugars… The internet is home to a frighteningly large number of ‘fitness gurus’, who dictate to us what we should and should not eat. Instagram is full of images of toned bodies, accompanied with hashtags which promote various ‘diets’; #lchf (low-carb, high-fat), #lfhc (low-fat, high-carb), #paleo… the list goes on.

It’s a bit of a conundrum, really. With one person telling us that we should be avoiding fats, and the other that we should be avoiding carbs, it’s difficult to know what we should be eating – if anything at all. Dr Frank B Hu of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health claims that this confusion is due to “an oversimplification of dietary recommendations that have created a fat phobia.” And it’s true, isn’t it? We fear fats because every advert, every magazine, and every ‘health’ guide, has dictated to us (until now), that if we want to retain a healthy weight, and a healthy body, then we should avoid fats like the plague. However, this just isn’t the case.

Starting in the late 1970’s, evidence from animal and human studies suggested that a diet high in saturated fats was an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease – and so, of course, dietary guidelines urged people to whittle down the amounts of fat they were consuming. However, evidence becomes all too easily twisted, and the term ‘saturated fats’ was used as an umbrella term for ALL fats, despite the only real issue being high-fat animal foods.

This, naturally, created a ‘fear’ of fats, and therefore healthy products were pinpointed to be those claiming to be ‘low-fat’. The term, however, implies so much more than just a low-fat content; high in carbohydrates, sweetners, refined starches and sugar. All of these key factors in the spike in cases of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

So why, and how, have we managed to get it so wrong?

The emphasis on low-fat was made without taking into account, and ensuring that people are aware of, the necessity of certain carbohydrates, but the omission of others. Thus, you have the equation: all fats are bad fats, and all carbs are good carbs. Wrong.

Saturated fat found in fatty animal meats and dairy products, can raise cholesterol, and are not necessarily health. However, olive oil, for example, is essential and is something that we need as humans to ensure that our bodies are nourished.

We have to get our heads out of this ‘fat-phobia’ – eating an avocado, whilst it is one of the highest fat-content foods, will not make you fat. Similarly, we need to assess the way that we look at carbohydrates. Whilst there are celebrities whom swear that ‘no carbs (before Marbs?)’ is the way to attain a healthy body, there are some types of carbohydrates that your body simply must have in order to function properly. It’s not rocket science.

Sugars are simply carbohydrates, and starches are complex carbohydrates; all are essentially broken down into glucose, but whilst the sugars are digested rapidly, the starches take a lot longer to break down. What does this mean, though? Starches allow for a slow release of energy, and therefore are valuable for the body if, for example, energy is required for exercise. The sugars, however, are almost entirely empty in their value.

There are some carbs, which although seemingly a ‘starch’, actually act like a sugar; potatoes, white bread, white pasta. They’ve been stripped of dietary fibre, and actually just serve to raise blood levels of glucose, causing a spike in insulin in the body.

 So after all that, what fats and carbohydrates should we, and shouldn’t we, eat?

Healthy fats, which should be consumed daily, include

  • Avocado (in abundance! They’re full of magic little mono-sat fatty acids which boost hair growth & skin radiance. Sold?)
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Oily fish

Saturated fats, which should be consumed more so in moderation, include

  • Grass-fed red meat
  • Full-fat yoghurt
  • Full fat milk (If you’re drinking milk, studies have shown that it should be full-fat. Any low-fat food is usually fortified with vitamins and/or preservatives)
  • Cheese (well thank the heavens for that – a life without brie? I know…)

Carbohydrates which definitely should be consumed

  • Those with a low glycemic load (this basically means how quickly your blood sugar will rise – the slower, the better)
  • Brown rice (glycemic load of 55) compared to white rice (64)
  • Whole wheat spaghetti (37) compared to white spaghetti (46)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green veggies
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal

I write things.

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