For forty years, government, health organisations & nutrition authorities promoted low-fat diets for heart-health & weight-control. Instead of reducing cardiovascular risks & keeping everyone lean as was promised, it led to a surge in obesity & diabetes rates.
In recent years, the focus of nutritional experts has shifted towards overall healthy dietary patterns with an emphasis on eating veg, fruits, whole grain, & legumes instead. Along with a modest or small amount of meat, dairy, eggs, & sweets.
Not all fats are created equally:
Dietary fat is essential for overall health. It provides energy & helps the body absorb vitamins. It also makes meals more satisfying & tastier.
That said, some fats play a role in heart disease, hypercholesterolemia & weight gain.
Saturated fats, found mainly in meat & dairy products, can increase levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, a key contributor to heart disease.
They are solid at room temperature, are also found in baked good & fried foods. Trans-fats can also be manufactured by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. Over consumption can lead to weight gain & possibly obesity.
Eating more whole or minimally processed, plant-based foods will naturally lower saturated fat intake.
Unsaturated fats on the other hand, tend to be liquid at room temperature & consist of mainly monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats. These are found in seeds, nuts, olives, avocado & fish, & helps promote cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular appears to help reduce blood cholesterol, balances HDL:LDL levels, & reduces the risk of blood clotting, heart attack & stroke.
So why do low-fat diets fail & why do they generally lead to weight gain instead of loss?
Here's the back story:
During the 1980's, healthcare providers, government, the food industry, & popular health media promoted the low-fat approach for heart disease prevention & weight loss.
Food manufacturers began cutting fats from their products, replacing the same with refined carbohydrates.
Consumers started limited fat in their diets & filled up on bread, pasta, & low-fat or fat-free alternatives.
Despite an absence of clear evidence of its purported benefits, the low-fat craze became an overarching ideology which led to people eating too many refined carbs & avoiding healthy unsaturated fats altogether.
Now for the science:
Consuming highly processed carbohydrates results in a flood of sugar in the bloodstream which triggers a release of insulin to clear the same.
This in turn reduces blood sugar levels which can leave you hungry again in a few hours, encouraging overeating & weight gain, which may lead to obesity.
Over consumption, or a steady diet of these unhealthy carbs can eventually impair the body's ability to respond to insulin & lead to Type 2 Diabetes (assuming there's a hereditary component present).
Both obesity & diabetes are closely linked to a heightened risk of heart disease.
What's the answer?
According to the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, it's the plant-centric Mediterranean-style diet. And I would agree.
It's not overly restrictive & doesn't require extreme eating habits. It tastes good & has the best evidence from long-term clinical studies for lowering the risk of heart disease.
Try these tips:
Start by switching whatever fat you use to extra-virgin olive oil.
Eat salad, leafy greens, fruit & veg every day. Try for 3-4 servings per day.
Go nuts! A handful of raw nuts are a far healthier snack than a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar. However, moderation should be exercised.
Add more whole grains to your meals.
Eat at least three servings of legumes per week.
Reduce meat consumption, particularly red meat. Choose lean poultry sources in moderation.
Eat more fish, particularly oily sources high in Omega-3. Aim for 2 servings per week.
Cut sugary beverage consumption, replacing the same with juices with water.
Reduce the consumption of high-fat, high-sugar desserts. Opting instead for fresh or poached fruit alternatives, or yogurt.
Start eating healthier by focusing on replacing heavily processed foods & those high in saturated fats with foods rich in unsaturated fats. You don't have to go to extremes, just be conscious of the choices you make.
Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting any dietary program. The information disclosed here should not be used as a substitute for direct medical/nutritional advise from your doctor or other qualified clinician.