Low-fat diets: most people stick to them religiously, or at least believe that they should. It’s become common “knowledge” in our culture that a low-fat diet is healthiest for us. It’s just not true, though. A low-fat diet actually poses a serious detriment to our health over time! Why?
First, I remember as a teenager, before I knew anything about health — I’d try to stick to a “perfect” diet for awhile. Lots of vegetables and lean meats, low- to no-fat and no sugar or junk food. Within very few days I’d feel weak and sick. I came to the conclusion that my body needed fat. Not that I needed sugar…but fat. Amazing, isn’t it?
Fat’s Role in the Body
It’s important to understand what fat actually does in our bodies. Most people assume it just makes us fat. But it doesn’t. In fact, fat is burned relatively quickly for energy, and is a great source of energy. It’s not stored in the body. It’s the carbs, especially refined carbs, that are burned very slowly and often stored as fat (because our bodies can’t use them all at once).
But fat has a lot of uses in our bodies besides just energy. In fact, fat helps us to absorb many important vitamins, such as: vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K. These are fat-soluble vitamins. If we do not eat adequate fat, we will not absorb them properly. Without these vitamins, our immunity goes down (we don’t use calcium without vit D), our bones get brittle, we can suffer depression, and more.
Fat also helps our bodies to regenerate cells. It helps in regulating our hormones, too. Cholesterol — one type of fat (and supposedly the most “evil”) — helps to build and maintain a healthy brain, as well as repairing damage in our bodies. When we eat poor foods or have environmental toxins in our bodies, cholesterol repairs the damage (that’s why it’s seen sometimes with heart attacks — there was a lot of damage it was trying to repair, and it built up).
We need fat in our diets for many reasons!
Limited fat during the child and teen years can result in thin, long bones: that super-skinny-and-tall-model figure we’re used to seeing. But this is not a healthy bone structure at all, and it’s not something anyone should be striving for. Children and teens especially should not limit fat.
Despite all of these important uses for fat, many people have gotten it into their heads that a low-fat diet will help them to lose weight.
First of all — note that it is the carbs that are burned more slowly and usually stored as fat (especially white flour and sugar). Simply knowing this means that low-fat doesn’t make sense. Why would we want to encourage our bodies to crave more carbs, which would then be stored as fat, making the weight harder to lose? Not to mention that eating a diet high in carbs (the natural result of a low-fat diet) can disturb your gut flora, which is also necessary for proper health.
There’s been research into different types of diets, though. Here’s some of it:
Basically, people on low-carb diets are more likely to stick with the diet long-term (they don’t feel deprived), they lose more weight (about twice as much in the 2 year study), and they also lower their cholesterol.
People on low-fat diets, or other severely-restricted diets are more likely to become anemic, too. They’re not getting the iron they need from animal sources, so their iron levels plummet. Non-heme iron, the type that is found in plants, is very poorly absorbed and will not prevent anemia.
Our own experience confirms this: on a low-fat diet, we didn’t feel well, gained weight, etc. Switching to a full-fat diet (not really low-carb, but limiting grains and preparing them properly), we easily lost quite a bit of weight and have maintained that for almost 2 years (minus pregnancy, of course!).
A lot of people who are on low-fat diets rely heavily on special “diet products” — foods that are formulated to be low in fat. These include items such as:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Buttery “spreads”
- Vegetable oils
- Low-fat cookies, cakes, and snacks
These foods are highly processed. They are not healthy. Most are not even real food at all! All of these come with dangerous side effects.
Artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals and have been linked to cancer. They should be avoided at all costs.
Buttery “spreads” are usually made with either hydrogenated or intersified fats, both of which are terrible for you (these are trans fats). These artificially saturated fats really do cause heart disease. The spreads which claim not to be made this way are still a strange blend of vegetable oils, especially soybean oil, and are not healthy. Real butter is so much better, for taste and health!
Low-fat processed foods are awful. All processed foods are bad, of course, but low-fat foods end up replacing the fat with thickeners and starches and sugar. Have you ever read the back of a box of low-fat cookies? Sugar is the #1 ingredient. How about low-fat sour cream? Cream in any form is not meant to be low in fat! It’s most guar gum, skim milk, xanthan gum, and other fake “food” ingredients to create a sour-cream-like texture and flavor. Not even worth eating.
Most of us know exactly why we should skip these foods — after all, many are here because we’re committed to eating real, whole foods, and these are clearly not that. But it’s an important reminder!
The Bottom Line
We’ve been lied to about fat. It’s not evil, it won’t cause heart disease, and it won’t make us fat. It will, however, help our bodies to self-regulate weight, hormones, vitamin use, immune function, and lots more.
Skip the low-fat dogma and eat a balanced diet of healthy real foods!
Have you ever tried a low-fat diet? How did it go? How did you feel?