A few weeks ago news was leaked
that the Dietary Guidelines committee suggested we drop dietary limits on cholesterol. That announcement re-fueled the fire under a completely different debate over fat and carbohydrate that started last year.
The debate over fat and carbohydrate ensued
after a study was largely misinterpreted by the media to say that we no longer need to be concerned about the amounts of saturated fat in our diet. (1,2) Some took it to the extreme, calling it proof that we should eat more butter, cream and cheese. Others went so far as to call it evidence that we all should be eating more fat and meat, and stay away from carbohydrates of all kinds. These claims are a huge leap from the conclusions of the study (which were also highly criticized).
Is it true that fat is now good and carbohydrates are now bad?
If you’ve been hearing notions such as these, I’d like to help you get your bearings. When you read my info below, you’ll find that much of what you know about healthy eating is still right on target, but I won’t sell many books with that statement.
It’s not responsible or prudent to recommend the majority of the population eat more fat and meat of all kinds, and shun carbohydrates from every source, especially given the below facts.
- Both fats and carbohydrates are necessary foods.
- Some fats have been shown to reduce risk of disease and others have been shown to increase risk.
- Some carbohydrates are very beneficial and others can be detrimental when eaten in large quantities.
- Excess fat or carbohydrate in the simple form can derail a plan for optimal health.
Read on to get the details.
The 2015 dietary guidelines committee hasn’t changed their stand on the dangers
of eating too much saturated fat, or the benefits of eating the right kind of carbohydrates.
The committee, made up of researchers, professors, and scientists in the field of nutrition, came to their conclusions after studying the current research in detail.
Here’s what they say in a nutshell:
- The U.S. population, on the whole, does not meet recommendations for vegetables, fruit, dairy, or whole grains, and hasn’t done so for years.
- We eat too much sodium and saturated fat, refined grains, solid fats, and added sugar.
- We don’t get enough vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and potassium (all nutrients we can obtain from food in the first bullet)
- About half of American adults have one or more preventable, chronic diseases and about two-thirds are overweight or obese. These conditions have been highly prevalent for more than twenty years.
- Poor dietary patterns, over consumption of calories, and physical inactivity directly contribute to these disorders.
- Their recommendation is we eat more vegetables, fruit, dairy, and whole grains, and amp up the physical activity to combat these preventable diseases.
Taken from the Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (3)
The suggestion that we should eat more fat and less carbohydrate is a misinterpretation of the data.
Furthermore, generalizing that all fat and meat fits into a class of “good foods” and all carbohydrates fit into a class of “bad foods” misrepresents the reality of nutrition. Here’s why:
There are different types of fat
- Saturated fat
- Mono- unsaturated fats
- Poly-unsaturated fats
- Trans-fats (only found in trace amounts in nature)
(Above- a very lean piece of beef with very little saturated fat).
Not all fat is the same.
Data still points to saturated fat as being linked to cardiovascular disease, so it’s best to choose mono- and poly-unsaturated fats when possible and go light on the saturated kind. Trans fats are mainly found in processed foods and may be worse than saturated fat in terms of elevating risk factors for heart disease.
In addition to the different kinds of fat, there are different qualities of foods where fat is found,
which makes a difference in how healthy they are.
Saturated fat is found in animal meat. However, we have found that the fat in free-range, grass-fed beef and chicken can have omega 3 as well. For this reason, and others, fat from these kinds of meat can be a healthier choice than the beef from animals who did not roam but stood in a crate all their life, ate questionable food, or received growth hormones. Processed meats have raised their own health concerns and should be eaten infrequently. So you can see how, depending on the farmers, the manufacturers (if any), and the kitchens you get them from, some meats and their fats are healthier choices than others.
Saturated fat is found in real cheese, cream, butter and milk. There’s also fake cheese, the kind that glows orange, and all the types of cheeses in-between. Some of these foods will obviously be healthier choices than others.
(How can you easily identify saturated fat? It’s solid at room temperature.)
There are mono and polyunsaturated fats and omega 3’s in avocados, olive oils, fish, nuts, and seeds. These fats have long been known to provide health benefits. These are healthiest when eaten in their most natural state. If they were battered and fried, covered in salt, or smothered in butter or sugar it would change their nutritional value greatly. So, even some forms of these fats can be healthier choices than others.
Fat is a major component
of all of our cell membranes, it helps us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and it cushions our major organs and joints. So it’s important to eat some fat, but not overdo it.
Because fat is an excellent source of calorie-dense fuel,
nuts and avocados are an excellent item to carry with you when climbing a mountain, or to eat a few hours before a long bike ride. These fats will give you fuel without making you feel full. But it’s not a good idea to eat lots of them while sitting at a desk all day.
If you’re trying to lose weight, or maintain your weight, calories from fat are still an important factor to watch,
because it’s easy to overeat calories when eating fat. Since fat is 9 calories per gram and carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram, fat packs many more calories per unit of weight. Fat has no fiber or water to help us feel full, so it’s easier to eat more calories in fat than we need and not even notice. Extra calories from fat, just like any food, goes into fat cells to be stored for later, and creates more fat on the body.
You can see how it’s not prudent
to suggest the majority of the population eat more fat at this time. We also need to remember that many people don’t have access to the healthiest choices of foods with saturated fat, so suggesting everyone eat more saturated fat is also not a good idea.
The Case On Carbohydrate:
Some say that carbohydrates are a “bad” food. They’re not.
Carbs are also a necessary nutrient. The simplest form of carbohydrate – glucose – is what our bodies use for energy –anything from moving your pinky finger, to running down the street. We need glucose for our immune system to work, and our brain to think. We need to have a certain amount of sugar in our blood at all times just to function. We need it over and above to fuel our workouts, and for muscle growth and repair afterwards. Carbohydrate is that energy.
Vegetables, beans and fruit contain a mixture of carbohydrates.
If you ate little to no carbs, like some are suggesting, you’d be eating mainly protein and fat. You’d be missing out on most of your vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Grains provide thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, protein, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and dietary fiber, and more.
Examples are: quinoa, kamut, buckwheat, wheat berry, barley and oats to name a few (8).
Many have taken the step towards eating more whole grain bread and cereal and consider it a done deal. While it’s a better choice, we really need to start eating more grains in their natural state.
Fiber is the most complex carbohydrate,
most of it is not broken down or absorbed in digestion. It plays a part in and keeping our colons clean. It reduces the risk of stroke, type two diabetes, and heart disease.(6,7)
The more complex the carbohydrate (those found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables) the longer time it takes to turn into fuel, and that helps to keep our blood sugar from spiking when we eat. (4, 5)
Carbohydrates are also found in cookies,
cakes and doughnuts, sugary candies, and processed convenience foods. These foods have few vitamins, minerals or fiber, as they’ve been taken out during the processing. They don’t fill us up, so like fat, we can eat more calories at a clip without being full. When eaten alone, they can spike our blood sugar and any excess gets deposited into our fat cells (just like fat calories). (7)
We’re eating cookies, cake, and doughnuts every day. We’re eating high-sugar foods for breakfast. When we go out, we eat huge servings of pizza, entire loaves of white bread before we even eat our meal, and we devour pasta bowls the size of our chest cavity.
While some carbohydrate choices are far better than others
eating less of all carbohydrate is not the answer to a healthy diet.
Obesity, Sedentary living, Stress and Exercise
change the metabolism for worse or better. These lifestyle factors will play a part in how well or poorly your body can handle simple sugars and calories. Those who are fit, have more muscle mass, and move regularly during the day can handle simple carbohydrate better than others. But even they have to eat them in moderation.
Saturated fat and simple carbohydrate are two things we should be eating the least of,
so to argue that one is worse or better is useless. The answers to our dietary problems aren’t going to be found in that area.
Be careful not to fall into the diet fads that get you to swing back and forth on a pendulum
from excess fat, to excess simple carbohydrate and back to fat, never helping you to truly get healthy or fit. Authors telling you to eat more fat and ban all carbohydrates are keeping their followers swinging on that pendulum.
You don’t have to give up foods that you love.
You don’t need to throw entire food groups out from your menu. The way we’re all going to stay healthiest is to eat a variety of foods in their most natural state, and allowing ourselves to have a little wine and chocolate, or a cupcake now and then. Because when we deprive ourselves of foods that we love, we want them even more.
If you’re trying to make healthier choices in your life, you’ll do well to focus on four, simple things:
Eat more whole foods in their natural state. Eat more fruits vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and lean, unprocessed meats. By amping up the good foods, you’ll want less of the not-so-good stuff. You’ll see how easy it is to eat less fast food, processed food and sweet treats.
Eat out less. When we eat out, we don’t know what kinds of meat, cheeses, oils, a cook is using (and it’s important to ask). And we don’t know how much salt or sugar or what kinds of chemicals are being used. You can find restaurants that make healthy, delicious meals, but you need to work at it a little.
Learn how to make healthy, delicious foods at home. Learn how to make them quickly, and with confidence. We need to become competent at creating balanced meals that appeal to all the senses: sight, texture, smell and taste.
Get yourself all of the benefits that exercise provides over and above what diet can do.
A simpler, more balanced path, focusing on eating more of the good stuff and moving more to enjoy life will be the path to success.
Join me as I lead a group through making healthy, balanced life choices such as these a natural part of everyday life – Join my Mind Body Blast group starting in May.
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