Fatty foods have gotten a bad rap for decades. Fats have been blamed for causing heart disease, obesity and cancer. Some new research shows that fat is not only good for you, but necessary.
Acording to Jenny Matthau, president of the “Natural Gourmet School” in NYC’s culinary program, “we need fats of all kinds in our diet.” She points out that societies like the Maasai, a kenyan tribe that depends on meat and whole milk as its staples, have low rates of heart disease and obesity.
For more than 3 decades, we’ve been told that fatty foods are bad for us. It started with sugar being considered a bad thing, so people started eating sugar-free products. Then carbohydrates took the stage as the one to avoid, so low-carb products came to market. Then fat made its debut by showing off how it increased cholesterol and possibly caused arteriosclerosis. All of these low-sugar, low-carb, and low-fat products made alot of profit for corporate food giants, but did it make us healthier and thinner?
Obesity is an epidemic in this country. Since guidelines from the U.S. Congress and the American Heart Association (AHA) came into effect in the mid-1900’s encouraging people to eat less fat, we have gotten fatter. By the way, heart disease was the #1 cause of death at that time, and scientists linked heart disease to cholesterol and then made the leap to fatty foods. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, around 14% of Americans were obese. Today, more than 30% are obese and another 30% are considered overweight (Paskin, J. “Fat Is Where It’s At,” Ode, June/July 2009, p.38-44).
As Americans started lowering fats, more research was being done to study the causes of heart disease. It’s not that fats raise the risk of heart disease, but that only certain fats do. Unsaturated fats like those found in nuts, fish, olive oil and avocado help reduce LDL (bad), that has been linked to plaque build-up in arteries. On the other hand, saturated fats found in meats and dairy, chocolate and palm oil are solid in room temperature and may raise LDL. The fat issue is much more complicated for the consumer, because when reading labels, the amount of fat is not as important as the type of fat. If the type of fat is not specified, then people just avoid it all together.
Fats have many benefits beside making foods taste good. Fats help deliver vitamins, build cells and regulate hormones. Unsaturated fats also have antioxidant properties which may help reduce cancer risk. The main thing is fat helps us feel full. It gives us satiety which fat- free products do not do, so we tend to eat more. We perceive these products as being healthier for us so it gives us permission to eat more, which also raises the calories as well as the chemicals, starches and sugars which the fat is replaced with.
Low-fat products can also cause nutritional deficiencies. One study found women who used reduced fat products were low in Vitamin E or zinc. So low-fat, low-carb and low-sugar foods are not the answer to making us healthy or slim. Chemicals and processed foods are much more harmful than fats. And lets not forget the exercise part.
Exercise helps raise HDL (good) which lowers the risk of heart disease. I’m sure the Maasai tribe didn’t sit around watching MTV on their plasma screen TV’s all day eating their staple foods. Diet is only one part of the health picture. Eat whole foods as much as possible, which includes good fats, protein, green vegetables and whole grains. Take more time to digest (don’t eat on the run), and it will help you feel fuller longer.
It’s about getting back to basics. No more diets!