Do fats make you fat? Is a low fat diet bad for you? What is a good or a bad fat?
It’s so confusing, right?
For years we’ve been told that fat is the devil. Supermarket shelves packed with ‘low fat’ and ‘light’ products cleverly marketed to remind us that ‘fat makes you fat’ and ‘low fat’ is the best way forward.
For years diet clubs have told us to eat low fat – fat free yoghurts, skimmed milk, low fat sausages, low fat crisps, low fat spreads …… the list is endless.
Then you’ve got the likes of the Atkins diet telling us we can eat as much high fat food as we like so long as we don’t eat carbs.
Coconut oil and nut butters seem to be the darling of the diet industry right now and yet if you check the label, you’ll find they’re VERY high fat.
How’s is a poor dieter meant to know what to do 😦
Well, lets clear up a few things and look at whether fats really are good or bad.
First of all let’s look at the ‘low fat is best’ myth. This came about following some rather flawed research about 50 years ago which, on the surface, looked pretty logical. You see fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared with protein and carbohydrate which both contain only 4 calories per gram. It would make sense that if you reduce your fat consumption you would eat fewer calories and therefore be less likely to carry too much body fat.
And to an extent that is true, the less food in your diet that comes from fat then in essence the bigger the volume of food you can eat for the same amount of calories.
BUT – not all fats are created equal and what the low fat zealots didn’t take into account is that the body needs fats; in many ways more than it needs carbs. You see fats are essential for a number of functions including cell growth, insulation, absorption of vital nutrients, giving us energy and very importantly, hormone production.
I can’t help feeling that the fertility issues so prevalent in the last 30 years are a direct result of the ‘low fat’ diet craze.
Getting good quality, whole food fats into the diet is essential for all of the above reasons. The problem comes when we eat too many of them. Let’s not forget that they still contain 9 calories per gram!
The real killers though, are the ‘bad’ fats. The ones that pack a punch on the calorie front but fall way short on nutrients. These tend to be the highly processed (and usually highly palatable) foods such as mass produced sausages, burgers, pizzas, ice cream, crisps, biscuits and cakes, french fries, speciality coffees, milkshakes and even cheese and bacon.
If you can reduce these to very occasional treats you’d be doing your weight loss a big favour.
So, what are the good fats and how do you know how many you should be eating?
Well, foods such as coconut oil, nut butter (watch out for added sugars), avocado, nuts, steak, olives, olive oil, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, eggs, poultry, dark chocolate and coconut can and should form part of your general diet.
If you’re trying to lose weight though you will still need to be careful not to over consume fats and the problem with them is they tend to be calorie dense and easy to over eat. Think of a handful of nuts and you can easily be holding 400 calories!
The trick is to ensure that you add a good balance of fats into your diet along with the other macronutrients; carbs, protein and fibre.
Consider eating a greater proportion of your calories from fats and fewer from carbs on the days when you are less physically active or your activity is of longer duration, lower intensity.
On the days when you are more physically active and your activity is more intense reduce calories from fat and increase carbs.
One final note about low fat products. If you check the label you will often find that they have been packed full of artificial flavourings and loads of sugar. Why? Because fats taste good. And when they remove the fat they also remove lots of the flavour. They then try to replicate the flavour by adding products that are usually unpronouncable! Quick tip, if you find a product which contains ingredients you can’t pronounce it’s probably best to leave it alone. Apart from Quinoa haha! No one knows how that’s pronounced 🙂
Bev Thorogood is a qualified personal trainer and online nutrition coach with over 20 years experience of the diet and fitness industry. A reformed fad dieter who finally learned the long term skills to help her feel fit and fabulous in her fifties, she now helps others to optimise their diet to ensure they, too, can feel fit and fabulous.
For more information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07824 819060