Fat is our worst enemy, right? Wrong. We’ve been led to believe this for so long that it’s almost impossible to question it. Almost everyone you know will tell you that a diet high in fat will lead you straight in the hands of the heart surgeon.
A vast number of health disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases, elevated cholesterol levels and obesity, were long seen as a direct result of fatty foods. But now, a new branch of scientific research is trying to persuade us to think twice about this traditional concept. Even more, this new generation of doctors and scientists is actually suggesting that against all odds, fat could be our best friend in the struggle to improve our overall health and trim the waistline. Obesity has more to do with what we eat, than the number of calories we eat.
Ever since the sixties, we’ve faced a strong propaganda encouraging a larger consumption of carbs while banishing fat altogether. Carbs have been throned as the most valuable nutrient there is – after all, they are our main supplier of energy and have the power to improve our mood. Actually, modern consumers love their sugar so much that the food industry is still able to get away with incredibly high doses of added sugars in almost all processed foods we see on the supermarket shelves.
We’re slaves to the enhanced taste of the products we consume, even though the sweetness we crave often comes with a deadly price. It’s no secret that added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet, with harmful effects on metabolism, liver function, insulin sensitivity and fat storage. Yet, carb-loading also became a rule for athletes who want to increase their performance and endurance, recommended by nutritional experts and pro athletes alike.
While it’s true that complex carbs are better than simple carbs, since they contain longer chains of sugar molecules which take more time for the body to break down and use, resulting with a more even amount of energy and avoiding huge insulin peaks, that doesn’t mean that we’re free to eat as much of them as we want and expect to maintain optimal health.
The human body was simply not made to digest the amount of carbs the modern diet consists of, most of them coming from over-processed foods. After all the restrictions we’ve placed on fat, we’re still facing an obesity epidemic and sugar has as much to do with it as overeating. Numerous studies show that a low-carb diet is much more effective method for weight loss, improved metabolic health and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
But won’t cholesterol give me a heart attack?
Not really. This is how it goes. The body tightly regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood by control the internal production, so when cholesterol intake from food goes down, the body makes more, and when cholesterol intake goes up, the body simply makes less of its own. Also, keep in mind that much of the cholesterol that’s found in food can’t be absorbed by our bodies. This is the reason why many studies on cholesterol show that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in the majority of the population (around 75%), while it can modestly increase both types of cholesterol in the remaining 25%.
The two types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the bad cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a hard deposit that can clog arteries, making them less flexible, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol which is able to reverse the effects of LDL cholesterol in the body. For example, egg yolks are no longer considered the number one enemy of heart health, since they’re incredibly rich with the good kind of cholesterol and holine, a B vitamin crucial for neurotransmitter production, detoxification and maintenance of healthy cells.
However, a reduced level of bad cholesterol does not automatically mean good health. In 2013, a group of scientists analyzed previously unpublished data from a seminal study from the seventies, called the Sydney Diet Heart study, and discovered that cardiac patients who replaced butter with margarine had an increased mortality, despite their total cholesterol levels had reduced. This means that low cholesterol is not in itself a measure of success when treating disease, but it can have a greater impact when paired with reduced sugar levels.
On the other hand, it’s time to stop promoting carbohydrates to diabetics. A critical review in the journal Nutrition concluded that dietary carbohydrate restriction is actually one of the most effective interventions for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome, contrary to the advice that has been most commonly given to diabetics – that low-fat, high-carb diet can help their medications work optimally. In people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, sugar will not only help their medications work, but it will significantly worsen their condition. Also, these medications can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels, complicating the issue even further.
In the meanwhile, a big number of studies have shown that consuming a moderate amount of full-fat diary products instead their low-fat versions can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, while in healthy people over 60 years of age, a higher cholesterol has been associated with a lower risk of mortality. Healthy fats and omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and certain oils and vegetables play an important role in reducing inflammation and protecting the hearts health. So instead of reaching for the products labeled as ‘low-fat’, feel free to feast on your favorite full-fat cheese once in a while and enjoy its health benefits – there is nothing scary about natural, healthy fats, we can promise you that.
Changes in the medical community
Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a renowned cardiologist and advisor to the National Obesity Forum who used to advocate the low-fat diet but now firmly believes that fat has a vital role in improving health, says: „ Until very recently, I too assumed that keeping fat to a minimum was the key to keeping healthy and trim.
In fact, to say my diet revolved around carbohydrates – sugared cereal, toast and orange juice for breakfast, a panini for lunch and pasta for dinner was not an uncommon daily menu. Good solid fuel, or so I thought, especially as I am a keen sportsman and runner. Still, I had a wedge of fat round my stomach which no amount of football and running seemed to shift. That, though, wasn’t the reason I started to explore changing what I ate.“
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