March 09, 2015

Walking down the aisles of your local supermarket, you're likely to notice a reoccurring theme. The shelves are lined with low-fat products; promising better health, reduced weight gain and improved levels of fitness and wellbeing.

a study in Japan (2010) revealed that those who consumed more saturated fats actually appeared to be at a reduced risk of dying from a stroke.

From an early age, we’re conditioned to believe that high fat foods will make us fat; and that foods low in fat will help shed the pounds. When you think about it, it makes sense, on a logical level. The stuff underneath our skin that plumps us up is fat. By eating more fat, we’re surely only contributing to the problem, right?

Actually, the answer is ‘wrong’, according to experts. For years, we’ve been identifying the enemy as fat, when in fact, the finger of accusation should be pointing firmly elsewhere.

Original Opinions Refuted

It’s long been presumed that eating food high in fat contributes to heart disease and raised cholesterol, not to mention increased weight gain.

Original studies dating from 1983 advised us to cut down on all forms of fats for the sake of our health. Foods such as eggs suddenly found themselves placed firmly in the role of ‘villain’. Indeed, in the case of the humble egg, official recommendation advised that we should be consuming no more than two per week, as any more could lead to a build-up of life-threatening cholesterol.

research suggests that saturated fats have received an unfair press over the years, and can improve the health of your heart

As a result of this, we saw the rise of the low-fat substitute. No longer was eating cream, full-fat yoghurt or butter deemed wise, for either our physical wellbeing or our waistlines. Instead, we were directed towards low-fat spreads, cream substitutes and reduced fat yoghurts.

Eating Fat: The Truth

However, several recent studies have challenged this line of thinking. Research undertaken at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2012 showed that a diet high in fat had the potential to ‘prevent obesity and improve your metabolism’. Likewise, a study in Japan (2010) revealed that those who consumed more saturated fats actually appeared to be at a reduced risk of dying from a stroke.

These studies, and others like them, challenge everything commonly accepted about eating fat. They also reveal much about the so-called ‘healthy foods’ that the government had been advising us to eat for years.

Even the NHS Makes Mistakes…

On the NHS’s famous ‘Eat Well Plate’ diagram, outlining recommended amounts of food to consume, carbohydrates were recommended as a way of providing much of the volume of our daily intake. However, as Zoe Harcombe, a nutrition expert points out; in the light of modern research, it should now be called the ‘Eat Badly Plate’.

A review published in 2010, featuring nearly 350,000 participants, found absolutely no link between consuming saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease.

As she succinctly points out; farmers feed animals starchy carbohydrates to fatten them up for the slaughter; so if they have that effect on cows and sheep, why shouldn’t they cause the same result in humans?

In short, the foods that we’ve long come to recognise as friends; ‘healthy’ foods designed to lower our weight and improve our wellbeing, are actually the enemy… in disguise.

The Different Fats: A Helpful Guide

If you think all fat is the same… you’d be wrong. There are many different types of fat out there, and they work in a variety of different ways within your body. Here’s a brief guide.

1. Saturated Fats

Currently, the NHS website still maintains that saturated fats are not good for you in large quantities, as they can increase your ‘risk of heart disease’. However, recent research suggests that saturated fats have received an unfair press over the years, and can actually improve the health of your heart.

A review published in 2010, featuring nearly 350,000 participants, found absolutely no link between consuming saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease. In fact, consuming moderate amounts of saturated fat raises the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol within the body, which can help reduce the risk of developing heart problems.

Other scientists also assert that there is no link between eating moderate levels of saturated fats and obesity; and that eating these foods in sensible amounts will not make you fat. Examples of foods high in saturated fats include:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Creams
  • Meat

Cakes, chocolate and biscuits also contain saturated fats. However, they also contain sugar, and as a result, can potentially make you fatter. More on that later!

2. Trans Fats

Trans fats can be found naturally in low levels in certain foods such as meat. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is the biggest culprit when it comes to over-consumption of trans fats, which in turn, can raise levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body. However, it’s not really a problem in the UK, as most people naturally eat less than the recommended amount anyway.

3. Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are the fats that most experts universally recommend eating more of, due to their extensive nutritional benefits. Eating these types of fats can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower the risk of heart attack. They can also help with weight loss.

Foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and olive oils are rich in Omega 3s, a fatty acid that is excellent for our bodies; as it promotes improved brain function, reduces blood pressure, protects against Alzheimer’s Disease and more.

You can also find unsaturated fats in particular fruit and vegetables. Avocados in particular are an excellent source.

Busting The Low-Fat Food Myth

Here’s a little secret. When you remove fat from yoghurt or from cream, it tastes dreadful. The fat is literally what provides it with its flavour, and without it, it’s not pleasant at all.

Of course, this presents a problem for food manufacturing companies. How can they guarantee sales of their low-fat foods if they taste awful? It’s actually very simple. They add sugar or sweeteners, to make the product more palatable.

Whilst most people are aware of the effect sugar has on the waist-line, many people aren’t so well versed in the effects of sweeteners, such as aspartame; which are linked to not only obesity, but diabetes, heart disease and even depression.

Sugar: The Real Cause of Weight Gain?

It’s widely accepted that sugar doesn’t contain much in the way of nutritional benefit. Most people are also aware that sugar contains a lot of calories, which in turn, have a habit of creeping on to the waistline, contributing to the problem of obesity.

However, people remain entirely unaware of the extent of the ‘sugar problem’. Fructose, a type of sugar, is metabolised by the liver, where it is turned into fat. This in turn raises levels of cholesterol; which increases risk of heart attack.

Sugar also causes problems when it comes to insulin and leptin, which can lead to diabetes. In the light of this, it’s hardly surprising why many regard it as the worst ingredient available in our supermarkets.

Changing Opinions…

Whilst some high profile organisations such as the British Heart Foundation are still reluctant to actively recommend eating saturated fats, evidence from scientific studies are stacking up against them. Time and time again, research demonstrates that there is no reliable link between consuming saturated fats and heart disease, or with eating moderate amounts of fat and putting on weight.

However, the same cannot be said for sugar. According to an article in The Guardian (2014), ‘when fat was the nutrition establishment’s Wicker Man, the health-wrecking effects of sugar on the nation’s health sneaked in under the radar.’ It continued by saying: ‘Stick “low fat” on the label and you can sell people any old rubbish.’

The dogma that has plagued fat for years has provided food manufacturers with the ideal opportunity to supply us with more profitable, sugary processed foods; stuffed to the brim with additives and inadequate fillers.

What Should You Be Eating?

Of course, the jury is still out in terms of just how much fat you should be eating. As a result, it’s inadvisable to start gorging your way through slabs of butter and jugfuls of full-fat cream just yet.

However, it seems fairly conclusive that these fats are good for you in moderate amounts; and certainly should not be avoided. Instead, focus on avoiding foods high in sugar, which is simply empty calories with no nutritional value.

Cut back on carbohydrates, some of which convert to sugar in the body anyway; unless of course you’re very active and require the energy. And of course, it goes without saying that you should still focus on eating plenty of vegetables; particularly green, leafy veg.

Nuts and seeds are also great to snack on; though avoid salted varieties; as too much sodium in your diet can also be bad for your heart health.

Step Away from Low-Fat

Above all else, question the products you see in the supermarket. Next time you instinctively reach for the low-fat Greek yoghurt, check out how many grams of sugar are in it. Then compare it to the full-fat alternative. You’ll be shocked at the difference.

Remember that food manufacturers want you to buy their food, and they’ll do just about anything to ensure you do so. Don’t fall for advertising tricks and misleading information; instead, make sure you take control of what goes into your body; and find out exactly what is in the food you eat.


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