Myth: Low Fat products are healthier because they help us lose weight and avoid heart disease!
Myth Busted: When real foods, like milk, cheese, butter, meat and eggs, have been processed to remove their fat, they become less nutritious for the body and actually contribute to dysfunction.
Caveat! When it comes to processed oils and junk food then the lower fat option may be preferable, but ideally we should avoid fake-foods altogether.
Are full fat foods really better for us?
Natural fat from real food is good for you. As well as supplying large doses of minerals to our bodies, fat is the source of all of the ‘fat soluble vitamins’ A, D, E, K1 & K2. It is well accepted that small amounts of all these vitamins are essential to our life, but less appreciated is the fact that optimal amounts are critical to our general sense of vitality. In other words we need a certain minimum amount to live…but beyond that we need optimal amounts to feel good and thrive. Low fat foods deprive us of these.
The latest scientific research is moving along the debate about fat. Today we know far more about how fat works in our body than we ever did. We know that fat in our bodies is different to the fat we eat, and we know that most of the excess fat on our bodies comes from eating excess sugar, not fat!
Fat is incredibly important to our health. It helps us to build our cells, nerves and brain tissue, it helps us regulate our hormones, balance our mood, improve our skin texture and vision and even helps us sleep better.
The nutrients that come with fat exert a positive influence on our ability to regulate our weight and to keep our cardiovascular system healthy. Vitamin A for example is necessary for a normal heartbeat, vitamin K2 is needed to make flexible yet strong artery walls that resist atherosclerosis, and vitamin E helps red blood cell formation making exercise easier.
Therefore, to the extent that we avoid fat by choosing low fat versions of real food, we deprive ourselves of these crucial nutrients thus making it more difficult for our bodies to regulate weight and cardiovascular function.
In light of this knowledge…ask yourself…are Low Fat foods healthier than the original higher fat food from which they came?
Now a person might say “Fair enough, I see the value of the nutrients contained in real fat…but what if I’m already overweight, what about all the calories in fat”?
Yes, it’s true, to lose weight you may need fewer calories, but you don’t need fewer nutrients! The trick is to maximize the amount of nutrients with the right amount of calories, and eating real foods that have been processed to remove some fat is not the way to do it because it deprives us of crucial nutrients.
Aside from the obvious skipping of junk and processed foods, which are high in calories and low in nutrients, the best way to achieve a reduced calorie intake is to eat less food overall, or indeed if you must pick on one macronutrient then eat less carbohydrates, this way you still get the benefit of all the good nutrition, and the satiating effect of fat. There are plenty of lower carb vegetables available, think of salads, cauliflower, carrots, onions, garlic and herbs, all of which provide fewer calories and still supply lots of nutrients, however the same is not true for lower fat options. Low fat cheese for example may be lower in calories but it is also stripped of many nutrients that were in the fat that has been removed. In other words you lose out on nutrition when you choose low fat, but you actually increase nutrition (whilst losing the calories) when you choose lower carb. Lower carb does not automatically mean very low carb. People undertaking very low carb diets should only do so with professional guidance.
What if I have Heart Disease…won’t high fat foods, particularly saturated fat, contribute to high cholesterol and clog my arteries?
We have already busted the myth that eating cholesterol contributes to our total amount of cholesterol in the blood, it doesn’t.
But does saturated fat contribute to high cholesterol?
Saturated fat is used by the liver to manufacture cholesterol, that’s true. But the body will still regulate the total amount of cholesterol it requires regardless of how much saturated fat you eat. In any event, cholesterol is not the main culprit in heart disease.
Some diet trials showed that eating saturated fat raised cholesterol levels, but it was HDL the so-called good cholesterol that was more elevated!
Does eating high fat food in general contribute to heart disease?
No, not as long as it is real fat from real food and one does not eat more food than their body needs.
There are two main foods that do independently contribute to heart disease, processed fat and processed sugar, not only that but they can do so even if you don’t overeat in general. So it’s possible to lose weight by cutting calories yet at the same time develop heart disease due to eating a lot of processed fat and or processed sugar!
Of course eating too much food in general can contribute to heart disease, but as long as you are eating a calorie appropriate diet of real food, then fat does not contribute to heart disease. It’s also harder to over eat this way! In fact eating sufficient real fat, which includes some saturated, some monounsaturated and some polyunsaturated fat as part of real food, can promote a healthy heart. Whole foods are just better for you in general!
By Brendan O’Brien NT, MSc, mNTOI
Male Fertility Nutritional Consultant
Thanks to Brendan for contributing to the our blog this week as part of the Nutritional Therapy Awareness Week 2016.
Specialising in Fertility his qualifications and interests include:
- Holding a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy and a Master of Science Degree in Personalised Nutrition
- Worked for several years as a general nutritionist during which time I have had the pleasure of helping many women overcome fertility challenges and go on to achieve healthy pregnancies, but now I specialise exclusively in difficult-to-resolve male fertility cases.
- Teaches nutrition and supervise clinical training at the Irish Institute of Nutrition & Health