Alright, folks, break out the gavel and black robe. Food Court is in session!
On trial, three infamous suspects are charged with stealing your health: Fat. Sugar. And Fast Food.
This case has been ongoing for decades now—you’ve probably heard all about these bad boys.
Are they guilty? We’re about to find out.
The Case for Food
As an osteopathic doctor, I won’t be hosting my own daytime court show anytime soon, but after thirty years writing eating plans and helping people with weight control, I have become quite an experienced judge of diet.
I’ve served hundreds of people who suffer from what I call the Fat to Fit to Fat cycle. You may be able to relate. All current diet and exercise recommendations cause your fat to go away (at least the first time you do it), get you in some kind of shape, and then your fat comes back with a vengeance.
So the question I like to ask is, “What kinds of lifestyles, exercises, and food choices lead not only to weight loss, but to weight loss maintenance and extended healthy living?” I’ve spent years focused on the most successful elements that lead to this difficult achievement.
People ask me every day: so how do I do it?! How do I keep off excess weight and keep enjoying my new vitality?
An almost universal key—the direct opposite of what most fad diets are selling you— is the decriminalization of foods.
Are you ready?
Today we are examining the first case…
Fat— Framed or Foe?
He’s the one you love to hate; he’s the diet fad’s favorite boogeyman; fat has spent his fair share of time on the health world’s Most Wanted billboard.
(FYI: we’re talking about the fat you intake with food, not the stuff on your hips.)
But your body’s relationship with fat is more complicated than most have been led to believe.
Did you know that fat cells play a crucial role in keeping us alive, mainly:
- Safely storing excess calories to use later when you’re hungry
- Releasing metabolism-influencing hormones
In addition, fat is the most caloric dense macronutrient, makes up half of your brain (new meaning to the insult “fat head,” huh?), keeps your skin soft, delivers fat-soluble vitamins, and is a crucial source of fuel.
In fact, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends that adults get 20%-35% of their calories from fats. At a minimum, we need at least 10% of our calories to come from fat.
Removing fat from your diet might work for a few rapid weight plans, but it would be this side of impossible to do it on a long-term weight loss maintenance program.
So where does the bad rap come from? It turns out fat comes in several different forms.
Not all Fats are Equal
In the health field, we have identified at least three kinds of fats in your food. Some are necessary for life—others can be downright dangerous.
Monounsaturated Fats / Polyunsaturated fats
These are your good guys. Unsaturated fats, both Mono- and Poly- when eaten in moderation can help lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease, as well as replacing unhealthy, saturated fats. Essential fatty acids (a kind of polyunsaturated fat), like Omega-3 and Omega-6, keep your brain in working order and cells growing.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for your heart. They help:
- Reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood
- Reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries
- Slightly lower your blood pressure
Omega-6 fatty acids may help:
- Control your blood sugar
- Reduce your risk of diabetes
- Lower your blood pressure
Fact: your body cannot produce Omega-3s or Omega 6s on its own. That’s right. You have to find them in food.
Some great sources of healthy fats are:
- Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout
- Peanut Butter
- Olives/ olive oil
- Sunflower seeds/ sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Flax seeds/ flax oil
Okay. This is where the fat world gets a little shady.
Saturated fats, to give you an idea, are the kind of stuff that will solidify at room temperature.
Studies have connected them to higher cholesterol levels, which can raise your risk of heart disease. So the American Heart Association recommends that you take only 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. For example, if your lifestyle requires around 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fats—that’s about 13 grams a day.
You’ll find the majority of saturated fats in meat and dairy products:
- fatty beef,
- poultry with skin,
- beef fat (tallow),
- lard and cream,
- cheese and
- other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.
These fats don’t have to be eliminated from your diet altogether—unless you have a medical condition that they will exacerbate—but do use moderation and keep an eye on how much you intake as opposed to healthier unsaturated fats.
Here’s your clear-cut criminal.
Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in meats and dairy, but in the early 1900’s, food producers discovered a process that really expanded its reach.
Recognize the words “partially hydrogenated oils?”
Partial hydrogenation is a process which solidifies and partially hardens vegetable oil. When it hit the market, this new oil not only tasted good but kept foods from spoiling as fast—they got cheaper too. But while useful in mass producing fried and baked foods, trans fats aren’t such a hit in human arteries.
Trans fats can increase levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol and decrease “good” HDL-cholesterol in your blood, again raising the risk of heart disease and death.
So the U.S. dietary guidelines encourage Americans to eat as little trans fat as they can, officially under 2% of their caloric intake a day.
For you math whizzes, yes, that’s less than 20 calories out of a 2,000 calorie daily diet.
Arguments remain as to the roles that dietary fat play in disease.
Dietary fats are not the only variables associated with most diseases (heart disease being the best known) as there are always several causes.
Interestingly, at least to me, studies are revealing that different humans with different lifestyles respond differently to fat intakes and to fat compositions.
It seems that optimal fat intakes will need to be tailored to individuals as we learn more.
So, what to do right now? It’s true, fats are easier to overeat, being more calorie-dense than carbs or protein. The fact is obvious however: completely removing fat from your diet will do nothing but guarantee long-term dietary failure.
So stay educated on the different kinds of fats and how each will affect your body.
Moderation is another key. Remember, health is not the avoidance of things (unless it is a truck…); it is finding balance, learning to question everything, and enjoying life. That is the real secret to holistic, healthy living.
P.S. Keep tuning in for more Food Court cases! On trial next time, everybody’s favorite… sugar!
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