Unless you have been living as a hermit with no access to media of any kind for the past year or so, you can’t help but have heard numerous ‘facts’ about fat and weight loss being splashed across the TV and front pages. After years of being told that high carb and low fat diets are best for us, it’s now being argued that what we should have been eating is a high fat and low carb diet.
It can all be very confusing for the general public but the fact is that fat is back and it is here to stay. Coconut oil, butter, and nuts are flying off the shelves and more and more people are eating Paleo. So, what’s the real story? We take a look at some of the biggest myths about fat and let you know what the facts are.
Fat makes you fat
In terms of calories, it is undeniable that fat has more calories in it than an equivalent amount of carbs. However, eating fat in the right amounts will not make you fat. This is because fat is much slower to digest than carbohydrates and also fills you up for longer, which prevents you overeating.
Carbs, on the other hand, can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a crash that can then lead to hunger again (as well as tiredness). You’ll also find that fat plays a very important role in the body and helps with numerous things such as brain function and hormone production.
Saturated fat causes heart diseases by clogging your arteries
This has been an established ‘fact’ for decades but more and more research is pointing out that this isn’t true, so maybe it’s time to start putting the red meat, cheese and butter back in your diet. Esteemed Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra states in the Guardian that “Recent prospective cohort studies have not supported significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk. Instead, saturated fat has been found to be protective.”
More and more evidence is pointing towards sugar as being a major contributory factor to heart disease and this is often in the products that people have eaten when trying to avoid saturated fat on low fat diets. The point is not to eat lots and lots of saturated fat every day, but simply not to be scared of it and not to replace it with sugary, sweet and processed food
Butter is bad for you
For years we’ve been told that margarine and low fat spreads are better for us than good old-fashioned butter, because butter was high in fat. However, the tables are now turning. Lots of margarines and spreads have been found to contain what are called ‘trans fats’, which are the very worst kind of fat and are dangerous to heart health. Butter, made of more natural ingredients and containing natural fats are generally much better to eat, especially the grass fed variety. However, like any food, it is best not to overdo it.
Eggs are bad for you
For years we were told not to eat too many eggs, as they are packed with cholesterol and are a danger to our heart health. However, we now know that, yes, eggs contain cholesterol, but there is very little connection with the cholesterol that you eat and what is produced by your body. There are also studies that suggest cholesterol may not actually be a reliable basis on which to base heart health too. Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the plant and are full of protein, vitamins and other good things that are all great for your overall health, so don’t be afraid of eggs anymore!
Red meat is unhealthy
This is a contentious issue that has the scientific community divided. On the one hand, you have the World Health Organisation declaring on 26 October 2015 that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans, based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans” and declared processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. The red meat association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer.”
They concluded that: “Each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.”
However, there have been numerous eminent nutritionists disagreeing this, such as Zoe Harcombe in her article ‘World Health Organisation, meat & cancer’. Harcombe concludes that:
“There is a heck of a lot of bad science coming out the World Health Organisation, an organisation that should know better, but then there have previous cases of not knowing better.
Nothing has changed from my fundamental belief that human beings should eat real food (especially grass-fed, naturally reared meat and naturally preserved meat). Avoid processed food, including meat processed by fake food companies. And take every observational study that doesn’t know these five points above with a hefty pinch of salt.”
Where does this leave us? A sensible amount of good quality red meat can be a part of a healthy balanced diet and adds important vitamins, fats and minerals. However, processed meats do not bring all of these benefits so should be approached with caution.
As with anything involving nutrition, there are no real hard and fast rules and an all or nothing approach will not get you very far. Fat has long been vilified but we now know that it is a vital part of our dietary makeup, and if we don’t eat enough of the right sorts, it can have a debilitating effect on our health. You can’t go far wrong with basing your diet on what many people in the Mediterranean eat. Lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, fresh meat and fish and a selection of nuts and seeds as well as olive oil that are all packed with heart healthy fats. It’s not fat that you should be worried about; it’s sugar, that’s the real killer.