Friday, March 02, 2007

Is it time to give up on Low-fat foods?

We are surrounded by low-fat foods.

Nearly 10 billion dollars a year are spent advertising low-fat foods - Trying to convince us that we should buy them because they are "good for our health".

It was in the early 1980's when our government suggested that we cut back on our fat intake. Since then food companies have been in "product-development overdrive" churning out low-fat foods.

From low-fat cookies and brownies, to low-fat cheese and yoghurt, you can find a low-fat version of every one of your favorite foods in your local grocery store.

However, before we accept the "low-fat equals good healt message", there are a couple of important things we should think about when it comes to the effectiveness of low-fat foods:

1) If you take the fat out of food, you have to replace it with something. Binders, emulsifiers, bulking agents, and yes sugars like high fructose corn syrup are all used to replace fat. What's more, the foods that traditionally have higher fat, like cheese and yogurt, are the ones that need the most additives once the fat is removed.

2) The low-fat food trend is only 25 years old. And in the last 25 years, as low-fat foods dominated our grocery stores, obesity, diabetes and cancer have all been on the rise. The idea that simply switching to low-fat foods will help us maintain a healthy weight has failed miserably.

3) A recent study examining the lifestyle habits of 18,555 women found that women who ate at least one serving of high fat dairy every day appeared to reduce their risk of ovulatory infertility. While this is only one study, it does have a very large subject group and does lead to the idea that fats may not be as bad for you as once thought. Indeed, even saturated fats may actually have some health benefits.

4) The scientific evidence behind the idea that low-fat eating is healthy is actually pretty weak. It was in the 1950's that a small group of people began to popularize the idea that low-fat eating was healthy eating. Since then hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on research trying to prove the idea was correct. The results of this research have been so surprisingly weak that it is starting to make many scientists skeptical of the supposed damaging health effects of fat.

5) The "fat is bad" message is very oversimplified. Take butter for instance. Yes it is a source of saturated fat, but it is also almost 25% monounsaturated fats, of which almost 80% is oleic acid, the same type of fat found in olive oil. There are many foods out there that have been wrongly accused of being simply saturated fat.

Bottom line - We need to stop trying blame obesity on the fat in our foods.

As a simple guideline- Eat less, but enjoy the foods you eat. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and lots of herbs and spices. And maybe most importantly, spend less time stressing over the types of food you are eating. These are probably the best thing you could do for your health.


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