Fat became the enemy in America during a 1976 Senate hearing on the links between diet and disease. Shortly after, the McGovern Report on dietary goals for the United States was published. The essence of this report was that Americans should eat less fat and more carbohydrates. Thus, the low fat craze was born. Food companies started advertising low fat products, all the while replacing this fat with sugar to make the food palatable. Subsequently, America got fatter, and we still consume too much sugar and carbohydrates to this day.
Most of us grew up with the traditional food pyramid (pictured left). More carbohydrates from wheat products than from fruits and vegetables? Protein and fats as the smallest categories? This design is completely out of whack. Yes, sweets are at the top where they belong, but the old pyramid fails to account for the fact that the body treats white bread and pasta the same way it treats a cupcake. It all turns into glucose, which provides quick energy, but if it all isn't burned as fuel (which it usually isn't) the excess turns into body fat.
The old pyramid calls for way too many carbs. American's get so many carbohydrates from processed grains and added sugars it is no wonder obesity is such a problem. While the new My Plate guideline (pictured right) is better than the pyramid, it still vaguely calls for "grains" as carbs rather than better sources such as sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa. It also neglects to emphasize an important food group: healthy fats.
Healthy fats are an important part of a quality diet that many people neglect. A common misconception is that carbs must be the primary source of energy. Healthy fats in moderation provide energy without the negative aspects of carbohydrates. As mentioned above, if someone is not super active, they will likely not burn off all their carbs, leading to weight gain. Also, the energy spike provided by simple carbohydrates does not last long. An energy crash will follow, leaving the person lethargic and even less likely to be active. They will also feel hungry again. This leads to more carb consumption and the cycle begins anew.
On the other hand, healthy fats leave you satiated much longer, without the energy crash. The body also does not turn them into sugar. A few examples of healthy fats are: avocados, salmon, olives/olive oil, organic eggs, almonds, pecans, walnuts, organic butter and coconuts. Note these foods are calorie dense, so they should be eaten in smaller portions.
Cutting carbs and increasing healthy fats has been proven to help people lose weight. A recent study by professor of medicine Kerry Stewart of the American College of Sports Medicine took two groups of overweight men and women and compared weight loss based on their diet. For six months, one group followed a low carb high/fat diet (less than 30 percent of calories from carbs and up to 40 percent from fats), while the other group followed a low fat/high carb diet (less than 30 percent of calories from fat, 55 percent of calories from carbs).
The results were pretty staggering. The low carb group averaged a 10 pound weight loss over 45 days. It took the low fat group 70 days to lose that much. Also, the high fat group did not show any harmful changes to vascular health, which is a big reason why many people avoid high fat diets. Stewart stated, "Our study should help allay the concerns that many people who need to lose weight have about choosing a low-carb diet instead of a low-fat one, and that a low-carb approach does not seem to pose any immediate risk to vascular health. More people should be considering a low-carb diet as a good option."
There is no one size fits all nutrition plan, but more people should generally be increasing their consumption of healthy fats while lowering their intake of simple carbohydrates.
If you want to learn more about nutrition and healthy living, contact the SCNM Medical Center.