Most of us know people who buy or eat low-fat or fat-free foods. You might do the same. Most people do so, because they believe the foods are better for their health or weight. However, studies have since debunked these notions. Fat is not the enemy.
The low-fat/fat-free era
Most sources sources pinpoint the start of the low-fat era to the dietary guidelines the U.S. government issued in 1977. The guidelines promoted increased carbohydrate consumption and decreased dietary fat consumption. Because cardiovascular (heart) disease had been on the rise prior, people wanted a solution. These guidelines were supposed to be the solution, even though they lacked any credible evidentiary support.
People’s dietary mindsets shifted, now associating low-fat or fat-free foods with healthy. A boom in low-fat and non-fat products followed. You may recall products debuting like Snackwells, Healthy Choice, and Olestra chips.
The fallacy of avoiding fat
Unfortunately, since people were so focused on avoiding fat, they were blind to other unhealthy ingredients like sugar. Food manufacturers would often add sugar to compensate for the worse flavor that resulted from reducing the fat content in foods. For example, low-fat or fat-free salad dressings commonly contain a lot of sugar.
Despite the new recommendations, heart disease and obesity continued to increase. Rates currently eclipse prior decades. Thus, reducing dietary fat did nothing to reverse the trend and may have even worsened it by increasing bad dietary habits. Studies like this one showed no link between dietary fat and obesity. This study showed the same with heart disease.
Sugar, refined carbohydrates, and other culprits
As mentioned, many people inadvertently consumed more sugar and refined/processed carbohydrates in their quest to avoid fat. The higher glycemic loads of sugars and refined carbohydrates produce a higher insulin response in your body. Constant fluxes can create chronic inflammation, causing chronic health conditions (e.g. cardiovascular diseases and metabolic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity).
Another example of poor dietary choices from the low-fat era was the rise of butter substitutes like margarine. Studies like this one have since shown that margarine causes cardiovascular issues, while butter does not. Some butter substitutes contain partially hydrogenated oils (i.e. trans fats), which are known to be unhealthy.
Remember to follow a holistic approach
Though articles can give general guidelines on particular areas, realize that staying healthy requires a holistic approach. You need to consider your entire lifestyle, circumstances, and surroundings for your health. As illustrated with the low-fat craze, if you only focus on one particular aspect, you may ignore other aspects that are affecting your health.
Although some may disagree, this article sums up the correct idea that different lifestyle changes are necessary for our health: diet, physical activity, and stress reduction. Eating whole (unrefined, unprocessed) foods is best, regardless of fat or calorie content. Try to eat quality foods and ingredients whenever possible, such as organic and grass-fed (See our earlier article cautioning against product labels.). Do what you can to eliminate harmful effects in your particular life and focus on the big picture.
If you follow any healthy tips or practices in your own life, feel free to comment to share them below.