Maybe you have been pouring skim milk on your cereal and spritzing non-fat dressing on your salad for years. But it turns out, eating fat won’t make you fat.
In fact, research shows that low-fat diets don’t seem to aid in weight loss or in reducing the risk of disease compared to higher fat diets. And all those refined carbs you have been eating to replace that fat might be the real issue.
To understand how fat can be healthy, it’s first helpful to understand what’s going on with carbs in your body.
When you eat a simple carbohydrate, like a slice of bread, enzymes in your saliva immediately start breaking that food down into sugar. That surge of sugar triggers a hormone called insulin, which tells your body to store available energy in the bloodstream in fat tissue and other forms. And the later surge-crash makes you feel hungry, encouraging you to eat more.
But fats are another story. Fat isn’t processed the same way as carbs. It can’t be broken down with saliva, or fully digested by stomach acid.
Instead, your small intestines, with the aid of bile secreted by your liver, break it down. This happens much later in the digestive process, so fat digestion is much slower.
The different fats interact with your hormones in complex ways that, unlike carbs, don’t cause a massive spike in insulin. And good fats are really important for your body to function properly.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil and avocados. This good fat helps reduce inflammation and levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
Polyunsaturated fats in foods like sunflower seeds, walnuts, and fish also have significant health benefits. Fish oil, for example, consists of one type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids — which have been found to decrease blood pressure, increase HDL or “good” cholesterol, and may also protect against heart disease.
But saturated fats found in red meat and dairy are a different story. An extensive study found that replacing a small percentage of calories coming from saturated fats with calories from unsaturated fats reduced the risk of death, heart disease, and a number of neurodegenerative diseases.
At the same time, studies show full-fat dairy is healthier than reduced fat dairy. One recent study found that drinking full-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of diabetes.
So while unsaturated fats are better, saturated fats aren’t entirely useless. Not only are unsaturated fats essential for your body, avoiding them in the name of weight loss isn’t actually a helpful way to shed unwanted pounds.
A study by the Women’s Health Initiative assigned women to low-fat diets for eight years. They found the participants didn’t seem to gain protection against breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease. And their weights were generally the same as those of women following their usual diets.
And in the carb vs fat debate, an extensive 2017 study found no association between dietary fat and heart disease. In fact, the researchers found that high-carb diets were linked to a higher risk of death.
So, if studies show that fat doesn’t make us fat or increase our risk of heart disease… and carbs make us hungry and are linked to a higher risk of death, should we all just ditch carbs altogether?
Recent research seems to advocate a balanced diet that includes a combination of healthy fats and complex carbs.
Researchers found that diets high in fibre and low in refined grains, meat, and sugars resulted in less weight gain.
So what should you eat? The good news is that you can find healthy fats and complex carbs in a variety of tasty foods.
You can find unsaturated fats in fish, olives, nuts, and seeds, and still, have a place on your plate for so-called “good carbs.”
Although you should probably avoid eating lots of refined carbs like white bread and rice.
Foods like sweet potatoes, raw apples, and legumes are a different story., though. These foods don’t cause the same sudden peaks in blood sugar.
And like healthy fats, they contribute to a balanced diet to keep your body running. So go forth and toss some oil on that salad!