Diets are devised either to restrict calories or certain foods or food groups to achieve weight loss or other health objectives. The logic of restricting calories is that the less energy we consume the more our body will have to use body fat stores as energy, thus resulting in weight loss. Most diets vary not only in total number of calories, but also the portion of macronutrients, that is fat, protein and carbohydrates that they permit. To achieve this prescribed portion of macronutrients a diet may require restriction of food and food groups or diligent consideration for each meal you consume to ensure you get the proportions right.
For much of the 80s and 90s a great majority of diets focused on reducing fat, as per gram, fat provides twice as much energy to the body as protein and carbohydrates. This logic makes sense when we are comparing macronutrients, as protein and carbohydrates provide half the energy as fat. Reducing fat consumption if it is excessive may be helpful for weight management. However, an issue that arose was to make the low-fat food taste better, food technologists added more refined simple sugars and artificial flavours to these low-fat foods. The result? People started eating these foods with abandon due to the perception they are good for us, as they are no- or low-fat.
Get real, demonising any food creates an imbalance
Eating anything with abandon because it is perceived as ‘good’ is unhealthy and may result in excess calorie consumption. In the case of fat, low fat products and demonisation of fats led to insufficient intake of good fats, which are essential for our cell membranes, hormones and other vital functions. On the other hand, excessive sugar intake due to the increased sugar in these products promotes a rise in insulin, thus increasing fat deposition in the body.
In rebellion to our low-fat days we are now seeing a rise of ‘health gurus’ that apply the logic that if fat wasn’t as bad as we thought it must therefore be good for us. This thinking has initiated a wave of high fat, low sugar or low carbohydrate diets. Some of these diets are excessively high in fat and deficient in other nutrients we require for good health that occur in abundance in complex carbohydrates.
This black and white thinking serves to add more confusion as to how to eat to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Yet, it has never really been that complicated. We have strong scientific evidence as to what fats we should eat predominantly, what fats we should eat less of, and the portion of our diet they should constitute. Pitching foods against one another only serves to fuel confusion, overwhelm, unhealthy and disordered eating.
Let's not demonise any foods in pursuit of weight loss. Let's not restrict calories or foods so that we desire the very foods that are off limits. Let’s not obsessively control our portions of macronutrient that cause each meal to become a stress.
Rather let's focus on getting real, by consuming a balance of whole foods.
Continued in PART II…
Note: if you are interested in what fats are healthy and which are not, and in what quantities they ideally should be consumed please check out the Australian Dietary Guidelines for more information.