The Low Fat Joke


I’ll admit it: my sanity is in jeopardy. If I see one more advertisement with super fit beach bodies proclaiming the wonders of a product being “fat free”, I may have to be checked in to the nearest nuthouse.

The incessant message being shoved down the consumer’s throat of eating low-fat to trim down is, in a word, ridiculous. To put it bluntly, the science just doesn’t support this “logic”. Eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. Having said that, if you chow down on a stick of butter wrapped in bacon three times a day, there’s a good chance you’ll stack on some extra kilos. But this isn’t purely because your “meals” have a high fat content. More than likely you’ll be consuming far more energy than your body needs and so you’ll store it away for a rainy day (in the form of body fat).

Some folks at Harvard University did a meta-analysis of studies involving 68 128 participants, which was published in The Lancet in December 2015. They found low-carb dietary interventions produced significantly better results than low-fat dietary interventions when it came to losing weight. Also, low-fat interventions were no more effective than other higher-fat interventions. In other words, if you decide to change your diet, cutting out fat isn’t the most effective way of losing weight. Those following a low-fat intervention did lose more weight than those who stuck to their normal diet. So, the decision to change was more important than whether the change was increasing or reducing fat. Confused?

Well, here are some reasons I believe going “fat free” or “low fat” is the wrong choice:

  • If they’ve removed the fat, what have they replaced it with?
    Fat tastes good. It also gives food a satisfying mouth-feel. So if the manufacturer removes the fat from a food, the taste goes along with it. Now our normally tasty food tastes like wet cardboard/an old boot; not a great plan for repeated sales. Hmmm… what else tastes good? Sugar! Let’s pump it so full of sugar the consumer’s head will spin. As long as we can put “fat free” on the front, that’s all that matters. That’s what consumers want (because we keep telling them that’s what they want). This process can be repeated replacing sugar with salt, artificial sweeteners, flavours etc. So make sure you check the label. No, not the front where the company is telling you what you want to hear, turn it over and check the ingredient list and the nutritional panel, where they’ve printed what they have to tell you. That’s where the truth comes out.PopSnarfsImage source 
  • We need fat for our bodies to work properly.
    Four of the vitamins we need are fat-soluble vitamins. These are A, D, E and K. To put things simply, if we don’t eat fat, we won’t be getting/absorbing these essential nutrients. Deficiencies in vitamins can lead to all sorts of health problems. Our brains are around 60% fat and they need certain types of fat to operate optimally. We’ve probably all heard of omega-3 and omega-6, right? These are types of fats, which collectively (along with omega-9) are called Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs. They are called essential because human bodies can’t make them and so we have to get them from our diet.
    In addition to this, all the cells in your body contain fatty acids. Every. Single. One. They form part of the cell membrane (the part that keeps the outside out and the inside in). So we need to choose the right kinds of fats to help keep our cells functioning correctly.
  • You’ll miss out on a whole host of healthy foods.
    Cutting out fat from your diet means missing out on amazing foods like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, coconut oil and oily fish. Oh, and eggs. EGGS! I don’t know what I’d do without eggs! These are whole foods, which contain lots of healthy fats, as well as a range of other helpful nutrients. Whole foods should be a big focus for your diet. Generally, the closer a food is to how it’s found in nature, the better. By removing fat, you’re also restricting the variety of foods you can eat. This can lead to monotony and boredom. Variety is the spice of life! Cliché, I know, but it’s so true.

⇒ You may also like to read our article about Eggs and Cholesterol

So to sum up, the fact you eat fat isn’t what really matters. It’s most definitely the type of fats you choose to eat. If you’re going to eat a handful of natural nuts, smear or smash some avo on your toast or drizzle your salad with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, then I say “go for it!”. These whole foods have plenty of health benefits to coincide with the healthy fats they contain. On the other hand when choosing packaged foods in the supermarket, make sure you read the ingredient list on the back of the pack, check to see what’s behind the “low fat” message on the front and check for hidden sugars and nasties. Low fat isn’t always best, most of the time it’s just a joke.

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