Are low fat foods really healthier? Since the 1950's, Americans have been told that fats are bad, and that was what caused cardiovascular diseases. This theory all started with a flawed study by Dr. Ansel Keys. He collected data from 22 countries, but only showed the 6 countries that supported his hypothesis, that high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol calories were a direct link to cardiovascular deaths. His misinformation led to a craze of low fat diets in order to prevent heart disease. The US Government also got involved through the Department of Agriculture”s popular “Food Pyramid.”
|Found at Encyclopaedia Britannica|
But what are fats, and what do they really do to your body? Contrary to popular belief, eating fats does not actually make you fat. Fats, also know as lipids, are an important part of bodily function. Dietary fats do much more than store energy in fat cells. They play a vital role in cell function, brain function, and producing hormones. Not eating enough fats can have a very bad affect on your moods and your energy levels. If you want a full biochemistry report on fats, go here.
There are several different kinds of fats. There are saturated fats, trans saturated fats, and unsaturated fats. Saturated fat comes from a variety of different types of foods, mainly animal foods (milk, cheese, meat) and tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil). Unsaturated fat is usually found in plant foods. Even though you always hear that saturated fat is the bad guy, it's trans fats you want to stay away from. They don't function normally in the body. Trans fats can cause stiffness in the cell membrane, which can lead to a higher risk of heart attacks. They also also affect insulin levels, therefore worsening diabetes.
So, what do we learn from all of this? Eating less fat does not make you lose more weight; it can actually make you gain weight. The only "bad" kind of fat is trans fat, which has gone through a process called “hydrogenation” that helps extend the shelf life of packaged foods. This makes trans fats very unnatural, and anything that is unnatural is bad for your body. The main foods that have lots of trans fats are any kind of fried or battered food, margarine and shortening, or highly processed foods like frozen dinners. Other foods to stay away from can be found here.
Hint: Even if front of a food box says "free of trans fats," it doesn't guarantee that there are absolutely no trans fats in the food. The best way to go is to avoid processed foods entirely and eat healthy, organic things instead.