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home : health : health May 26, 2018

4/24/2018 6:44:00 PM
The skinny on dietary fats
By Andrew Loscutoff

Dietary fat has a history of polarized paradigms. Whether it was the theory that saturated fats cause heart attacks, to the belief that fat reduces obesity and diabetes, the saga continues. In order to catch readers' eyes or to sell a book, people often extrapolate data and state an overarching assumption as fact, taking a simplistic and reductionist mindset to one end or another of the spectrum.

Fat is either to be loved or hated, and there is no middle ground.

Dietary fat is essential to the diet: either too much or too little a bad thing. The most important thing to remember is that whole foods, minimally processed and maximally nutrient, are superior to any fad diet.

Dietary fat became "evil" in the 1960s and 1970s when a scientist named Ancel Keys asserted a correlation between heart disease and saturated fats. His research was based on the epidemiological data from his research into mortality and diet of other countries. The countries with the lowest heart disease had lower intakes of saturated fats.

This data-point ballooned into the widespread villainizing of fats and led to Americans ditching fats for more carbohydrates.

This increase in carbohydrates led to more snack foods, higher consumption of sugars, and overall, higher amounts of calories consumed. This fueled the rapid increase in overweight and obese people that was observed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Recently, fats are back in favor because re-examination of the original studies indicating that the correlations made between dietary fat, cholesterol, and heart disease may not actually show causation. In fact, it is now more accepted that a variety of lifestyle and epigenetics determine a person's heart condition.

Now that fat is not the villain, diets of fat up to 80 or 90 percent have been propagated. The new zealots of diet make the claim that sugar is the enemy and carbohydrates of all kinds cause obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The Atkins diet, the William Davis wheat belly theory, and, most recently, ketogenic diets have replaced the low-fat/high carbohydrate protocols of yesteryear. Was nothing learned the last time an entire food group was villainized and an extreme approach was in vogue?

If only it were black and white.

Before jumping on a bandwagon of dietary extremism, ask yourself what it is about current food habits that ought to be changed. Often, if someone were to moderate their treats, snacks, and processed foods, it would have a bigger impact on their well-being than waving the flag of the diet de jour. Eventually diets fail. It is unsustainable to avoid all carbohydrates or fat.

The best piece of advice will always be to gravitate back toward the diet being mostly based on whole foods, avoiding additional calories in forms of processed oils, sugars, and refined carbohydrates. Get adequate amounts of healthy protein. Avoid liquid calories.

It's not too complicated, and simple changes are always a good start.

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