The low fat approach to losing weight, slimming or fat loss has long been denounced by the educated and informed among the fitness world. However, this ancient truth has yet to make it into the mainstream. Here’s how to avoid this potentially dangerous mistake.
We see the advertisements everywhere; “Try new low fat bla”. The unsuspecting public loves to feel good about their diet by purchasing a good low fat ready-meal and then avoiding nuts and olive oil like the plague because of their high fat content.
Either we’re all fools or the marketing people know their target market. Probably a bit of both. I think we’re enabling them by falling for this garbage.
Fact is, they’re selling what we buy and vice versa and somewhere along the lines, the truth about fat has been lost.
It’s easy to demonise fats because we-don’t-want-to-be-fat and yet, naughty macronutrient that they are, they’re called ‘fat’. One can only feel sorry for them I suppose.
So let’s look at two important factors in this whole fats issue:
- What should one do about fat content in their diets? How much and what kinds?
- How to spot the real horrors in your kitchen and/or supermarket.
So, what kind and how much?
Well, this is one hell of a question. I shall cover just the very basics here, which should be enough to make you go “reeeeeeally?”, but not enough to have the article scrutinized by a biochemist. Fats really are that complex.
In fact, we can’t even say that saturated fats are to be avoided any more because many natural oils and butters containing saturated fats can do us the world of good. Shocking.
Here are the main types of fats:
- Saturated (coconut, dairy, some nuts, animal sources in general)
- Monounsaturated (nuts, olive oils especially, avocado etc)
- Polyunsaturated (various nuts and seeds – walnuts in particular)
- Omega fats (fish and seeds)
- Animal fats (mmm, bacon)
- Damaged or trans fats. (manufactured foods and most oils on the shelf in your supermarket – oh the joys of mass food consumption)
Generally speaking, we want to avoid the last two and we’ll talk more about those when we address the second main point.
We also want to keep our sat fats natural! Butter, and how ‘healthy’ it is, is highly influenced by the added ingredients and perhaps more importantly – what the butter-bearing cow fed on. Watch a documentary called Food Inc. and you’ll see what I mean!
So as a rule of thumb, keep dairy to a minimum unless it’s from a one in a million, totally natural, grass-feeding, free-range farm.
A (ridiculously) quick note on omega fats. Omega fats (especially omega 3), go rancid when exposed to light, heat and/or oxygen. If they’re cold pressed, kept cold, kept dark, air tight etc. all the way through the extraction process – you’re good to go. Ask the makers if they adhere to such standards or read the bottle/label carefully. Quick tip – if they’re cheap, they’re crap.
How much shall I consume?
You’ll want around 0.6-0.8g of healthy fat per pound of body weight (obviously we aim to feed the lean you – not the total weight inclusive of fat). You could go up to 1-1.2g per pound if you’re healthy, lean and very active.
This will probably look something like 3 full tablespoons of oil added to your diet. The rest of the fats would probably come from the bits of chicken, fish, nuts that you (hopefully) eat. Each full tablespoon of oil is around 20g.
So for most people, it’s around the 100-140g per day mark. Very approximately. That’s a far cry from the low fat approach. Fats are calorie dense, so if we eat too much it’s easy to over-eat – but – if we avoid them then we also drastically under-eat!
Avoiding the horrors that the marketing companies try to push on you
Saturated fat is not unhealthy. It can be, but it’s not the demon we’ve been lead to believe.
Saturated fat is called so because all of its carbon atoms are bonded with hydrogen making it complete (saturated) and therefore stable. When bonds are vacant, the fat can bond with something else and this is where the trouble can begin. Something that wishes to bond with something else is said to be less ‘stable’. This is the pre-school version of fat education!
Actually, polyunsaturated (meaning it has a structure capable of supporting multiple hydrogen atoms) is much less stable, especially when heated.
So, one could say that there are no oils that are safe to cook with but saturated fats are in fact much safer – again, as long as they’re natural. Virgin coconut oil/grass fed cow butter are two good examples. Read the labels.
This is why it makes my blood boil when we see products like this on the shelves of our supermarkets…
But a) who ever slated olive oil in any healthy diet or nutrition guide? (well, let’s keep it virgin anyway) and b) just what are Flora putting in this oil exactly?
Generally speaking, when a manufactured food product boasts less fat, it is putting something bad in the ingredients. Something that seems good on the outside (marketing) but is pretty grim when you dig deep. Buttery spreads are the perfect example of this.
Today I saw some reduced fat peanut butter – again, whoever said that the fat in peanut butter was bad? I looked in the ingredients and they’ve just added other oils and bulked it out with maltodextrin, generally making it less pure, less natural, less healthy.
The point there is that, for some reason, people want low fat peanut butter. Beats me.
One point that may be worth noting though, is that high fat means high calorie. High calorie can be ok though – we men need around 2500 Kcal (or so they tell us) and women around 2000 Kcal per day. Now there are two kinds of people who are hitting that target (generally speaking): obese people and bodybuilders.
So a word of warning, if you’re the former then lower fat foods might be something to look for, but be warned, the fats in processed foods are usually replaced with something more sinister…
Your guide to supermarket low fat horrors
It’s all in the ingredients list. That combined with a few basic pointers which I shall lay out now.
Let’s take the example of mild or light olive oil. Sounds great, right? WRONG. When we buy oil we have to make sure it’s extracted correctly. When we pick our olive oil it must be extra virgin because anything else (read the label) will be an oil that has been processed with seriously nasty chemicals which render the oil toxic.
Remember what I said about oils being largely unstable? Well, what happens is the food manufacturers turn the oils rancid the add chemicals so we can’t tell that they’re rancid. The oils then have a decent shelf life. This is a very standard practise for oils.
It is incredibly hard to source a decent oil that hasn’t been chemically derived. So you’re probably only good with extra virgin olive oil unless you shop online for something that is definitely cold pressed!
So, taking what we’ve learned about oils, what spreads do is to boast less this, x percent less that and so on. Look on the label and you’ll see the likely culprits added – chemically refined oils.
“I can’t believe it’s not butter!” – I can’t believe the human body doesn’t implode upon ingesting such crap! Just eat butter. Natural as you can possibly get it and in moderation.
Some final advice on what to shop for
If fat is eaten in its natural state it’s usually good for you. In fact, in terms of fat loss, omega 3 oils help to actually burn fat! But again, sourcing good omega oils is tricky.
If you have the money, here’s one of the few brands you can really trust: Udo’s Choice.
Like I said, look for grass fed butter if you must eat butter, get natural peanut butter and eat it with confidence and some degree of moderation.
Do not think that because something says “Low in fat” that it means it’s not fattening. Yoghurt for example is often full of sugar – the real food type responsible for obesity. See how they get you?
Shop for extra lean meats such as lean/extra lean minced turkey or beef. Lean turkey/chicken breasts/steaks etc. We don’t really want to be eating the fat in this case. We can add a nice healthy oil once it’s cooked.
So, I hope this has helped iron out some of the issues with low fat foods. Keep reading labels and eating naturally. Oh, and watch out for what the larger brands are pushing as ‘healthy’ because it’s usually the opposite of the truth!
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