“Fat Will Make You Fat” and Other Dieting Myths Debunked
Myth #1: Eating fat will make you fat.
Starting in the 1980s there was a paradigm shift in the medical community and suddenly fat was demonized and blamed for all major health problems. This led to a huge push towards adopting low fat diets because it was thought this would decrease heart disease and increase weight loss. You may remember all of the fat free food products that came out at this time. I distinctly recall eating “healthy” fat free chocolate cookies in the mid-90s that resembled dried up blobs of mud and tasted about the same. So convincing was the hype that the general public would rather eat strange, artificial mud cookies than risk eating fat.
The theory that eating fat makes you gain weight is based on fat having more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein. The problem is this theory isn’t well supported in the research. People don’t gain weight eating a high fat and protein/ low carbohydrate diet but rather lose weight. It is the low fat/high carbohydrate diet that shows more propensity for weight gain. In addition, studies looking at the effect of low-fat diets have not provided strong evidence of less heart disease which we all have been conditioned to believe.
Weight gain is likely much more multifaceted than just calories per gram consumed and involves a host of other factors including genetics, ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins consumed, blood sugar and insulin levels, and hormones. We are barely skimming the surface of the complexity of weight gain with current research and more long term studies are needed. We do know that healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet and contribute greatly to overall wellbeing. Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, and coconuts. This leads me to my next point.
Myth #2: Saturated fat in coconuts is bad for you.
When “fats” became the new four letter word in public health they were categorized from most dangerous to least dangerous. Saturated fats were seen as the worst offender regardless if they came from plant or animal. (Saturated fats are named for their chemistry which gives them their solid form at room temperature and include the fat on meat or coconut oil.) Given this information people stopped eating coconut products and this was unfortunate because coconut fat is not the villain it was made out to be. It contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid, which has been shown to increase HDL or the “good” cholesterol. HDL has been shown to be protective against heart disease. Oh the irony. Other claims to fame include its antimicrobial properties, moisturizing qualities—works like a charm at preventing diaper rash in babies– and its ability to turn baked goods into delectable creations without oxidizing at high temperatures.
Myth #3: Whole grains are essential for a healthy diet.
Popular grains such as wheat, corn, and rice are made into a stunning variety of breads, crackers, and cereals, which are gobbled up by people trying to eat a healthy diet. Chances are you know that cookies, cakes, and brownies are not so good for you but that slice of whole grain bread has to be good for you. Right? That’s certainly what we’ve been told. Look at the USDA’s food recommendations (Once known as the 4 Food groups which turned into the food pyramid and now the plate) and you will see more than 25% of the plate is designated to whole grains. The food pyramid from a few years ago even recommended 6-11 servings of grains per day.
I think there are two questions to ask here. How healthy is it to eat grains like the USDA recommends and is it healthy to go against USDA recommendations and eat a low or no grain diet? Since the industry started advocating for a diet high in grains, conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have not decreased but in fact exploded. One theory is that the high carbohydrate content in grains triggers a major blood sugar spike which in turn triggers a huge insulin spike. The effect of high blood sugar- high insulin cycle on the body over time leads to obesity, diabetes, and the like. Using this logic it makes sense that a diet high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates does not have the same detrimental effect on the body because it doesn’t increase blood sugar and insulin levels. In fact many studies do support the theory that a very low carb/grain diet improves blood sugar balance, reduces the health risks that go along with it, and improves weight loss more than diets including more whole grains.
When considering if a diet with low or no grains can be healthy consider that grains do not contain nutrients that cannot be found in any other food. If you want to increase fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in whole grains you can eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and lean meat and make sure you are getting adequate B vitamins.
So is that slice of wheat bread good for you? It depends. If you have difficulty regulating your blood sugar levels because you have diabetes, pre-diabetes or hypoglycemia, foods with high carbohydrate content (like a slice of bread) are going stress the body. It these situations restricting grains will be beneficial. The bottom line is unprocessed whole grains can still be part of a healthy diet but they are not required or an essential part of a healthy diet if you are getting nutrients from other foods. They definitely should not be the main part of every meal and snack which they currently are in most households. I am also preferential to gluten free grains because so many people are gluten/wheat intolerant and addicted to wheat foods which can cause a multitude of problems. It can be extremely useful to work with a licensed healthcare practitioner well versed in the nutrient requirements of specialized diets–such as a Naturopathic Doctor–to ensure you are on the right track and meeting your dietary needs.