Eat Fat for Better Health?
Like so many other Americans I have working hard for many years, especially after my heart attack, to keep my weight down. And like most people, not with enough success. With a constant heavy flow of information and marketing about diets and weight loss pills as well as endless food and exercise products clearly aimed at weight conscious consumers it is depressing that very little progress occurs. Despite all of this commercialization, about half the US population is overweight or obese. So much money is spent on diverse approaches to weight reduction, yet even authentic attempts mostly fail. Now comes a medical perspective that “Eating More Fat Could Save Your Life” that I found most compelling.
While the scientific case against sugars and carbohydrates remains largely in tact, the case against consumption of fats merits attention by a lot more people. Countless products are marketed aggressively because they are fat-free or low fat. Perhaps focusing on these rather than sugars and carbs is counterproductive. And too much focus on calories causing healthy fats being omitted because of calorie concerns is also a problem. Fat free and low fat products are often loaded with sugars and carbs, and certainly not healthy fiber that consumers often don’t pay enough attention to. Moreover, trying to adhere to painful diets rather than adopting an overall healthy and more enjoyable lifestyle is usually counterproductive.
How interesting that recent Swedish obesity guidelines based on a review of 16,000 studies challenge much conventional wisdom. The bottom line is that the Swedes endorsed low carb, high fat (LCHF) diets as the most effective way to combat weight gain. Yes, high fat diets, meaning that most Americans are likely to be in fat shock if they learn about this. No other country has taken this step. Note that Swedes are far healthier than Americans with much lower rates of overweight and obesity, but there are concerns that rates have been increasing.
Interestingly, the regime that the Swedes support comes closest to what many people will recognize as the Atkins Diet which focuses on high protein and fat intake while limiting carbohydrates, with the aim of reducing body weight, lower blood sugar and improve good cholesterol. What the Swedes have done is also consistent with a stream of recent news stories about the considerable health benefits of regularly eating nuts, despite high fat content.
Consider that nuts, like almonds, hazel nuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts and cashews have been found to contribute to a lower risk of heart disease, according to a Harvard review. Besides high fat content, nuts have fiber and may help reduce LDL cholesterol, and are also rich in arginine, an amino acid that converts to nitric oxide in the body and helps blood vessels to relax.
Even the attention to unhealthy saturated fats may be misplaced. For example, after many years, data from the Women’s Health Initiative revealed that women who ate higher levels of saturated fat actually had no increased risk of obesity or heart disease. Still, it could be wise to focus on healthy fats from non-animal sources.
One thing is certain, the whole area of overweight and obesity is highly complex, with many factors and variables potentially causing different results among people. For example, there is increasing attention to the role of intestinal bacteria, genetics, hormones, sleep, and not merely foods and calories. Just as certain, however, is that most fat people have been fat for a long time and should seriously rethink all the foods they consume, with more attention to keeping carbs low, fiber high, salt low, and fats a good part of their diet. Calories alone are not the answer, despite an overly simple focus on calories by too many physicians. Many people are correct. No matter how they restrict calories they still cannot lose weight. There simply is too much variation among people on how calories consumed get changed through complex biochemistry into body fat, insulin and energy.
Always remember that bad habits are hard to break and good habits are even harder to establish. Try going nuts.