Remember the “Fat Free” Craze of the ‘80s? In offices across America, “100 Calorie” snack packs filled desks and cubicle drawers; “fat free” and “low fat” became the rage for label readers in supermarkets from Malibu to Maine. With nine always-hungry kids in my family, I grew up in a household with real butter and no shortage of “real” fats. When I arrived at college, however, I got caught up in the fat free craze. I avoided guacamole and chose “reduced fat” salad dressings at every turn. Especially after I had babies in my early 30s, when pregnancy weight and stress slowed down my metabolism.
But have you ever considered what replaced the fat in foods? Fat equals flavor, as well as fuel. If you take away the fat, something needs to be added to make food taste good. Instead of fat, the food industry added sugar and sugar-free sweeteners, encouraging more carbohydrates as an energy source. Enter an excess of simple carbs and fillers, which are for the most part created in labs rather than nature.
With the fat free craze, the trend towards obesity and diabetes skyrocketed. High fat, previously blamed for high cholesterol, became a bad word as our obsession with fat free living sneakily paralleled the obesity epidemic. It would be years until research started to surface about the dangers of taking healthy fats out of our diets. How an excess of carbohydrates cause LDL cholesterol, instead of the previous scapegoat: fat. What keeps us healthy, fit and trim involves eating as many whole, unprocessed foods with ingredients we can pronounce as possible. Fats included.
But try to convince women of this! Myself included, who can’t think of the word “fat” without it conjuring up negative images and emotions. It take a tremendous shift in thinking and programming for us to wrap our minds around the idea. If we eat healthy fats like olive oil, macadamia nuts, avocados and Irish butter, the fat in our bodies will follow. Without an excess of simple carbs, our metabolisms have no choice but to burn fat as a source of fuel. Fat follows fat, if we choose fats high in nature’ s goodness instead of trans-fats engineered in labs, created from a surplus of grains like corn.
Dr. Mark Hyman has become something of a pioneer in the shift away from fat free and towards healthy fat, in his book Eat Fat, Get Thin. We hear about more and more articles, interviews and books that prove a diet high in healthy fats trends more towards good health than any low fat diet can. The Mediterranean Diet, Atkins and others have dabbled in the concept of high fat, and it becomes more widespread the more people try this shift for themselves.
We have seen the phenomenon of insulin resistance in our clinic, in people who eat healthy, with lots of complex carbs and a plethora of vegetables and fruit. People who exercise regularly and can’t understand why their weight won’t budge. “Insulin resistant” and “pre-diabetic” are scary words. But in reality, it’s not necessarily an intelligent, health-conscious patient’s fault that his or her metabolism became stunted.
I not only blame the fat-free epidemic, but the food pyramid as well, with its old structure of 6-11 servings of grains per day. (Due to increased pressure from the field of nutrition, the government has since changed the parameters of the outdated food pyramid. It still doesn’t include enough healthy fats, but it has improved. See ChooseMyPlate.gov for the most recent version). The food industry made a fortune demonizing fat in America’s consciousness and replacing it with highly processed, sugarized foods.
Our bodies need fat. Brains, our body’s biggest muscle, require adequate fat to function and grow. To stay clear, lucid and high functioning. Protein gets a lot of buzz for muscle development, as it should: but too much protein, once our muscles use the amount they need, get converted to sugar. Our bodies are much smarter than we give them credit for. They need fat to thrive, just as much as they need phytonutrients to boost cells, fiber to aid in elimination, and antioxidants to keep immune systems humming.
Enter the star of the show, the avocado. It has it all: mono and polyunsaturated fats that help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. One avocado contains around 10 grams of fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Throw half an avocado in a protein shake for creamy texture, toss some in a salad as a cheese substitute, spread it over toast with butter, make fresh guacamole as an instant crowd pleaser. You will fill your body with superfood goodness and antioxidants while the fat will keep you full.
We can start to make fat our Friend instead of Frenemy by adding more to our diets every day. Use olive oil to saute your greens, eat more nuts, buy a few almost ripe avocados to have on hand for the week. Experiment a little, taking out simple carbs at one meal and replacing them with a healthy fat. Slowly, you will notice a difference. You may not be hangry during your usual afternoon crash. Your brain may feel clearer and sharper, your cravings may lessen, your skin may start to glow. And your jeans may fit better as that stubborn stomach layer that comes with age shrinks.
It takes a leap of faith to trust this concept, but fat helps us feel better and look thinner. Don’t shy away from the dip at your next party, as long as you choose veggies instead of a handful of chips. Choose additional olive oil over croutons on your salad, and enjoy the feeling of decadence eating a whole avocado sliced up with your morning eggs.
Live a little – indulge in good fat choices. Your “fatter” brain, better mood, smaller waistline, and healthier body will thank you for it in the long run.