A hot topic recently has been the relationship of fat and sugar and their respective effects on the human body. For years we have been told that fat makes you fat, and fat makes you ill. This quite simply is not true. The reason for this misconception stems from the Seven Countries Study conducted by Dr Key many decades ago. The findings concluded that the countries that ate more fat, and in particular saturated fat, had more cases of health problems such as heart disease. This rather narrow minded study fails to take into account any other habitual and dietary causes for these countries having higher rates of health problems. This lead to us incorrectly blaming fat for causing health problems, while in fact, as recent studies have shown, sugar is the true culprit.
The biggest problem with people avoiding fat is that they tend to replace it with sugar. Take a look at fat free options of your favourite foods and you will see they contain a higher amount of sugar when compared to the fat full variety. The reason they do this is simply taste. Humans are hard wired to prefer foods with either fat or sugar in them. Foods without either of these can taste bland and boring, let’s take possibly the best example of this which is yoghurt if you can find low fat low sugar yoghurt try it, taste good? I doubt it!
So fat is your friend? Yes but the key to eating the right types of fat lies in the source. The closer to the origin of the fat the better; the more processed the fat the lesser the benefit. A few of the best examples of good fats are; seeds and nuts (avoid peanuts – or all nuts if you’re allergic!), fatty fish containing lots of omega-3 (sardines, mackerel, and wild salmon), and animal products. With animal products the better kept the beast before slaughter the better quality the fat, look for grass fed well raised meats.
So sugar makes you fat? Yes. But are all sugars to be avoided? No. There are health benefits to eating some foods that are considered to be fairly sugar full. The best example of these would be fruit. The principle to follow when eating sugar is the lesser processed the sugar the lesser the health problems caused by it. Sources of sugar you may be surprised about include; lots of sauces in particular tomato based, fat free dressings (again the problem with no fat usually means high sugar), smoothies and juices (the problem here being you are removing the fibre from the plant and leaving almost pure sugar), and cereals and crackers (not all of these are bad – check the label).
So the theme seems to be to avoid processed fat and sugar, there are a few reasons for this. Unfortunately in the hunt to manufacture the best tasting and most popular products companies tend to use cheap ingredients and then plaster them with chemicals to get them tasting great. The processes used will ultimately mean the product loses its key nutrient and benefits such as fibre, not that companies do it on purpose it’s a side effect. This problem then gets increased by adding ingredients such as salt. Some common processed foods you might want to avoid are; white rice (in fact avoid most “white” varieties of common foods), crisps and chips, canned fruit in syrup, fizzy drinks (fairly obvious one!), meats products such as burgers, sausages, and even sandwich meats (just go for raw then cook yourself).
Hopefully the studies that got fat back as our friend are correct, certainly they’ve been given more thought and testing than the ones conducted decades ago, and they contain more reasoned arguments and are definitely backed up by more evidence. But I for one am glad the tide has turned for fat, despite not eating nuts (as regular readers of my articles are aware – I’m severely allergic!) or fish (can’t stand it!), I do enjoy olive oil based spreads on my toast and I love almost all other types of meat. I’m also glad sugar has taken a beating, the next step (and it will be welcomed by fitness freaks like me) is to tax it (particularly as we have had to suffer paying VAT on products that are good for you!), but this is another argument for another day…