It’s Time to End the War on Fat

Writer  /  Dr. Christy Watson  .  Photographer  /  Lori Kopplod

How many times have you read or been told that fat is enemy No. 1 and should be avoided? Diets are simply based on calories in versus calories out and all calories were created equal. This was the message given to the public in the early ’80s. The dietary food pyramid was based on grains and carbohydrates, with little fat or protein. It was a diet that was supposed to make us healthier, to lower our risk of heart disease. Twenty years later the results are in, and the low-fat experiment was a failure of epic proportion. Americans are sicker and more overweight than at any time in history. Obesity is not just an epidemic; it’s a pandemic.

There are only three macronutrients – fat, carbohydrates and protein. Our dietary intake of them must equal a total of 100 percent. If we lower one, by definition we have to increase at least one of the others to keep the total the same. Without fat, something had to be added.

The scientific concept seemed to make some sense – if we limited saturated fats in our diet, then it would reduce “fat” in our bodies in the form of cholesterol. The idea was that we would replace saturated fats with healthy fruits and vegetables. But that wasn’t the case. Refined, processed carbohydrates and added sugars replaced fats that should have been a part of a balanced diet. These carbs were found in wheat bread, low-fat crackers and pasta. These sugars caused our blood chemistry to change, which caused us to store energy and gain weight. This also increased our hunger, which made it even more difficult to lose weight. It created a vicious cycle and has had devastating consequences to our health.

How did this happen? Can fat free bread and corn be sugars? Yes, they can. To our bodies, a low fat bagel is no different than a bag of skittles. A calorie is NOT a calorie.

Since 1970, egg consumption is down 21 percent and refined white sugar is down 35 percent. Yet high-fructose corn syrup is up 8,853 percent, and corn products, 198 percent. These are the processed food products that the food industry used to replace fat. In that same period, there was a 42 percent increase in calories from flour and cereals.

As a result, consumers unknowingly increased caloric intake from 2,109 calories per day in 1970 to 2,586 calories in 2010. From just calories (not even the kind of calorie) alone, if those were extra calories not burned off, this would contribute to ONE pound of weight gain EVERY WEEK! And unfortunately for us, the caloric pie (unlike the macronutrients of fat, protein and carbohydrate) is not one that must remain 100 percent. If we consume more than we need, we store that energy as fat, which goes right to our waistline. Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and high triglycerides are the result, and it happens with little to no involvement of “evil” dietary fat!

So what is really going on inside our bodies in regard to proteins, carbohydrates and fats?

Think of your body’s metabolism as a fire. It has to be stoked to keep the fire going. If it doesn’t, then it starts to die down. We can stoke the fire in different ways. When we give our body sugar, we get a quick burst of energy, and our body uses some of this for basic functioning of our organs. The rest – usually quite a bit – gets stored. This is quick fuel for our cells. When this quick energy is used up and put in storage, our body thinks it is starving because there is no usable energy around. It tells our brain that it needs more energy, that we are hungry; even though we just ate and there was plenty of energy there. Therefore, we are constantly hungry and storing away more energy. And we never burn the extra because we never force our body to use an alternative fuel source.

When sugars are withheld from the diet, and we stop living on quick sugar metabolism, our body quickly figures out that it needs a fuel source. It turns to the most abundant supply of energy all of us have – our fat cells! This is called nutritional ketosis. And remember, in keeping with the 100 percent total for macronutrients, if one goes down, at least one other must go up. This is where protein comes in. In simple terms, proteins have the same caloric energy as carbohydrates. But they have a drastically different effect on our metabolism.

First, we actually burn some calories just digesting protein. Second, proteins provide building blocks for our cells, especially muscle. Third, and in my opinion most important, protein is the best appetite suppressant we have. Protein fills our stomach, and sends a true signal of satiety or “fullness.” Now this isn’t saying that you can eat more protein than you can burn, because it all gets stored if it is in excess, but it does not stimulate the quick sugar metabolism like carbohydrates.

Where does dietary fat fit in? There has always been evidence that fat was not the problem. The Mediterranean diet includes healthy fats like olive oil, and has been proven to have many heart-healthy and waist-healthy benefits. It is a diet espoused by reputable medical groups such as the Mayo Clinic. It has been referenced in study after study as a healthy diet. Meta-analyses of even saturated fat in the diet have failed to unequivocally prove that it alone causes higher levels of heart disease and death. On the contrary, there is mounting evidence that added sugar in the diet has a direct and linear relationship to higher levels of cardiovascular disease and death.

So how can a consumer keep it all straight? How can we guide our own diets and those of our families? First, read every label. The label on the back of the package, not the one on the front from the marketing department of the food company. And know what you are putting in your body. Just for fun, journal everything you eat in a week to get an idea of your actual caloric (energy) intake, and look at where those calories come from. Are they sugars, flour, and processed foods? Finally, do a little research yourself. Don’t rely on the government, the food industry or even the diet industry to safeguard your dietary health.

Tips to Prevent Holiday Love Handles

Did you know the average American gains 10-15 pounds during the holiday season? Consider these tips for a healthier holiday season.

☐  Treat each holiday as one meal only. Do not make leftovers into several days of meals. Go back to your regular eating routine and get rid of leftovers. Remember, waste it or waist it!
☐  Continue tracking calories and exercise more than normal.
☐  Don’t skip meals before the big holiday meal. You are more likely to overeat then. Do eat small, high protein, lower calorie meals during that day.
☐  Don’t deprive yourself. If we tell our brain we can’t have something at all, we obsess over it and end up overindulging more. Instead, allow yourself a small portion of that food, so you can stop thinking about it. But be aware of overall calories.
☐  Control your stress. We all tend to overfill our lives with commitments during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to say no. The less stress you have, the and the more likely you are to continue in your normal routine and organization.