When the low-fat craze erupted in the early 1990s, and everything from snacks to meals to drinks suddenly needed to be low-fat to be healthy, diet strategies around the world changed.
Low-fat milk, crackers, and egg whites quickly became the go-to foods of healthy eaters and cheese, avocados, and fatty fish were entire no-nos.
But if you’ve been a longtime fan of avocado toast and roasted salmon (and yes, cheese), it’s time to rejoice: they’re finally making a comeback.
The Dark Side of Low-Fat
The main selling point of low-fat diets was that they also tended to be lower in calories. Lower fat meant lower calories, which generally meant weight loss, but the health benefits were not that impressive.
In fact, a report published in The Lancet in August 2017 showed that across 18 different countries, people who chose to maintain low-fat diets were more likely to die from all health causes, including heart attacks and disease.
On the flip side, low-carb diets showed a lower risk of death from heart issues.
Spoiler alert: fat is good, and good fat is better.
The same Lancet report showed that it’s time to reconsider how we think of fat, since eating good fat could lead to a longer — and more disease-free — life.
“Dietary guidelines need to be reconsidered based on new evidence,” said lead investigator and study researcher Mahshid Dehghan, PhD, in a press conference. “We are saying: more relaxation of the current restriction on the fats and more emphasis on [lowering] carbohydrate when it is high.”
Do the words “saturated fat” make you immediately cringe and reach for a kale juice? Don’t be so quick to eliminate the saturated fats either.
A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionshowed that there is “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease] or [cardiovascular disease].”
Moral of the story: fat is vital for the body to run properly. It aids digestion, supports brain health and helps sustain energy. And, according to Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, “Fat consumption does not cause weight gain. To the contrary, it might actually help us shed a few pounds.”
Know Which Fats to Choose
While saturated fats are getting some good press lately, unsaturated fat is still king. That means sources like avocados, fatty fish (salmon, most notably), coconut, chocolate, nuts, almond butter, among others, are the best places to get the healthy fats you want… and need.
“With some good long term reputable studies behind us, scientists now support the view that a carte blanch approach to low fat diets is not necessarily the best for healthy hearts and lowering obesity rates — certainly not when they promote high levels of sugar and refined carbohydrates instead,” says Emma Cronin, Amodrn’s resident nutritionist. “Instead we should consume a balanced diet with good mono or polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and reduce or avoid saturated and trans fats, which science has shown can contribute to heart disease and obesity.”
Why? They’re crucial for all health benefits.
“These healthy fats are essential for good brain and nervous system function, mental health, weight management, are really important for absorption of fat soluble vitamins A and D, and they keep you feeling full,” Cronin adds. “Doctors might, of course, prescribe a low fat diet for patients with certain conditions, however for the rest of us, low fat products, especially those with higher levels of added sugar, should be swapped for full fat products. The healthiest of good fats would be the omega-3 fats, including fatty fish, which we should consume multiple times per week for optimal health benefits and should absolutely be part of a balanced diet.”