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Why Low-fat Foods Are Not as Healthy as You Think

We’ve been told forever to stay far, far away from fat. It’s bad for our cholesterol, makes our waistline bigger and, well, fat is bad, right? Not so fast.

The fact is we need it. Fat:

  • Provides energy
  • Keeps skin soft
  • Delivers fat soluble vitamins to our bodies
  • Protects nerve tissues

There’s more. Fat keeps us satiated (feeling full) longer and gives our food texture. Without fat, food tastes a lot like cardboard.

Why We Thought Fats Were Bad

So, why have we been trained to avoid fat when it’s clearly necessary? It started in the 1950’s with Ancel Keys’ (in)famous “Seven Countries Study” where high fat consumption, specifically saturated fat, was deemed the major contributor to heart disease (many debate the accuracy of this study). In 1956, the American Heart Association went on national TV and advised people to decrease their consumption of butter, lard, eggs, and beef. Shortly after, the media and food industry grabbed hold of this story and, voila, Americans were convinced “low-fat is where it’s at.”

As fat was removed from food, food scientists used sugar to improve taste and now sugar is found in nearly all processed foods. Over time, food industry marketing campaigns led us to believe that low-fat was healthy. But little did we know that substituting sugar in place of fat would ultimately lead to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

What to Remember About Fats

Not all fats are created equal. Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats are good to eat. Saturated fats are okay to eat in moderation. Trans fats (look for the word hydrogenated) are not okay to eat and should be avoided – we know they contribute to heart disease and inflammation.

How to put all of this in perspective? As with anything in life, it’s about balance. Be mindful of what you’re eating and make a conscious effort to incorporate a variety of healthy fats into your diet (and to stay away from trans fats).


BONUS READING: The Mediterranean diet offers a blueprint for eating a diet that includes many healthy fats. Check it out>>>

Meet the Author

Kristen H. Reynolds, MD is the Medical Director at Aurora Wiselives Center for Wellbeing and the Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Aurora UW Academic Medical Group in Wauwatosa, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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