A client recently confided, “I can’t stop thinking about food. I only keep healthy foods in my house, nothing with sugar, but I find myself running out to lunch for cheeseburgers and french fries.” Hmmmm. Something didn’t add up.
I made an in-home visit (yes, I do that), opened the refrigerator to find only non-fat products, from milk to yogurt to salad dressings and fat-free pudding. There were a few apples and oranges (she was “taught” at Diet Center that these were the best fruits for weight loss), broccoli, and lettuce. In the pantry was Special K, rice crackers, rice cakes, “skinny” rice, and many other “diet” foods.
Diagnosis? My client is starving.
Of course all she is thinking about is food! No wonder she’s running out at lunch for cheeseburgers and slices of pizza! It does not matter how much “diet” foods my client eats. It could even be 3,000 calories-worth. She is nutritively starving her body.
What’s the deal with non-fat and low fat?
The fact of the matter is that as we fill our shopping carts with these “guilt-free” foods (and I use this word very loosely because they actually are not foods), our waistlines grow bigger.
Fat-free and low-fat options are processed foods. In order to make a food lower in fat, it must be altered in some way. Often an item that has been made “low fat” has been made more palatable by adding more sugar and/or more salt.
Low-fat products tend to be high in carbs. The reality is that when we eat these foods, especially white refined ones, our insulin response to the sugar spikes. This leads to blood sugar swings and cravings, which is exactly why my client “can’t stop thinking about food.” Ultimately, this type of diet increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and causes high cholesterol.
Further, often non-fat and low-fat foods just aren’t satisfying. They leave you wanting more. I would rather my client go to her local ice cream parlor and have one scoop of really decadent ice cream and enjoy every lick rather than sit down with some “skinny” frozen concoction where she ends up eating the entire box or carton because it just “didn’t do the trick.”
We all need fat in our diet. Period. They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel. The trick is to minimize (not eliminate!) the fats derived from animals products and increase the healthy unsaturated fats by including more fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils including avocado and olive. Reduce one, increase the other.
Common advice is to eliminate all animal products. Contrary to this advice, I have chosen to follow the lead of Dr. Andrew Weil, the leader and innovator of functional medicine. I use whole-fat dairy products, which, yes, includes whole-fat milk and butter. Do I gulp down gallons of the stuff? Absolutely not. But I find my morning cup of coffee is a heck of a lot more satisfying with a bit of whole milk rather than skim. And, I happen to like my sprouted-grain toast with butter. It just tastes good.
And the fact of the matter is that since I’ve lost 30 pounds and kept it off I eat more fat than ever, but eat very little sugar.
My mantra: It’s all about the sugar. The low-fat diet found in my client’s kitchen? Low fat = high sugar = starving.
Need more convincing, here’s a detailed look at Dr. Andrew Weil’s Rethinking Saturated Fat.
Going to the grocery? Add these healthy-fat foods to your shopping list:
- olives — black and/or green
- nuts — almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, macadamias, pecans
- seeds — flaxseed, pumpkin, sunflower
- almond butter
- oils — olive, sesame, canola, flaxseed (never heat)
- cold water fish — herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna
Here’s a few more tips:
- read the ingredient list for good fats. If it has partially hydrogenated oils and palm oil put it down.
to determine the good fats on a nutrition label, subtract the bad fats from the total fats. That leaves you with the good fats. (Total Fat – Saturated Fat – Trans Fat = Good Fat)
- do not be fooled by “fat-free” or “low fat” labels. That can mean stripped of nutrition and be deceptively high in sugar and/or salt.
- If there’s any one thing you remember: think twice before automatically picking up the fat-free or low-fat option. Your health depends on it.