Often when people tell me about a meal, snack or recipe they tried they mention that it is low in fat, as though that was one of the great features about it. I usually reply with a comment about how great it sounds but also point out that fat is not a bad thing. Typically they’ll reply “yes, I know”, but then a few sentences later, the low-fat comment comes up again. This suggests to me that they don’t know. I’ve decided to change my approach. Next time someone tells me about a great low-fat food they tried, I’m going to ask: “is it also low in vitamins?” Maybe that will be more effective at getting the message across. What message? That eating fat is okay. Say it with me: “it’s okay to eat fat”. Too much of anything will make you fat, but fat in and of itself does not. Dietary fats are actually essential, as they contain essential fatty acids that our body requires but cannot produce on its own. The essential in essential fatty acids is not just clever marketing!
I think I understand how low-fat foods became popular, and why some people still think low-fat is the answer to losing weight: Pound for pound, food that is higher in fat has more calories. There are about 9 calories per gram of fat in your food, compared to about 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate. If we just look at the basic math, clearly the way to lose weight is to eat less fat. This is one (the only one?) case where “just do the math” gives you the wrong answer. It just isn’t that simple.
There are three big problems with eating low-fat to lose fat:
- Fat helps you to feel more full, meaning you won’t have to eat as much of it.
Now the key here is that you won’t have to eat as much to feel full, but if you’re someone who decides how much to eat based on how delicious it tastes (*cough cough* not that I know anything about that), then remember that just because fat is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Or I should qualify that: you can eat as much as you want and also meet your weight loss goals.
- Low fat foods displace healthy fats with empty carbohydrates, often in the form of processed ingredients that are difficult to pronounce let alone understand what they are?
I’m not actually a fan of mayonnaise to begin with, but at least the full fat version is made primarily with real foods. Meanwhile the low fat version replaces the yolk of the eggs with a bunch of stuff that I know I don’t think I want in my body.That didn’t speak to you? How about this example:
Anyone know what a propylene glycol monoester is? Or ice structuring protein? Are you really willing to eat whatever those things are to save yourself 50 calories per serving?
Here’s the real truth: the occasional serving of full fat ice cream is not going to make you fat. What will is that big bowl of ice cream that is really 4 or 5 servings. Want to meet your weight goals without putting unpronounceable mystery foods into your mouth? Eat real ice cream, but remember that “a bowl of ice cream” is not the same thing as “a serving of ice cream”, and that eating it every day is not going to help your cause.
- Some of nature’s most amazing foods are fatty.
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing someone say they don’t eat eggs, avocados, or nuts because they are too fatty. I’m not frustrated with the person who says these things; I’m frustrated with the person who taught them that they should avoid these foods.The egg may be the perfect food. One egg is only 90 calories, is a complete protein, and it is chock full of micronutrients (fancy talk for vitamins and minerals). Even their shape and structure is amazing! (haha – that’s the engineer in me). Avocados and nuts are not quite perfect, but still incredible beacons of health. Of course portion size is relevant with these deliciously healthy gems. Sadly this means that eating a whole bowl of guacamole is not your best bet, but eating some guacamole sure is. So how can you include these healthy foods? Consider having an omelette for breakfast – or lunch if you want to be daring. I like my omelettes with 2 eggs and 1 egg white, and mixed in with veggies, some salsa, and a bit of cheese. Sooo good.
Avocado can be an incredible addition to a sandwich or salad. 1/2 an avocado in a salad adds 10 times* the delicious with only an extra 150 calories. Similarly, try 1/4 of a ripe avocado on a sandwich instead of mayonnaise. It is tasty and healthy, and will help to fill you up. Chicken and avocado is a fantastic combination. And if you happened to have some sprigs of coriander (cilantro) to add, all the better.* not a statistically reliable value.?
Almonds make a great snack on their own – 1/4 cup is about 200 calories, or try 2 tablespoons and a banana, which together is about 200 calories. Don’t forget adding some almonds to your morning oatmeal.
So there you have it – don’t be afraid to eat fat. What you should be afraid of is a list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce or recognize!