Monday, March 5, 2012

The war on fat and salt

Hello. My name is Alexandra, and I like fat. I like salt, too. In fact, I'd hazard to say that everyone does. I can't drink or eat low-fat anything. It doesn't taste good to me and something in my gut told me to trust that.

We like fats, salt, and sugar because we need them to survive. Our brain can't run without them. They also don't occur in nature in large amounts so we're programmed to crave them. So...why are we demonizing them? If you eat too much of anything, it's problematic. It's simplistic but easy to understand why fat would make someone fat, but in this case, it's not the truth!

The issue
There is fat and salt in most processed foods in places you may not even expect (same with HFCS), and our bodies did not evolve to handle that much of it. And of course, most Americans eat quite a lot of processed food. I'd love to go into how we evolved and what we ate, but I'll save that for another post.
So then what's wrong with low-fat and low-sodium? Well, I'll tell you what. If something doesn't taste satisfying, we probably won't feel satisfied. Fats help us feel fuller and satisfied for a longer period of time. Sometimes low-fat and low-sodium foods are just gross. So what happens when we eat our "Lite" soup and it tastes like watered-down vegetable puree? Well, we might add a ton of salt to it anyway just to make it palatable. Or, we might just be unhappy and unsatisfied and still feel hungry and so we'll eat another can. Or, we may even take it a step further and eat a fat- and salt-laden soup anyway. So now, we're eating more calories than we would have if we just ate the "bad" soup. Another reason is that in the absence of fat, sugar and ingredients you probably don't recognize as actual ingredients are usually added so that there is still some sort of flavor. If I eat two low-fat soups in order to feel as satisfied as if I ate one regular soup, I'd have just eaten more than twice the amount of sugar I normally would have. 

Processed foods
There are a lot of bad things about processed foods, and one of them is that they contain more sugar, salt, and sometimes fat than you probably would add if you made them yourself. It's certainly more convenient to nuke a bowl of instant maple brown sugar Cream of Wheat, but you probably wouldn't add nearly that much sugar if you bought the plain flavor and "seasoned" it yourself.

Low-fat dairy products really aren't good for you
Low-fat dairy products are touted by nutritionists as being better for you than their full-fat counterparts. The only thing they're right about is that there is less fat in low-fat products. That does not mean they're good for you! Here's a great example of what most nutritionists say; notice that the only basis they have for what makes something healthy or not is how many calories, and specifically calories from fat, is in the product. That is so over simplified!!!

Milk, as many of you know, contains lactose, a type of sugar. It also contains protein. Full-fat milk contains naturally occurring vitamins, dietary fiber, CLA, iron, and linoleic acid, an essential fat. When they remove some of the fat, it increases the percentages of carbohydrate and protein in the milk and removes all those great things I just listed. The protein content is usually improved by adding dry milk powder to the milk, which introduces more health risks. Basically, you remove fat, and you end up with more sugar in your glass of milk and fewer health benefits. If there is any ingredient that runs the risk of making you fat, it's sugar.

So...are people that are trying to lose weight by choosing low-fat dairy products eating more sugar than they would have if they didn't avoid fat? YES!

This table I copied from the VegSource is super helpful in seeing how carbs increase when you remove fat.

Now, if you really want benefits from your milk, buy raw, unpasteurized, grass-fed milk. Good luck, though, since it's illegal. The next best thing is grass-fed milk from pastured cows.

The war on sugar is probably more justified, since overconsumption seems to be the biggest player in the obesity and diabetes epidemic our country is facing today. Again, sugar isn't automatically bad for you. Don't demonize a peach. It's the amounts and frequency with which we eat it that's the problem. We have to be aware of how prevalent added sugar is in processed food, too. Also in the case of fruits, the sugar isn't delivered to our cells the same way as it is in a processed food product. I can't really improve on this description from
Fruit sugar, locked into the soft fibers of fresh fruit, is the most perfect fuel for the cells. Gentle, slow-releasing, and energy-sustaining, it is compounded with vitamins, minerals, water-soluble proteins, enzymes and trace elements. As the blood carries fructose to every cell, these life-giving elements are compounded with the fructose molecule, allowing the nutrients to be highly absorbable and readily used. Fructose molecules act as a delivery system to your cells.

This article helps answer the question "how does sugar get converted into fat?". It makes those sugary "fat-free" products laughable. Well yeah, fat-free now, but in about 5 minutes...

Saturated fats aren't always bad
There's also this idea that all saturated fats are bad for you. Why do we have to be food scientists to know what's good or bad for us? I'm sure that if you held an avocado in one hand and a piece of fried chicken in the other, you would instinctively know that the fat in the avocado is better for you than the fat in the fried chicken. You don't feel icky after eating guacamole, you feel clean. I do! Avocados DO have a lot of saturated fat, but it's poly-saturated fat. But, the point is, we shouldn't have to know that to know that an avocado is good for us and fried chicken is less good.

This study shows that saturated fats aren't necessarily linked to cardiovascular disease, which is what we're being fed on a daily basis.

So basically
It's not black and white. Fat doesn't automatically make a food unhealthful. Neither does salt. Fruit has sodium in it, for cracker's sake. We need to get back in touch with what  makes our body feel good and stop worrying about counting calories and trusting the ridiculous barrage of misinformation in the form of ads and food labels (which you can read more about here).


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