We’ve all heard the dietary advice to reduce fat, sugar and salt and increase fibre. We’re all aware that obesity is on the increase and we are told this is a bad thing. I’ve just been reading a couple of interesting nutrition articles (yes, once in a while I hark back to my nutritionist days and read some research) that challenge some of my prior knowledge and even the advice that I have given people in the past. Much of what I read was familiar, but some new angles on it came to light.
So, we think we need to reduce fat. But what does that actually mean? The research actually shows that it is not so much about reducing fat in our diet as it is about increasing a particular kind of fat – polyunsaturated fatty acids (also known as PUFAs) and within that especially what is known as ‘n-3’ and ‘n-6’ fatty acids. It seems that if we really want to reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, we should concentrate on increasing PUFAs in our diet rather than focusing on cutting back saturated and monounsaturated fats.
So, where can PUFAs be found? Good sources include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds (for all three of these some are better sources of n-6 and n-3 than others), avocados and oily fish (like salmon, herring or tuna). Typically if you are trying to lose weight, you might avoid these foods due to their fat content, but it is probably more to your advantage to increase these foods in your diet than it is to lose weight! Much to my chagrin I have been reading that being overweight can even increase life-expectancy, rather than decrease it (though this doesn’t mean that if you are happily slim I am about to advocate a weight-gain program) – what is more important is behavioural patterns and the kinds of foods we eat, rather than our actual size.
Also, if you reduce fats but just end up increasing refined carbohydrates to replace them you could possibly be making things worse. Instead, when eating carbohydrates, make sure that you are having them in the form of whole grains, vegetables and fruits. If you are familiar with the Glycaemic Index, you want to focus on low GI rather than high GI carbs. These foods can all have a positive impact on your health.
Coming back to the issue of size. While ‘normal’ weight people have lower levels of disease, there currently isn’t any real proof that if an overweight person loses weight, they reduce their disease risk. What seems to be more important is adjusting behaviour rather than size. In fact, many people who try to lose weight often end up putting it back on again, and then trying to lose it again, and it becomes something of a cycle. It seems that this constant up and down is more harmful than staying a consistent weight, harmful for both your body and emotional state!
In summary, if you want to improve your health and reduce disease risk, focus on what you can increase rather than on what you can decrease. Focus less on losing weight and more on listening to your body and mind, taking note of how food affects your mood, concentration, energy levels, fullness, hunger, ease of bowel movement and appetite. Enjoy your food! Focus less on reducing fat and calories and more on eating yummy foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. And finally, don’t forget to stay active – another vital ingredient for healthy living.
Let’s be amazed over our incredible bodies. Every cell is a miracle – beautifully designed! I like to remember that we are all wonderfully created, formed and fashioned by a God who loves us without partiality. So, here’s to more yummy food!!
P.S. The above comments are based on the two articles listed below. These articles look at a vast range of studies and compare and contrast them to see what common threads emerge. If you look on the internet you will find a load of people saying opposing things, and it’s true that advice changes as new research emerges and what I have written may need adapting in ten years’ time, but let’s be careful who we believe!
Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2011) Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 10:9
Liu, A. et al. (2017) A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition Journal 16:53