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Fat: Not As Bad As We Thought

Research is increasingly showing that carbohydrates - not fats - are lead contributors to heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Woman In Red With Fingers In Shape Of Heart

Photo: snarky_momma (flickr)

The real culprits that play a major factor in health problems like heart disease may be carbohydrates and sugars, not fats.

What Should We Think About Fat?

Fat – the reigning food villain since the 1980s – may not be as unhealthy as was once perceived.

Based on a decade of mounting studies and research, scientists and dietitians say that fat does not significantly contribute to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. The real culprits that play a major factor in these health epidemics may be carbohydrates and sugars.

This may sound confusing because food producers have consistently promoted a low-fat diet for decades. However, a low-fat diet may actually increase the chance of health problems because the fat is normally replaced by carbohydrates.

Debunking the Myth

According to Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, “The country’s big low-fat message backfired. The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”

Many studies and tests showed that consuming too many carbohydrates raised the risk of disease and obesity more than consuming fat.

“No randomized trial looking at weight change has shown that people did better on a low-fat diet,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School points out. “For many people, low-fat diets are even worse than moderate or high-fat diets because they’re often high in carbohydrates from rapidly digested foods such as white flour, white rice, potatoes, refined snacks and sugary drinks.”

Carbohydrates And Your Pancreas: Finding A Balance

Carbohydrates are difficult for the body to digest, and we eat a lot of them. For a person with a healthy metabolism, the system starts well. When you eat carbohydrates, they quickly turn into sugar in your blood. Your pancreas produces insulin, which takes this new sugar and stores it as fuel. Your body won’t access this stored fuel unless carbohydrates aren’t consumed.

After a while, though, this system begins to falter. Because our bodies aren’t evolved to handle such a high density of carbohydrates and refined sugars, such an onslaught of sugars from carbohydrates tires out the pancreas. On top of that, cells become more resistant to insulin over time, so the pancreas has to work harder as it gets older. When the pancreas gets too exhausted to make enough insulin for the amount of sugar in the blood, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes develop.

Fats And Cholesterol

It is true that fat can raise your “bad” L.D.L cholesterol that is related to heart disease, but it also elevates your “good” H.D.L cholesterol that is vital to health. Foods with fat in them are usually a mix of different types of fat, some of which like omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial.

Additionally, people tend to lose weight on low-carb diets even if they have a high fat content because fat and protein increase satisfaction and reduce appetite.

“At my obesity clinic, my default diet for treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome is a low-carb diet,” says Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University Medical Center. “If you take carbohydrates away, all these things get better.”

Don’t Overdo it, Though!

However, before you jump onto an extremely high-fat, very low-carb diet, important nutritional rules of thumb still apply.

A candy bar that is high in fat is also high in carbohydrates and sugars. High-fat chips still have too much sodium. Many processed foods that have a lot of fat also have a lot of chemicals and processed ingredients. Highly-refined trans fat does not have the nutritional benefits of other fats.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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  • http://kas.tumblr.com/ Jack Damn

    All carbohydrates? Even complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or steel cut oats? Or are we just talking about SIMPLE carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice, etc?

    Should I dump my brown rice for a steak? So my lunch today, short grain brown rice, 1 fresh beat, chopped red onion and fresh asparagus, is worse than a steak? So that brown rice is killing me? Should be eating a Big Mac instead (without the bun of course)?

    Really?

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