The truth about low-fat foods
Those of us watching our weight, managing our cholesterol levels or eating for a healthy heart mostly choose the low-fat option – fat-free desserts, low-fat biscuits and calorie-counted ready meals. But while our shopping baskets are full to bursting with these so-called guilt-free foods, which are more expensive, we are not getting thinner or healthier. This raises the question as to whether these low-fat foods are really as good for us as we originally thought? What is the truth about low-fat foods?
Let’s take a closer look.
Since the 1980s there’s been a boom in low-fat products as we were informed that for heart health and general weight control, we needed to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diets. This meant cutting back on whole fat dairy foods, red meat and processed foods. It’s true that saturated fat is the type of fat primarily responsible for clogging our arteries and increasing cholesterol levels.
But, as we came to terms with this, the food industry started replacing the animal fats in their products with un-saturated vegetable oils. Some of the changes they had to make included altering the structure of the vegetable oil so it could be used in the place of solid fats using a process called hydrogenation, which created a solid or semi-solid fat thought to be more appropriate for their food processing needs.
now know that these hydrogenated fats actually increase levels of dangerous trans-fats which are both bad for the heart and our cholesterol. Although trans-fats can be found at low levels in some natural foods these man-made versions meant it was likely we were eating more of them instead of less.
So are we better off or worse off with low-fat foods?
Then as if this wasn’t enough, manufacturers also started to increase the amount of sugar in their products so that they would still taste good. The typical low-fat product was now high in carbs, might contain trans-fats and at the end of the day had a very similar calorie count to the original product. This can lead to blood sugar swings and cravings making it more difficult to control our overall calorie intake – which means that second or third ‘low fat’ biscuit starts to look very tempting!
A diet too high in these refined carbs and sugars can be as unhealthy as a high-fat diet because it increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and causes high cholesterol levels. So again we ask, are we making any progress at all?
Good fats and bad fats
We all need some fat in our diet as this makes it all more palatable and tasty. Nutritionally, fats do more than simply supply calories. Certain fats, like those in nuts, seeds and oily varieties of fish provide essential fatty acids that are important for maintaining healthy blood vessels, making hormones and for the correct functioning of our nervous system.
The fat in our diet also helps us absorb certain vitamins, the fat-soluble ones, which include A, D, E and K. Following a very low-fat diet makes you more likely to be low in these vitamins and that can impact your immunity, limit the body’s ability to heal itself and have an influence on bone health.
So, it’s better to focus on the healthier fats by including more fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils including avocado and olives.
All labels and marketing gimmicks aside, here’s a sure way to make your meals naturally fat-healthy
Make sure you’re getting good fats:
Eating more fish, nuts and seeds – for example choose salmon instead of bacon for a weekend brunch; snack on unsalted nuts rather than crisps.
Removing the skin from poultry and trimming visible fat from other cuts of meat.
Checking labels on food products.
Using good quality un-saturated oils, like walnut or pumpkin, for dipping your bread instead of using spreads.
Avoid frying instead steam, bake, poach or grill.
Replace mayo with plain yogurt – just add a squeeze of lemon juice and some mixed herbs, chives work well.
Make chips by baking chunky cut potato wedges with a drizzle of rapeseed oil and a sprinkle of paprika.
Take a look at the locally made products available now in Botswana on Skymartbw, many of which are made with natural home grown ingredients