The debate of which macro-nutrient to blame for our dietary woes has been going on for years. When I was a college student it was fat. This short word was preached as an obscenity, F.A.T., and avoided like the plague. Our flee from fat led us down a differnt route of adipose collection, fat-free but sugar laden snack foods. I still remember the trips to 'Yogurt Stop' for our 20 ounce fat-free frozen yogurt treats, and also the sugar crashes hours later. At least we were eating guilt-free, or were we?
Today the battle still continues. What should we eat? Low carbohydrate? Low fat? High protein? Or a personalized cocktail of all three based on our gut microbiome. Why does it have to be so complicated? As Michael Pollen would say, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." If this message was as clear as it reads, possibly we would not have the high prevalence of chronic disease related to diet.
As a researcher and food enthusiast I too find the message unclear at times. I personally know what works for my metabolic systems to provide optimum energy and homeostasis, but this is the result of decades of self study and education. Therefore, how can we expect the public to understand the conflicting health messages.
As we are taught, the answers are within the research. Right? Yes and no. The problem is, we still need more research and often the answers will never point to one perfect way of eating. In regards to fat, current research identifies that a relationship exists between dietary fat type, amount of fat and the relationship with disease incidence. So, what should we be eating?
A large except taken from a recent Harvard School of Public Health magazine presents a good summary of fat facts:
"In the case of dietary fat, most scientists do agree on a number of points. First, eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent insulin resistance. Second, replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates will not reduce heart disease risk. Third, olive oil, canola oil, and soybean oil are good for you—as are nuts (especially walnuts), which, while they include some saturated fat, are also high in unsaturated fat, tipping the balance in their favor. Finally, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for many biological processes—from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function—and we should eat a variety of healthy foods, such as fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, to obtain adequate amounts of both fatty acids.
Other, finer points are still unclear. For instance, monounsaturated fat is believed to lower risk for heart disease. But it’s difficult to study in Western populations, because most people get their monounsaturated fat from meat and dairy, which are also full of saturated fat. Still, people can choose from a variety of monounsaturated-fat-rich foods, such as peanuts and most tree nuts, avocados, and, of course, olive oil. And though scientists agree that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, they debate how much of each we actually need...While the public may find such uncertainty disconcerting, there are always unknowns at the forward edge of science. And scientists will sometimes disagree—even when they work at the same institution, as Willett and Mozaffarian demonstrate. Much as we’d prefer clear-cut answers, pure and simple truths, they are not always easy to come by."
Remember, fat is not a four letter word, and neither is carbohydrate. The solution to dietary complexity is to embrace variety and moderation.
The Digestible; a site for easy to understand food, nutrition, health, and energy balance information.