The low-fat food deception
There is very little actual medical science that supports the argument for stripping out healthy fats from food, then loading those foods with sugars and artificial flavors to make us want to eat more and more of them.
It sounds harsh, but it is very much the way things have developed. The low-fat diet has been lauded as the healthy diet of choice by the food industry since the late ’70s and early ’80s, and it’s a lie that’s been perpetuated ever since, based on shoddy – or non-existent and therefore made up – evidence. The proof is right there in front of us.
As the low-fat food craze started to take hold, worldwide obesity rates began to rise, and today they are up three-fold since the 1980s. Now while many of us have accepted our “new sizes” as the norm, none of us are feeling the same about the rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. – which are directly tied to poor nutrition and obesity. Today those NCDs are the leading cause of death in every region of the world, except Africa.
But how, and why, has this been allowed to happen? To get a handle on that, we must first understand exactly what it means when people talk about “fats” and take a look at how, in removing them from food, people are making way for something much, much worse.
Fat doesn’t make you fat
It could be said we have been conditioned to believe that fatty foods make us fat, or perhaps we have simply made what seems like an obvious assumption. Whatever the source of this misconception, our understanding of fats is not helping the situation. Our beliefs, in other words, make us easy targets.
Eating fat does not make you fat. On the contrary, eating the right fats can actually help you control your weight.
Eating fat does not make you fat. On the contrary, eating the right fats can actually help you control your weight. Yes, really! Getting 40 percent of your calories from fats from the right food sources – such as coconut oil, avocados, meats, nuts, seeds, and much more – helps keep hunger under control while ensuring your body gets a number of vital nutrients.
Having said that, it’s important to understand that there are several types of fats in our diet – some good, some bad. So let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with:
Saturated fats have long been known as the “bad boys” of the Western diet. But contrary to popular belief, reducing your intake of saturated fat will not lower your risk of heart disease or reduce your “bad cholesterol” levels. In fact, saturated fats have actually been proven to promote healthy heart function, liver health and boost the immune system.
Then there is monounsaturated fats. Found in a variety of foods from avocados and olives to nuts and seeds, these fall very much in the “good” category, providing us with essential nutrients for cell development and helping our bodies to regulate blood sugar levels. But what surprises most people is that these fats can actually help to lower our LDL levels – otherwise known as “bad cholesterol” – which really sums up just how skewed our views on fats are.
Another fat that has a positive impact on cholesterol levels is the polyunsaturated variety. These essential fats, found mainly in fish, nuts and flax seeds, are also known to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure.
Finally, there is a type of fat with absolutely zero redeeming qualities – trans-fats. And guess what, this is the only man-made entry on this list. That’s right, trans-fats are created by turning liquid oils into solid fats through a chemical process, largely for the purpose of adding flavour and for increasing the shelf-life of processed foods. To say trans-fats have no nutritional qualities really is an understatement, because in truth, they are deadly, and are responsible for a major increase in, among others, cardiovascular diseases.
The art of deception
So why then are we still seeing fats removed from our foods, with seemingly no positive health effects? The answer is that it’s all a distraction technique. By convincing us that “low-fat = healthy”, the food industry hides its guilty secret – sugar – and as American endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig recently testified, it is in fact sugar, and not fat, that is the biggest culprit when it comes to obesity levels.
In his book, Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, Lustig concludes that increased insulin levels are responsible for 75 to 80 percent of all obesity – with sugar the leading factor at play. And as we know, it’s not just obesity that we have sugar to thank for, it’s also all the deadly NCDs I mentioned above – which are sweeping across the UAE and now account for over two-thirds of all deaths in the Gulf region.
What’s more, as well as the low-fat message burying the lead regarding sugar content, it’s also the case that higher doses of sugar are actively added to non-fat and low-fat foods to improve the taste that disappears when the fat is stripped out. This is endemic across almost every variety of low-fat food. A few quick examples: there are leading brands of 0% fat yogurts which contain over 20 grams of sugar, granola energy bars that have 10 grams or more, skim milk that has as much as 15-20 grams per serving – and the list goes on and on.
But could this all really be a deliberate deception? Unfortunately, it looks that way. Because even if it didn’t start deliberately, the evidence against the low-fat craze is now so entirely overwhelming that it would be time to fess up. So really, what’s going on?
The same thing that has always gone on, really. And if we travel back in history we become privy to facts that make the whole situation appear even uglier (if that’s at all possible). The roots of the low-fat deception in fact began in the 1950s when American scientist Ancel Keys – whose findings have since been largely discredited – launched his hypothesis on the link between fat consumption and an increased risk of heart disease. Keys, for what many believe were political reasons, was incredibly selective in presenting his findings, cherry-picking only the results of studies that suited his own narrative.
Keys was opposed from the outset by British physician John Yudkin – who knew that sugar, and not fat, was the cause of heart disease – and presented very clear evidence to back up his belief in his book, Pure, white and deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it. Yudkin however was roundly ridiculed by Keys, and it was the latter’s work that went on to form the basis of the United States, and many other countries, government policies towards diet and nutrition.
these policies were responsible for promoting a diet that led to a steep rise in cardiovascular diseases
And these policies were responsible for promoting a diet that led to a steep rise in cardiovascular diseases – which in turn would be treated with medications that, well, were having little effect. Those meds referred to are statins, and they continue to be the best-selling drugs in the history of pharmaceuticals.
There are millions of other reasons why this misinformation has been perpetuated for so long – and each are shaped like a dollar bill. One of the biggest proponents of the low-fat diet is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1917 and which describes itself as “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals”. This group actively encourages sugar consumption as part of a “healthy, balanced diet”.
You’d be forgiven, having read this article, for wondering why an organisation whose focus is on nutrition would be recommending the consumption of the biggest enemy of the Western diet. That is until you realise who helps to fund the AND: Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Unilever, among others.
How to avoid the low-fat trap
Now, of course, I am simply calling it as I see it, and there are many people out there who would talk down any intentional foul play when it comes to the creation and perpetuation of misinformation regarding low-fat food. However, what is beyond any doubt is that low-fat foods – and their often astronomical sugar content – are no good for our health and should be removed from our diet.
How to do this? Nothing new here: Simply eat like our Paleo ancestors did, taking in a good balance of fruit, veg, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, and healthy oils. And you know what? By doing that you will be getting a good dose of healthy fats. Yup, those same healthy fats that are stripped out of those low-fat foods. And guess what else? You will be so much healthier because of it.
The onus of a good diet is very much on people to educate themselves and make the right choices. And please, by all means do your own research. Results are believing, after all, and that is all that counts as far as you should be concerned.
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The opinions in the column are by Dr Graham Simpson, and are not necessarily those held by Esquire or Hearst International. Dr Simpson is Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Intelligent Health, a preventive medical centre located in Jumeirah, Dubai. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine. As a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) Dr Simpson is also a licensed homeopath.