Dangers of a Low-Fat Diet
Find out why we may be getting fat all wrong.
Fat isn’t good for you. Right?
That’s at least been the conventional wisdom over the past few decades. But the science has evolved and we’re now taking a fresh look at fat and what role it plays in our diets. The encouraging news is that we may have been unreasonably harsh in our criticism.
Wait. Have we been getting fat all wrong?
To find out, we went straight to our resident nutrition expert, Kristina Sommer, who has over 11 years experience in the fitness industry as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. She has a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification, along with several NASM certifications. Basically, she knows her stuff!
Kristina dispelled some fat myths for us and tells us why we should consider adding more fat (the right kind!) to our diets:
Snap Fitness (SF): For decades, fat has widely been considered to be bad for us. So why do we need them in our diet and what are the dangers of a low-fat diet?
Kristina Sommer: Healthy fats are needed in our diets to help provide an optimal functioning metabolism. They help our bodies produce hormones and are also important for cell growth and immune function. The storing and mobilizing of fats is how we regulate our energy.
By not providing our body with the right balance of healthy fats, we can be causing distress to our hormones and creating more oxidative stress in the body that can break down your immune system. Low fat diets have also been linked to the thinning of hair, decreased energy, decrease in mental clarity and even infertility!
Many people avoid fats to reduce cholesterol levels, when actually a balance of the good healthy fats are needed for healthy cholesterol balances and to keep your HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol”) levels where they need to be.
SF: Sounds like fats are pretty important! But what kind of fats would you then recommend people have in their diet?
Kristina: You want a balance of several types of fats. Getting a balance of natural fats from animal and plant sources is key. Foods that are richer in the omega-3 fatty acids are the most beneficial for our bodies. These can help reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. The good monounsaturated fats can help balance insulin levels, which can help reduce belly fat while helping with weight loss. They can also increase energy!
SF: Can you give us a few examples of the good kinds of fat?
Kristina: Sure! But remember, healthy fats are to be consumed in smaller portions. Healthy fats are much more calorie-dense than protein and carbs. Fats have 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs only have 4 calories per gram. Here are some healthy fats:
- Olives/olive oil
- Salmon (wild caught) or other fatty fish
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Grass fed Beef (lean)
- Raw nuts and seeds (non GMO)
- Chia and flax seed. I know they’re not commonly thought of fats, but these seeds are a great source of fiber and alpha lipoic acid that convert into omega-3s.
- REAL butter (artificial ones actually have trace levels of trans fats!).
- Natural aged cheeses like feta, goat, ricotta, etc. Try to avoid the fake and overly-processed cheeses that often come in singles.
SF: What are the other kinds of fat?
Kristina: Here is a breakdown on the different types of fat and where you find them:
Saturated fats = Animal fats and Tropical oils (like Palm or coconut).
Monounsaturated fats = Plant based fats (Avocados, ground nuts and tree nuts).
Polyunsaturated = Omega 3: Flax and fish. Omega 6: Seed oils (canola, safflower or sunflower).
Transfats = Man-made/chemically enhanced.
Simply put: the more natural form the fats are — and the less processed they are — the healthier they will be.
SF: With so many benefits, why does fat get such a bad rap?
Kristina: Fat gets a bad rap from the chemically created fats, known as trans fats. This is what you will find in fried foods, processed foods, or “food” that is basically man-made. Food companies are getting smarter and calling these bad fats new things to throw consumers off.
Try looking for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in your food labels. This essentially means it’s a trans fat. What is happening is unsaturated are taken fat and bubbling hydrogen ions are put through it. This changes the fat’s structure so it behaves like a saturated fat and “hardens.” This is done to enhance flavor and increases shelf life. But these trans fats can increase the risk for coronary heart disease, increase levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), cancer, increased inflammation and they have been linked to Alzheimer's.
Here’s a list of common foods that can have the bad kind of fats in them:
- Cakes, pies, doughnuts and cookies
- Microwave popcorn
- Fried fast foods
- Frozen pizza and frozen dinners
- Vegetable shortening
- Non-dairy creamers
SF: Awesome! Thanks for all the info Kristina. Any last recommendations on fats?
Kristina: Try and stick with food sources that come from its closes natural form. Having a good balance of healthy fats in your diet is far from a bad thing. Just remember your portion size of good fats is smaller than you think. Here is an easy way to measure: For fat-dense foods – like oils, butters, nut butters, nuts/seeds – use your entire thumb to determine your serving size. For men I recommend 2 thumb sized portions, for women 1 thumb sized portion.
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