FEATURE AUGUST 2012
Weighty Matters By Christine Cronau
A L O W - FAT D I E T I S A B I G M I S TA K E
onventional wisdom tells us that a diet low in fat and full of whole grains will help us lose weight and stay healthy. But one of the biggest health mistakes women make is to go low fat. We have been indoctrinated about the dangers of fat for the last few decades, and most women have become very diligent in avoiding it. But, when dietary fat is removed, it is often replaced with sugar and grain. A typical 200g tub of low fat yoghurt contains 7 tsp of sugar. Hearty breakfasts like bacon and eggs have been replaced with whole-grain toast and low-fat spread, or branfilled cereal with fat-free milk. This might not seem so bad, but sugar and grains make us fat. Surprisingly, fat cannot make us fat. It seems shocking, but it is a simple fact that few people know about. Am I talking about the good fats like those in avocados and olives? They are beautiful fats, but I am actually referring to real fats like butter, coconut oil and animal fat (crispy skin on chicken or duck, or crunchy pork crackling). But arenâ€™t these fats saturated? We have all been warned about artery clogging saturated fats, right? Surprisingly, studies have shown that the build up in our arteries is not comprised of saturated fats at all, in fact, they are mostly by polyunsaturated fat. Research shows that the short and medium chained fatty acids in butter and coconut oil are used immediately for energy and not stored in the body. Therefore, they cannot contribute to weight gain or atherosclerosis (plaque in the arteries). In fact, these are fats that we have been eating for the majority of our human evolution, and we only started avoiding them in the 1950s based on the unproven theory of one scientist. What has our obsession with low fat diets achieved over the last fifty years? Are we thinner? Do we suffer from less heart disease? I think we all know the answer. The low-fat craze has made us sicker and fatter, and that is because it was never the fat. The fat has been replaced with substances that do make us fat. Back in the 1940s, farmers decided to try and fatten their cattle prior to market by feeding them saturated fat, so they fed them coconut oil, which is 95% saturated. To their surprise, the cows did not gain weight and in fact, they lost weight and became more active. This is because the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil boost metabolism, increase energy and help to burn stored body fat. What do modern farmers use to fatten cows? Grain! Healthy whole grains do not just fatten cows, they fatten us too. Why? The only foods that prompt our body to store fat are those that trigger an insulin
AUGUST 2012 FEATURE
response, and the only foods that can do that are carbohydrates (sugars and grains). Insulin is a hormone that transports and stores the extra sugar in our blood. Its role is to store excess nutrients for later use so that we can survive times of famine. The extra sugar in our blood is stored as glycogen in our liver and muscles. We have evolved to eat carbohydrates, in the form of vegetables and fruits, so it is a completely natural process. Today, we eat too many carbohydrates and produce too much insulin. Our bodies have to figure out what to do with the excess glycogen. In most cases, it is stored in our fat cells, which is why most of us struggle with excess weight. In a bid to be healthy, we often eat more of the foods that make us fat, and avoid the foods that will not.
They were hard workers, under-nourished, under-fed, and yet still fat. Not just fat, but obese. Their traditional foods had been replaced by refined, Western foods. Examples of malnutrition coupled with obesity are widespread, from the early 1900s until now, including many hard working, poor (most doing hard labour), from all over the world. The experts recognised this important link back in the 1970s, and often referred to obesity as a form of malnutrition. In fact, those observations are still continuing today. Benjamin Caballero, head of the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins University, described a visit to a clinic in Brazil where he was shocked to see obese mothers in the clinic with small, undernourished children.
We have not always struggled with weight
Why reduced calorie, low fat diets do not work
Most people do not realise that our modern struggle with weight is a very new phenomenon. In the early 1800s, extra weight was a non-issue, and obesity was unheard of. What changed between the late 1800s and the early 1900s? Sugar consumption doubled between 1890 and 1920. The first soft drink and confectionary companies were formed in the early 1920s. Heart disease was also practically non-existent in the 1800s. When did it raise its ugly head? The first documented case of heart disease was in 1926, described by Dr James Herrick in the United States. Diabetes was also non-existent in the early 1800s, but diabetes deaths in the U.S. increased more than four times between 1900 and 1920. Saturated fat has been blamed for the increase of heart disease and diabetes and for the increase in obesity, but between 1910 and 1970, butter consumption reduced dramatically, from over eight kilos per person every year to just under one kilo, and was replaced with margarine. Vegetable shortenings were used liberally in baking and convenience foods, and the consumption of vegetable oils tripled. In the early 1930s, after her arrival in America, Hilde Bruch, a German pediatrician, said, ‘I was startled by the large number of fat children, really fat ones, not only in clinics, but on the street and subways, and in schools'. Clearly, she was not used to seeing overweight children in Germany. In case you are tempted to think these kids were eating too much, Hilde’s observation was made in the middle of the great depression. In fact, there is a strong link between the poor, malnutrition, and obesity. How could that be? It is not the volume of food making us fat, but the type of food changing the way our body metabolises and stores fat. The foods most readily available to the poor are cheap, white flour, sugar, margarine and cheap vegetable oils - all foods that did not exist for the majority of human history, as eggs and meats are expensive. A great example is the Pima people in the late 1800s, which had previously been one of the most affluent Native American tribes in the U.S., but became extremely poor after settlers moved in, diverted the river and over-hunted. The Pima became reliant on government rations, which consisted of large portions of processed flour and sugar.
If we have a strong link between obesity and under-eating, why does conventional wisdom tell us to reduce our caloric intake, especially with all the research that shows it does not work? Studies continue to show that when women under-eat, they do lose a small percentage of weight. However, they actually lose muscle and gain fat. Even though they think
...is that an acceptable way to go through life? Continually starving, hoping to lose a few pounds? they have lost a few pounds, they have in fact gained fat. The weight normally returns as soon as they stop dieting (more fat). If we starve enough, we will eventually waste away - we lose fat and muscle. But is that an acceptable way to go through life? Continually starving, hoping to lose a few pounds? If our body starves it goes into preservation mode. It stores everything it can, and as soon as the ‘starvation’ is over, it quickly breathes a sigh of relief, and stores everything else it can to get ready for the next time. This is why we have a billion-dollar weight loss industry, and we keep coming back for more because we do not have a solution.
Forget dieting, forget low-fat
The great news is that we can now indulge in many foods that we have been avoiding for years, including butter and other delicious fats that add flavour to food. The only foods we need to avoid are the excess sugars and other carbohydrates and processed vegetable oils. For now, stick to natural fats like butter, coconut oil and animal fat. Christine Cronau has been studying health and nutrition for over 10 years, and has become passionate about sharing her discoveries with others. Christine exposes major food myths that are keeping people overweight and unhealthy, and shares her secrets for looking and feeling great at any age. www.christinecronau.com