Forget reality TV. The real action is happening on the fat front.
There are two distinct sides to this controversial issue. In the low-fat, high-carb corner are true believers, government agencies and professional organizations who zealously support the “less is best” theory of fat consumption. In the other corner, the high-fat, low-carb group is lead by diet book authors, as well as some respectable researchers and epidemiologists (scientist who study health trends in populations).
How did we get to this face-off? If we look at our recent eating history as rounds in a boxing match, Round 1 would be the 1970”s. Researchers were examining both sides of the fat issue – moderate-to-high fat intakes versus low fat intakes. Both sides scored points for their positions. Then, along came the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the first national dietary guidelines, which convinced many professional groups that low fat was best.
Round 2 was the 1980s, where “all you can eat” low-fat eating plans and fat-free foods were crowd pleasers. The food industry flooded the market with low-fat products and the American public ate them up, getting heavier and heavier. What was forgotten in this period was the basic premise of low-fat eating — eat less fat, but replace it with high-fiber carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Americans instead went for low-fat cookies, nonfat salad dressings, and plates of pasta.
Then came Round 3. The low-fat group was close to a knockout. Researchers, government agencies, and many professional organizations had endorsed low-fat, high-carb as the way to go. All that was needed was one last vote by the public to make the decision unanimous. The problem was that the public was having trouble fitting through the revolving doors of the arena.
In the wings this whole time was a small but vocal group of unlikely allies — diet book authors touting high-fat, low-carb eating plans, along with some researchers and epidemiologists. They were seeing something very interesting. People who cut back on carbs and ate more fat didn’t get fat. Instead they were losing weight, and their risks for heart disease went down.
The high-fat group got up off the mat and came back strong. People started shunning carbs, and eating bacon and butter again. The food industry began churning out a whole new selection of low-carb, higher-fat products.
Stay tuned for Round 4. Over the last 35 years we’ve learned a great deal. We are now redirecting recommendations from a low fat to a moderate fat message. And, more importantly, we realize that not all fats are created equally. Some are good for us, some are bad for us, and some probably should be avoided all together.
For more information on buying, eating and watching the fat in your diet, look for the newly released The Fat Counter, 6th Ed., by Annette B. Natow, PhD and Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, available at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com.