Submitted by: Joanne Perez, Real Bite Nutrition
Low carb, low fat, low sodium, low energy-Our country is obsessed with the word LOW when it comes to healthy eating. And once again the great debate about low fat vs. low carb is rearing its ugly head. The latest research might have you jumping on the low carb bandwagon, but as Dr. David Katz pointed out in a recent article, you have to look past the headline. How is the study set up? Are there any givens that would effect the outcome, i.e. less calories=weight loss? Is the variable amount fair to all groups? Who is funding the study? Is the study relevant and necessary? Lots of things to consider beyond the headline. But what’s really important when it comes to the low fat vs. low carb debate is will either keep you healthy and happy?
Fat is an essential nutrient that has definitely been portrayed as evil for as long as I can remember, but research is now showing us that it might not be as bad as once thought for your health. Your body needs fat for:
- Normal growth and development
- Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
- Absorbing certain vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
- Providing cushioning for the organs
- Maintaining cell membranes
- Regulating body temperature
- Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods (let’s be honest, fat free is free of taste and texture)
There are 2 types of fat, which are more commonly known as bad fats and good fats (why we constantly feel the need to label things good and bad is still a mystery to me). Saturated (bad) fats, which are found in foods like meat and dairy, have long been thought to raise cholesterol and increase one’s chance for a heart attack and/or stroke. Unsaturated (good) fats, which are found in foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and salmon, have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels. But new research (even though it might have had some flaws) is starting to show that the effect of saturated on heart disease is minimal (thanks in part to what we eat to replace the saturated fat). Does that mean everyone should start eating butter? No, but it does mean that we should stop thinking about fats as good or bad and that more studies are needed. It is important to include and enjoy both types in moderation.
With saturated fat no longer considered to be the devil of the food world, what can we blame our obesity and poor health on? You guessed it-carbohydrates. But here’s where we have gotten it so wrong. Carbohydrates are not your body’s enemy. In fact most people don’t really even know what carbohydrates are. They are not just bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, but also fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and even dairy products. Your body needs carbohydrates because:
- The glucose that results when carbohydrates are broken down is the body’s preferred energy source.
- Your brain can’t function properly without them.
- They help spare protein reserves needed for muscle growth, maintenance and repair.
- Carbohydrates help the body burn fat more efficiently than protein.
- Many foods high in complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) are also high in dietary fiber which helps with better digestion, better blood sugar control, lower cholesterol, cancer prevention and less constipation.
- They provide many micronutrients, such as potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, which are essential for your body to perform.
- We love them!
Just like fats, there are two types of carbohydrates, and they too have been labeled good and bad. Complex carbs (good) are generally those found in whole grains and are comprised of a longer series of sugars which takes more time for the body to break down and use as energy. In addition, these carbohydrates tend to be the ones that are highest fiber. You should always look for 100% whole grain on the label so you not buying a simple carbohydrate which has been colored brown. Simple carbohydrates, or the bad ones, are made of simple to digest, basic sugars that your body uses for energy immediately. They give you a rush of energy. You find simple carbohydrates in most processed foods, sweets and refined complex carbohydrates. But you, also, find them in fruits and vegetables where they function more like complex carbohydrates due to their higher fiber content.
Does that mean you should swear off all processed foods and anything white? Absolutely not! White carbohydrates like potatoes and cauliflower provide many essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. And is really realistic to never eat anything processed, like chips, again and be happy? Just like fats, try to include both in your diet using moderation and balance.
So that brings me back to the original question of which is better low fat vs. low carb for health and happiness. I would argue that going low on either will have negative consequences on both your physical and mental health. Our bodies need all foods in moderate amounts (yes, even “junk” food once in awhile). Too much or too little of one macronutrient can be just as harmful as too much or too little of another one. The focus should be on finding an eating plan that is realistic and sustainable. What good is losing weight on a “low something” diet if you can’t maintain it once you add the “banned” foods back into your life? And you will eventually add them back in because our bodies need what they have to offer. Luckily for me, a recent study looking at success of different diets proved that the most successful diet is the one that you can adhere to. Remember, your goal is to be healthy and happy. Ditching the diet and learning how to use moderation with all foods can better achieve this. It’s all about learning how to enjoy a Real Bite!