Should you avoid fat, reduce it, or eat loads of it on it in your quest for health and performance?
Welcome to the juicy low fat/no fat/full fat issue because if you research the subject of fat and health you will fast find three wholly contradictory themes:
- Eating fat makes you fat. Therefore you should eat none. Ever. Fat is the devil
- Fat is awesome for you. It is the font of all life. Eat bacon, eggs, butter and cheese like they are going out of fashion for a perfect six pack and guns Arnie would envy
- Some fats are bad, others are good. So you should spend your entire life reading labels and spotting good from bad
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Let's start with number one: 'fat makes you fat'
A neat hypothesis, but rubbish. A dodgy diet, no exercise, and other lifestyle choices, along with basic body genetics increase a person's tendency to gain weight. Ice cream, left alone in the fridge, has nothing to do with it.
But what this hypothesis did do very successfully from the 1980s onwards was demonise all fatty foods. Low-fat became a thing, and low-fat versions of our favourite unhealthy foods turned up everywhere.
And lo, everyone magically became fit, healthy and strong overnight.
Oh no, hang on, the opposite happened and global obesity accelerated. Whoops.
Truth is, fat-free, or low-fat versions of otherwise unhealthy foods are as helpful to health, fitness and wellbeing as diet sodas. With the fat gone they invariably taste awful and so in fat's place these foods are plugged with sweeteners and other artificial nonsense making them worse than the full fat versions they began life as.
How to deal with this: avoid all low-fat and zero-fat versions of any food you like. If you want and love these foods, go full fat and be done with it.
Eat low fat foods and you'll magically turn into a lithe and lusty fitness goddess. Believe that and we have a bridge to sell you...
Which brings us to number two: 'fat is awesome for you'
Conveniently, this hypothesis lets you eat as much previously demonised yet delightfully indulgent foods as much as you like, all in the name of health and fitness. So when you're tucking into your second fried breakfast in as many minutes, you are no longer fast-tracking yourself to the nearest cardiac ward, you are in fact working out.
Unsurprisingly, a dietary doctrine that actively encourages steak, eggs, butter, lard, and cheese has become very popular and has a lot of healthy and cool looking folks championing it the world over.
Must be good, right?
Well, let's remember the Marlboro Man also looked healthy and cool. Until he got lung cancer and died a shrivelled brown husk in hospital that was. An image which never made the ad campaigns funnily enough.
The point is, heavy intakes of animal fats from dairy and meat, processed meats (bacon, chorizo, ham, etc) have long been linked to heart disease, cancer and a lot of other things that will really mess up your week.
So even if eating them like the world is ending will sort your abs today, it will only end your world early in the long run.
How to deal with this: eat less fat from animal products. If you enjoy these foods aim for moderation
Bacon: killing pigs and people early for years, miraculously made cool again by a marketing campaign from the bacon industry. The World Health Organisation has it down as a carcinogen on a par with cigarettes in case you're on the fence here
And finally, number three: some fats are bad, others are good
Complicated as it might sound, this is in fact the answer.
Saturated fats are bad, you want to avoid or minimise these at all times. You'll find them in meat and dairy products
Trans-fats are also rubbish, a sort of Franken-fat, created when otherwise liquid oils are artificially hardened into partially hydrogenated fats. You'll find these in baked goods, biscuits/cookies, crisps/chips, cakes, popcorn and margarine.
Unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are the good guys. Find these in nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil. You can, and should, eat plenty of these. They are a great source of calories, help lower cholesterol and heart disease risk, taste awesome, and are the perfect way to help switch our bodies into a powerful fat-burning state for max performance.
So there you have it. Unsurprisingly the answer revolves around moderation, a quality varied diet, and common sense while the polar opposites of miracle low-fat yoghurts and miracle heart-busting meals can be left on the lunatic fringes where they belong.
Enjoy some good unsaturated fats in an awesome diet and power into a new world of performance
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