Don’t worry, I’m not calling you “fat.” It is time to question the validity of “low-fat” foods in a healthy diet. I know this seems like a complete contradiction, but there’s more to food than what’s on the label.
As a nation we spend approximately $33 billion on products marketed for weight-loss and improved health. Foods labeled “fat free,” “low-fat,” and “light” fall into this category. These foods are problematic not just because the fat has been removed, but more so from what has been added in.
Fat tastes GOOD! I don’t need to climb on the rooftops and shout it. We all know fat tastes good. Unfortunately, we have been taught, nay brainwashed, that fat is “unhealthy.” What did the food industry do in response to this brainwashing? They removed the fat and its wonderful taste to replace it with sugar, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients.
Let’s take a look at a popular yogurt sealed with a foil lid whose current commercial states, “With a smooth and creamy taste your whole family loves.” A quick look at the nutrition label of the strawberry flavored light version indicates in a six ounce serving there is: 100 calories, 0 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, and 5 grams protein. This is what healthy looks like, right? It’s low calorie, there’s no fat, it’s only seven percent of the recommended daily value of carbohydrates, and it packs 10% of your daily protein needs! What more could you ask for?
Ok, so I was sneaky. I left out the 14 grams of sugar from the nutrition label. That’s just slightly under three teaspoons of sugar for the six ounce serving. Not so bad, right? Only it is. Three teaspoons is equal to one tablespoon. A tablespoon of sugar at breakfast doesn’t sound like a healthy start to the day.
A closer look at the ingredients of this yogurt is needed. The second ingredient listed is sugar. Shouldn’t yogurt just be milk and live cultures? Funny, live cultures aren’t even listed in the ingredients. However, Sucralose, the scientific name for Splenda, and Acesulfame Potassium, an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar, are ingredients. Yes, two artificial sweeteners are used in addition to the tablespoon of sugar. According to Dr. Mercola, weight gain is associated with consuming Splenda, while Acesulfame Potassium tops his list of artificial ingredients to avoid.
Now for the science about how the absence of fat makes us fat. Fat is not a villain! It has many roles in the human body and is required to keep us alive.
One responsibility is slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates. All carbohydrates, regardless of their healthfulness or unhealthfulness, break down into glucose, the body’s usable form of sugar. In order to use the glucose from carb digestion, the pancreas releases insulin to deliver the glucose into the cells. As the fastest digesting macronutrient, carbohydrates are the quickest and shortest forms of energy. Fat is at the opposite end of the digestive spectrum. When eaten with carbohydrates, fat extends their digestion time, decreases the insulin surge, and provides longer burning energy.
It is important to note that the body utilizes glucose in a specific sequence. First, insulin delivers it to the cells for energy. However, the cells can only take on a limited amount of glucose. Next, the muscles take all the glucose that they can store. Third, the liver converts remaining glucose into glycogen for storage. Again, only so much can be stored. Finally, all of the leftover glucose is converted into triglycerides and cholesterol, which is stored in the body as fat.
That means the light strawberry flavored yogurt with zero fat could end up being stored as fat in your body! As long as the body receives a steady influx of glucose from carb digestion, it has no need to break down the glucose that was stored as fat.
Another role of fat worth mentioning is satiety. In other words, fat makes us feel full. So chances are the 100 calorie, 0 gram fat, 21gram carbohydrate light yogurt will leave you hungry long before lunch. This opens the door for another opportunity to grab more low-fat, carb laden food for a snack; putting you right back on the glucose use and storage merry-go-round.
The important takeaway here is, at the very least, read labels carefully. Of course, it is always best to eat nutrient dense, whole foods. I know a veggie omelet made with whole eggs (the fat is in the yolk) isn’t as convenient as grabbing a six ounce plastic cup of yogurt in the morning. However, I encourage you to experiment. One day eat your standard cup of yogurt and take notes of how you feel throughout the morning and when you get hungry. The following day try the whole egg omelet and make the same notes. Feel free to cook the omelet in real butter and add some avocado. Embrace the fat and feel full!
Brooke Gray is a Health Coach and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner student. She and her husband share their home with two spoiled dogs. Brooke is in pursuit of a holistic lifestyle and even cooks for her dogs. She works with people to achieve their healthiest, most fulfilled lives. Her website, www.fromgraytogreat.com will debut Summer 2015. For questions and comments, you can contact Brooke at firstname.lastname@example.org.