If you do a quick search for the best weight lost diets on Google, you will quickly realize that you’ve opened up Pandora’s box.
This is subject where different opinions are rife and are jealously guarded. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what the best way to lose weight is and everyone is willing to fight tooth and nail to prove that their way is right
This is all good and well for the fitness industry professionals that are selling their various training programs and weight loss books, but it’s not so good for the customer. After all, with so many different opinions and strategies, how can you know which is the best one to follow?
Perhaps the most obvious example of these different approaches can be seen when we look at the battle between ‘low carb’ and ‘low fat’ diets. For decades we’ve been told that the best way to lose weight is to lower our intake of fatty foods. In fact, most ‘diet’ foods are simply regular foods with the fat content removed. This is the recommendation made by most governments and health organizations too.
Fat is high in calories and was thought to lead to heart disease, high cholesterol and various other problems.
But according to a lot of research and many health bloggers, this is no longer the best way to lose weight. Suddenly, we’re told that the best diet for weight loss is the exact opposite. Apparently, fat doesn’t cause high cholesterol or heart problems and while it’s still high in calories, it’s also more slowly absorbed, more satiating and important for mineral and nutrient absorption. Carbs meanwhile release their sugar instantly into the bloodstream, leading to immediate lipogenesis (fat storage) and giving us a subsequent ‘sugar crash’. So according to this new wave of thinking, we should be eating more fat and fewer carbs. That is the notion behind choosing low car, high fat meals.
Some people even go as far as to suggest that we should drop whole sticks of butter into our morning coffee!
But who’s right?
First things first: it is true that fat is not bad for you. This advice was based on studies that looked for correlations between diets and heart rates but it turns out that they forgot to account for a number of important confounding variables. Trans fats are still bad for us, but natural saturated fats actually only raise HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein), which is the good stuff! Meanwhile, there is zero evidence that natural fats from animal foods or dairy will increase your likelihood of heart attack, stroke or anything else.
What fat does do, is to improve our absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals and to strengthen the brain (which is largely made from fat).
Meanwhile, carbs are indeed responsible for very quickly releasing sugar into our bloodstream. They are quick and easy to digest and as such, they spike our glucose, leading to a spike in insulin which encourages the body to use that glucose and store it as fat. Worse, this then leaves us with a sudden dip in blood glucose which makes us hungry, tired and irritable. It’s not looking good so far!
Actually though, it’s not so much carbs that are the enemy here as it is ‘simple carbs’. Simple carbs are carbs that don’t include adequate fiber or fat in order to slow absorption. And for the most part, these types of carbs are the types that are heavily processed and man-made. We’re talking about chips, about chocolate bars and cakes and about white bread. These types of carbs are also ‘empty calories’ in that they don’t offer the body any useful vitamins, minerals or amino acids. These carbs are nothing but a sugar spike with no benefit.
The only real exception is fruit. Fruit is a simple carb – it’s very sweet and releases sugar quickly – but it’s packed with so many vitamins and minerals as to be worthwhile. You should still make space for fruits in your diet but largely avoid the simple carbs like cake and white pasta, for the most part.
Eating something like ‘low fat chips’ is pretty much the worst thing you can do for your health. Low fat chips are still chips – they still don’t give you any vitamins or minerals and they still spike the blood sugar leading to fat storage and hunger but without doing any good for the body.
Worse, is that without the fat, they will now spike the blood even faster and leave you feeling even less satisfied. Not only that, but any minerals or vitamins that you may have gotten will be even further reduced.
Eating a low carb, high fat diet is intended to offer the opposite effects. Let’s say you start your day with an avocado on brown, wholegrain toast. This will provide you with a steady release of energy until the afternoon while providing a ton of healthy, natural nutrients that will be readily absorbed.
For lunch, you might choose to make yourself a pulled pork sandwich but to replace the bread with large mushroom halves. Again, it will keep you full while keeping your blood sugar down to prevent fat being stored.
Does this really work? Is a low carb high fat diet really better than going low fat?
The answer is yes for the most part, but with caveats. It’s very important you see that you also ensure you are still getting some carbs to provide you with some more immediately usable energy. Moreover, carbs are very useful for rounding out meals and will include fewer calories than fats.
The danger here is that you become so keen to consume lots of fats that you end up taking in lots more calories. At 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram, fats ‘cost’ a lot more in that sense than carbs. You still need moderation, as with all things.
The key, as ever is to find balance and moderation. But certainly don’t avoid fats and do try to reduce your intake of carbs. Most of us eat far too many carbohydrates because they are cheap to produce and easy to sell and we haven’t even touched on the many other ways that this damages your health…