Low-fat farce: ‘Healthy’ foods riddled with lies

It seems every week I read a conversation-changing, health-world-shattering article on unhealthy foods to avoid. Often contradicting and jammed with jargon on obscure nutrients that I’ve somehow miraculously survived 22 years without counting — these fads and their cycles exhaust readers. I’m instantly skeptical of any new information, especially if it has to do with weight loss.

Yet there’s one myth that’s lasted entirely too long: If a food is low-fat or fat-free, it’s automatically a healthy choice.

I see this mentality among my friends and in casual conversations on campus. Nonfat vanilla latte, please. Low-fat yogurt for lunch. Bagel with fat-free cream cheese or reduced fat peanut butter. What many people don’t know is that low-fat doesn’t necessarily make the food better for you. Sure, you can’t go overboard; however, oftentimes the disappearance of fats leaves a void readily filled with added sugars.

Let’s get this straight: Fats are good for you. Your body needs fats for long-term energy, cell growth and absorbing nutrients. Fats give you that full feeling that keeps you from pointless snacking.

But — and this is really important — not all fats are equal. I’m not advocating switching your diet to include more saturated fats and trans fat, like those often found in processed and deep-fried foods. It is, however, vital to get good fats like those found in olive oil and avocados.

The real danger in avoiding fats at all costs is that foods claiming low-fat status frequently compensate by adding carbohydrates. While there’s nothing wrong with carbs, I believe the real problem with the American diet is our disproportionate reliance on them.

With the U.S. having the largest obesity rate per capita, there’s obviously something wrong with our diet, and it hasn’t always been this way.

Americans have developed a fat phobia that oversimplified dietary recommendations. While studies in the 1970s revealed diets high in saturated fats influenced heart disease, many people generalized this information to mean all fats. As a result, there was a huge swing to low-fat foods. The resulting gap was filled with carbohydrates — high-glycemic foods that spawn insulin imbalance.

Dr. Tran Tien Chanh MD PhD, who has devoted his research to obesity related issues, said the cause of most weight issues is insulin dysfunction. It’s this overproduction of insulin that traps you in a frustrating cycle of sugar cravings and weight gain. We often fix our hunger and cravings with foods packed with sugars.

For example, I see people all the time justify eating an energy bar that is nothing more than a glorified candy bar. I can’t emphasize this enough: check the nutrition label! Some of these bars are awesome. Others have health marketing all over them—possibly even a low-fat stamp—but almost as much added sugar as a candy bar.

In February, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee announced Americans are eating too many sugars, salt and saturated fats. The panel recommended sharp new limits on added sugars as well as adjusted patterns of eating, like that of the Mediterranean-style diet.

You have to admit, it makes perfect sense that eating whole foods, naturally produced from the earth, would be the best rule of nutrition.

Baylor students, take the opportunity while you’re young to transform your eating pattern. Fat-free doesn’t guarantee it’s healthy. Next time you’ve got the munchies, grab some veggies and protein. Throw that low-fat, high-sugar snack away.

One disclaimer: I’m not recommending a one-size-fits-all eating pattern. I’m simply addressing a problem I see with the diet of the ordinary American, someone who is relatively sedentary and constantly struggling with weight gain and sugar cravings. The diets of an athlete, an average college student, or a person seeking to lose weight should all be different.

Sarah Jennings is a senior history major from Belton. She is a reporter for the Lariat.