As a now 30-something woman, I really started paying attention to diet fads in the 1990s — right about when I turned 12, entered junior high, and (along with all of my female friends) developed a body consciousness that would stay with me through my entire life. This was right around the time that the low-fat and fat-free craze hit the markets.
Everything was low-fat or fat-free, and I mean everything: potato chips, pasta, candy, you name it. Substitutes for fat in otherwise fatty foods were everywhere. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says it all: “Fat was really the villain,” and when people got rid of the fat from their diets, they had no choice but “to load up on carbohydrates.”
The fat-free diet craze lasted for a very long time. In fact, some people still try to swear off fats when they can. Everyone thought that going fat-free could help you lose weight and prevent heart disease. As it turns out, fat is actually pretty good for you. Here are some reasons to swear off fat-free and start adding some fatty foods into your diet.
The right kind of fat could prevent heart disease.
The old adage is that fat causes an increase in cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. While that makes sense — fat builds up in your arteries, thus blocking them — it actually isn’t necessarily true. When you ditch the fat, you have to replace it with something else to give you energy. Most people turn to carbs. Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, has found that those starchy carbs do not have a neutral effect on your body; in fact, they can mess with your blood glucose and insulin levels, thus raising your bad cholesterol. Fats, on the other hand, do have a neutral effect on the body. While this isn’t beneficial, necessarily, replacing some carbs with fats could actually decrease your risk of heart disease.
Your skin, hair and nails will look better.
For years, doctors have touted the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the types of fats you find in fatty fish like salmon, nuts, omega-3 enriched eggs and dairy, and pasture-raised meats. These omega-3′s are what give your hair, skin and nails that healthy glow. Incorporating these fats into your diet can make you look younger.
Your children will be less likely to have asthma and hay fever.
A 2011 study showed that pregnant women who ate full-fat yogurt were less likely to have a child who developed asthma or hay fever by the time the child turned seven. In fact, “Children whose mothers ate low-fat yoghurt while carrying them were 60 per cent more likely to have developed asthma by the age of seven than those who weren’t exposed to the food in the womb…And their odds of hay fever were three times higher than those of other children.” It was unclear whether low-fat yogurt was a direct cause of asthma and hay fever or if it was just a correlation that showed women were unhealthy in other ways, but if you’re pregnant, it’s definitely something to consider.
You could help clear up inflammatory conditions.
Those omega-3′s that are working to make your hair, skin and nails look better are also anti-inflammatory agents. Oils such as olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are also anti-inflammatory. Incorporating these fats into your diet can help ward off inflammatory conditions such as acne, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions.
It could help you lose weight.
Diets like the Atkins and Paleo diets have been saying this for years: cut out the carbohydrates and you will lose weight. It seems counter-intuitive to say that eating fat will help you lose fat, but because the carbs you ingest to replace the fat you’re not eating actually mess with your blood sugar, it really is the carbs you need to watch out for when you’re trying to lose weight.
It helps kids develop healthy brain tissue.
Again, those omega-3′s are hard at work! DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in many prenatal supplements as well as fatty fish and seafood, is essential for the healthy development of your baby and toddler’s brain tissue. Many food supplements for toddlers (as well as formula for infants) contain this essential type of fat, but it can only help if you incorporate it into your family’s diet, especially while pregnant and nursing.
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