As more countries were plotted into the data, the obvious association became less obvious. This led to a term called the “French Paradox” which showed that despite eating higher levels of fat than most countries, the French had lower rates of cardiovascular disease and longer lives.
Suddenly demonising fat was becoming more questionable. Even the Cholesterol argument was becoming murky also. There have been challenges to how much the food that we eat affects our cholesterol levels, and whether lower cholesterol, especially at certain ages really has much affect on cardiovascular health.
So what is a “low fat” product. To take the example of yoghurt again, which is generally a moderate fat food. For brevity sake, the fat is removed from the product. Often this effects the taste of the product and leaves the food tasting very bland, this is not good for food companies. What the companies realised is that to make the food taste half decent they needed to replace it with something that tasted good. Step in sugar!
As such low fat foods became high sugar foods. This may have been a problem because fat has a higher level on satiety than sugar. So it’s much easier to over eat and get those extra calories in with higher sugar foods. People thinking they may have been choosing a healthier food product, may actually have been doing no such thing. We also know that during the original demonising of fat, that many sugar companies threw their weight behind this push towards low fat, simply because it created a great business opportunity for them.
As time has shifted, it’s been very clear that blaming fat as the sole villain was perhaps a mistake. Too much fat, like too much anything can be a problem, but it’s also important to realise that fat is essential for our bodies, and that it’s very possible, as the growth in Ketogenic diets have shown, that fat loss is very possible even when eating a high fat diet, in fact for some it may be a lot easier, and there is interesting developments in research with Keto Diets and blood sugar regulation.
I fear however, we are swapping one villain for another. Whereas fat is being vindicated a bit, sugar has slowly become the new enemy. "Sugar makes you fat, sugar causes diabetes, sugar is as addictive as cocaine". My instagram feed basically tells me that sugar is pure evil. Sugar can be a problem, like fat if you consume too much of it, and perhaps high sugar foods are more likely to be junk foods, but sugar, in appropriate amounts don’t seem to be particularly evil. What the real problem has been this whole time is that we are all eating more of everything. In fact in the last 7 years sugar consumption is slowly dropping but obesity rates are still rising, of course calorie consumption per capital is also rising.
So although the low fat foods are now using sugar less, but using low or zero calorie sweeteners more, the problem is still apparent, but the real villain is that we are still eating too much of everything.
So are low fat foods healthier? Probably not. However with a flexible diet that you are able to easily sustain, and a low fat yoghurt helps keep you consistently in your calorie deficit easily, whereas a high fat yoghurt would tip you over the edge, it may be a decent choice, but then again the higher fat yoghurt would leave you feeling more full, and perhaps you’d eat less throughout the rest of the day.
As I said in the beginning, it’s complicated. One thing we can be sure about is that low fat products have been “marketed” for years as being a healthier option, and this is certainly very debateable.
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