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Moderation

Fat is good for you… but a pound of bacon for lunch isn’t

A study released last week has reaffirmed what many of us have already known for a long time – carbohydrates, not fat, is the chief obstacle to achieving a healthy lifestyle. But as with all things, moderation and common sense are key.

First, that study, called the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) Study. PURE looked at more than 135,000 people from 18 countries. Lead author Dr. Mahshid Dehghan said the healthiest diet would be made up of 50 to 55 per cent carbohydrates and 35 per cent total fat, including both saturated (long considered the “bad” fats) and unsaturated fats (the good fats).

Why? Because people with the highest intake of dietary fat (35 percent of daily calories) were 23 percent less likely to have died during the study period than those with the lowest fat intake (10 percent of calories). And your chances of developing a cardiovascular disease? Essentially the same regardless of fat intake, but the risk of a stroke did decrease with increased fat intake.

Consumption of carbohydrates, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. PURE participants with the highest carbohydrate intake (77 per cent of daily calories) were 28 percent more likely to have died than those with the lowest carbohydrate intake (46 per cent of calories).

Dr. Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was quoted as saying “it’s not healthy to eat highly processed carbohydrates no matter where you live.

This news isn’t new to us

We have been telling this for years to our patients, contrary to “conventional wisdom.” We need to reconsider our relationship with food.

Processed carbohydrates and sugar are the true dietary evils, not fat. This idea that fat is bad needs to be tossed out along with the erroneous assertion that consuming dietary cholesterol – the cholesterol you find in the foods you eat, like eggs and red meat – will drive up for your blood cholesterol levels. A growing body of research dating back years shows that you can eat those eggs for breakfast.

So, what about those carbohydrates?

Let’s be clear, carbohydrates are a vital fuel source for your body. Your digestive system turns carbohydrates into glucose, or blood sugar, which is used as fuel by every system in your body. The problems begin when you eat too many simple carbohydrates (like those found in sugary sweets, soft drinks, fruit juices, and baked goods made with white flour) that are absorbed quickly into the body by the hormone insulin. You should always eat complex carbohydrates high in fibre, found in foods like whole grains, potatoes, and brown rice.

But too many carbohydrates, whether good or bad, will get stored as fat if you are not burning them off through exercise.

How are fats good for me?

The fats you eat are also a fuel source for your body. After about 20 minutes of exercise, your body may have exhausted available carbohydrate energy and switched to burning fats to keep going (that’s how you lose weight through exercise). Fats keep your skin and hair healthy and help your body absorb important vitamins like A, D, E and K.

Your body also needs linoleic and linolenic acid to function properly but it can’t produce them. The only way to get these essential “fatty acids” is from the fats you eat. Your body uses fatty acids for brain development, to control inflammation, and for blood clotting.

But use some common sense

We know health experts who are big fans of a ketogenic, or keto, diet. If you reduce your carbohydrate intake enough, your liver will break down fats into a new fuel source for your body called ketones. This is often advocated to help with weight loss and weight management. Instead of reducing how many calories you eat, the goal instead is to eat more of those calories in the form of fats instead of carbohydrates.

But not all fats are created equal; some are definitely better than others. Eating a pound of bacon for lunch on a regular basis is not a healthy lifestyle choice, even if it tastes great or falls under the umbrella of “keto”.

Like the researchers concluded from the PURE study, find a reasonable balance – up to about 50 per cent of your daily calories from (healthy) carbs and 35 per cent from fats.

And what is the other 15 per cent? Why protein, of course. Based on our experience, you might even want to cut those carbohydrates further in favour of more protein, especially if you hit the gym regularly, but that’s a topic for another post.

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