One of the major problems associated with eating low fat is what we eat in place of those fat calories. All too often, it's simple carbs. I was one of those who didn't initially make the connection between switching out fat and replacing it with carbs. I dutifully bought low fat cookies and low fat muffins. They had to be healthier, right? Only I didn't feel healthier. Actually, if anything, I felt kind of bloated and sluggish.
But at least I was eating less fat, right? But when I got my cholesterol checked, while my HDL and LDL levels were perfectly healthy, my triglycerides were not just elevated, they were through the roof.
"How can that be? I'm eating low fat," I told my doctor. "It's carbs," she told me. "Lay off the cookies and candy," she advised.
Indeed, according to the Cleveland Clinic, simple sugars and carbohydrates are the biggest contributors to high triglycerides.
It was a wake-up call. But here's the thing. Despite what you might read, you don't have to abandon a lower fat diet. Eating low fat does not require you to eat more sugar or processed grains.
Less Fat, More Cookies?
What we need to do is to be more mindful in our food choices and ask if what we choose to replace a fattier food with is any healthier. Choosing any packaged food that's slapped with a "low fat" label, with the exception of maybe milk, is going to be highly processed; it's going to have more sugar, more sodium, and almost certainly all kinds of gums and fillers.
Look at a tub of fat-free cream cheese and compare the ingredients with those on the back of a regular tub. In fact, look at the ingredients of most packaged processed foods and see how much you can interpret. What does all that stuff do? The FDA recognizes these chemicals as "generally safe," but to me that's hardly a ringing endorsement.
Now I concede, you will find recipes on my site that give you the option to use low fat or fat-free versions of foods, be they crackers, cream cheese, or whipped topping. In moderation, as with anything, it's OK, and as a component of a recipe comprising other, fresher, more natural ingredients, fine. But clearly, the better path to eating more healthily if you are eating lower fat is to limit the kinds of carbs you eat, and pay more attention to nutritional guidelines. And while dietary guidelines have previously pointed to added sugars as a problem, the 2015 version now recommends a specified daily limit: no more than 10 percent of calories, or roughly 12 teaspoons a day (typically we consume somewhere between 22-30 teaspoons a day, much of which is contained in liquid form: soda, juices, and so on.
Be Less Refined
I am not swearing off carbohydrates at all. We can certainly live without simple sugars in our diet, but more complex carbohydrates have their place as a source of energy. Whole grains, beans, and a whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables have an important role to play in our diet. We need some carbs for building muscle, for fuel, and for brain function.
I should add here that while I advocate eating less fat, I'm careful to point out that a very low fat diet, unless mandated by your doctor for a specific medical condition, is not a healthy way to eat. We need fat in our diet more than we need carbs. Fat is necessary for the proper absorption of certain vitamins, for optimal neurological development and function, and for a whole list of other bodily requirements.
Yes, Too Much Fat Is Still Unhealthy
So don't discount reducing the amount of fat in your diet. We do eat too much of it, and there are health risks associated with eating too much of it; while the direct link between eating too much saturated fat and heart disease has seemingly been broken, we must be careful not to infer that eating saturated fat is therefore healthy. It's still associated with the increased risk of certain cancers; it's still as likely to make you gain weight, being worth twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrates.
So go lean, not extreme, and lay off the boxes of reduced fat or fat free cookies and muffins.