by Aimee Wojtowecz
What causes more fear in the American language than the word FAT, that often misunderstood macronutrient? In the late 1970s, America’s fear of fat really took off. It started when senator George McGovern called a congressional hearing to discuss the effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and its links to disease and, more specifically, heart disease. There were some causal links between saturated fat consumption and increased levels of LDL cholesterol, but there were a lot of things that scientists still didn’t understand. There just wasn’t enough data or research to make concrete recommendations, but this stopped no one. This hearing resulted in the first set of dietary guidelines for the American diet (Aubrey, 2014). Fat was bad.
With fat out of the way what did Americans fill the void with? Carbohydrates. The dietary experts at the time assumed and recommended that diets be filled with carbohydrates from things like fruits, vegetables and whole grains but something was lost in translation. Instead, what the general public heard was that fat is bad, carbs are good, and so began the era of low-fat or fat-free and high-carb products. Sugar became the standard replacement in most low-fat and fat-free products. By the early ’90s, fat-free products dominated the shelves, I know somebody out there remembers those SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookies that dominated my teen years! This is when things started to get really interesting. Instead of a healthier population, levels of obesity and type II diabetes started skyrocketing (Aubrey, 2014). By trying to fix one problem (misguided at best) a whole new slew of problems were created.
If you look at more recent studies, there has been no concrete evidence that low-fat diets are best for weight loss, or that they lead to decreased incidence of disease (Aubrey, 2014). We need certain fats in our diet. Dietary fat helps with promoting healthy brain and central nervous system function, supporting heart health, reducing inflammation (shout out to omega-3’s!) and so much more (Gordon, 2019). So where does this leave the average American looking to improve their health?
It always comes back to balance in all the things. We need healthy fats in our diet. Healthier fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, for example olives, nuts and seeds and their oils; fish; avocado. Other types of fats, saturated and trans fats, should be consumed in moderation because of an increased risk between disease and consumption levels. This includes foods like butter, red meat, cheese, ice cream (high-fat dairy), and palm oil (Boston & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000, 2012).
If you’ve lived with a fear of fat let this be a nudge towards accepting that fat can be part of a healthy diet and is necessary in reaching your goals and optimal health. The key word here is “part” of a healthy diet, not the basis of a healthy diet. Moderation goes in all directions (and yes I’m vaguely referring to that “diet” that rhymes with cheeto).
Aubrey, A. (2014, March 28). Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/28/295332576/why-we-got-fatter-during-the-fat-free-food-boom
Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue, & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. (2012, September 18). Fats and Cholesterol. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/
Gordon, RDN, LD, B. (2019, August 6). Choose Healthy Fats. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-healthy-fats