If supermarket labels spruiking fat-free claims are anything to go by, fat is a macronutrient we should handle with caution.
That’s an outdated health concern you might want to lose, according to Professor Grant Schofield, Dr Caryn Zinn and Craig Rodger, co-authors of What the Fat? (Echo Publishing, $29.99).
Turning the food pyramid and conventional nutritional thought on its head, they recommend we eat more fat and reduce carbohydrates.
Lead author, Grant Schofield, a professor of Public Health at Auckland University of Technology, has spent two decades researching why the traditional health paradigm – eating well and exercising – isn’t working for many.
His conclusion: high-carb diets are the problem behind our expanding waistlines, energy deficits, diabetes, inflammation in the body and more.
Cut the carbs?
The average Australian consumes 45 per cent of their energy intake from carbohydrates, according to the latest Australian Health Survey.
“One of the main things we’ve overlooked is how we respond to carbohydrates,” Prof Schofield said.
Revealing a healthy human has about a teaspoon of sugar in their blood, he explained: “It’s too easy to eat more than that. For example, a piece of bread will be four teaspoons of glucose; a cup of pasta or rice will be twelve teaspoons. Your blood sugar goes way up with stuff that doesn’t even look like sugar.”
This is where the hormone insulin, our body’s mechanism for ridding the blood of excess sugar, comes into play, transporting sugar to the liver and muscles for storage.
“Sugary blood damages anything it touches,” he explained, adding that insulin turns off fat burning so that sugar burning can take preference.
If constantly elevated, insulin can also interfere with our hunger “off-switch”: “The hormone leptin travels to your brain to stop you eating when you’ve had enough. When insulin’s high, it interferes with that, so the hunger mechanism doesn’t work properly.”
It’s the reason we might snack on sugary foods all day without getting full.
Chew the fat
Dietary fat has a more even effect on our blood sugar, energy and appetite, Prof Schofield said, adding: “It’s quite hard to overeat fat.”
Pigging out on protein should be avoided too. “Too much protein turns to glucose,” he said.
In a recent study Schofield conducted with the NZ Defence Force, test subjects on the low-carb, healthy fat (LCHF) diet, lost twice as much weight as the control group. They also experienced improvements in triglyceride, HDL (good cholesterol) and glucose levels, major parameters of blood lipid and sugar health.
However, deep-fried crisps and trans fats are off the menu, with healthy fat and unprocessed food the emphasis.
Pete Evans weighs in
Celebrity chef, Pete Evans, wrote the introduction for What the Fat, and recommends quality fats from avocado, eggs, coconut, olive oil and animal sources.
“These are the healthiest fats on the planet for us. The ones being pushed on us by the Heart Foundation and Dieticians Association of Australia, such as margarine and vegetable oils, are the worst possible fats we could ever put into our families’ bodies,” Mr Evans said.
No stranger to controversy, Mr Evans slammed the low-fat movement: “The Australian public have been misled about the health benefits of good quality fat.”
A dietician’s take
Accredited and practising dietician, Caitlin Rabel, warned a diet high in saturated fat was linked to elevated cholesterol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The evidence still suggests a diet low in saturated fat is beneficial.” She maintained carbohydrates are essential in the diet. “Additionally, a lot of carbohydrate foods are good sources of whole grains – important for keeping our gut healthy.”
Schofield is adamant the research is on his side.
“A great deal of evidence is emerging in support of low-carb diets in fields from cancer to Alzheimer’s. I think you’re going to see a massive paradigm shift in the next decade. It’s not going to come from the authorities or dieticians, but the public – they have access to the science now.”
He also recommends lots of vegetables and fruit and eating more intuitively in response to daily needs.
“Avoid sugar and starch, get enough protein and add enough fat that you get full. Fat is a yummy, satiating, nutrient. It can be a more pleasant way to lose weight.”
The LCHF diet in a nutshell
Vegetables (especially non-starchy ones), fruit, seeds, nuts, dairy foods, fish, meat, legumes, coconut, avocado, cold-pressed oils like olive oil.
Sugar, grains, muesli bars, crackers, pasta, rice, bread, packaged breakfast cereals, soft drinks, sauces, potato chips, any processed food with added sugar.
The basics from Professor Grant Schofield
- Eat food that resembles something that was recently alive or low in HI (human interference) factor. This is food that was one degree of separation from being on the ground, on a tree or floating around somewhere. If you do that, you’ll most likely be eating low-carb anyway.
- Embrace fat. Make fat your friend.
- Cut down the sugar and carbs.