Whole, low-fat or nonfat? Which do you usually go for? Do you choose based on taste or health, or do you compromise? Best-selling author and nutrition expert Michael Pollan has deemed the low-fat craze to be the greatest failure in the history of American nutrition. For three decades now, the American public has been bombarded and inculcated with the supposed benefits of minimizing the amount of fat in their diet. What has it resulted in? Only increased incidences of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and so on and so on. Yet we continue to believe consuming low-fat and nonfat products will be a boon to our health. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a symptom of insanity.
The food industry and the American government have worked together for several decades now to promote low-fat and fat-free foods as a central tenet to a healthy diet. Sure, there have certainly been periods in which carbohydrates were vilified and fats took a backseat, but at no time were fats in general promoted as a necessity for good health. One would think the most essential component of American nutritional ideology would be backed up with plenty of scientific research, but unfortunately it is not.
Such an assertion will turn plenty of heads in the mainstream, but scientific studies aside, think about it logically. Why have the diseases a low-fat diet is supposed to eradicate continued to spiral out of control? There are obviously plenty of variables, but when isolated, the low-fat diet has not proven its worth. To quote the Harvard School of Public Health, “It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.” Think about all the negative associations you have with fatty foods – be it whole milk or any kind of oil. Dairy fats are some of the most disdained, but some people argue the fats play an essential role in absorbing the nutrients in dairy.
The new popular kind of fat is omega-3 fat, of which you should consume 1 gram for every 2 grams of omega-6 fat. The average American has a ratio of 20:1! Omega 3’s are most commonly found in fish, nuts and seeds. This fact alone begins to reveal the depth of the problem with fat consumption. Maybe it’s not the amount of fat Americans consume, but the proper ratio. A few scientists have been calling attention to the apparent fat falsehood for over 30 years, but the mainstream science community has continuously shunned those naysayers.
Blaming the frightening amount of diseases solely on the propagation of a low-fat diet is much too narrow of a view. Nobody will argue the problems stem from several sources ranging from diet to exercise to technology – i.e., the proliferation of computers keeps children from playing outside. Does it really strain belief that American scientists were simply wrong about fat for all this time? The same scientists who promoted cigarettes and margarine as healthy choices?
People have been advised to consume more “healthy” fats, such as olive oil or the fats in nuts or avocados. These primarily monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats were promoted as healthier alternatives to saturated fats like butter or coconut oil. However, despite the promotion of these “healthy fats,” people are still advised to choose low-fat or nonfat options when possible.
The newest culprits are trans-fats, leading American food manufacturers to hurriedly eliminate them from their foods. Scientists are in complete agreement over the dangers of trans-fats, but many scientists are beginning to question the scorn previously reserved for saturated fat. Pollan controversially says, “The amount of saturated fat in the diet probably may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease.” The statement is sure to rile up scientists and nutritionists alike, but some of the research lends strong credence to his argument.
Nobody has the answers at this point, but it is important to know the conventional wisdom is not as foolproof as it seems. So, next time you’re at the supermarket and you reach for the nonfat milk, think twice about your choice. The “fattier” option might just be healthier.