In the past few weeks, I have spoken to at least four people who have claimed to me that they eat very healthy. One person gave me a list of foods they might eat in a day: Cheerios or some kind of whole grain cereal with fat free milk in the morning with a banana and orange juice, followed by a sandwich with fat free mayonnaise with you-name-it kind of deli meat, on whole wheat bread with a fruit salad, and pasta and a salad for dinner, with an occasional low fat frozen yogurt for desert.
This would definitely have been considered to be healthy eating in…the 1990’s, when we were told that fat made you fat and caused your cholesterol to go up and that cereals and lots of whole grains were good for you.
But since that time there has been loads of research pointing to the fact that excess carbohydrates hurt, while fats, especially healthy fats, are beneficial, not to mention the artificial preservatives and additives to try and make low fat food more tasty also hurt.
So, I’ve often found myself feeling dumbfounded, thinking, “How is it possible in this day and age with so much information being available to people, that there is still a belief that “low fat” anything along with cereal, pasta, orange juice and a million other carbohydrates in the same meal and day are good?
Have you looked at the contents of Cheerios? Have you noted how much sugar is in there? Or orange juice? Or a box of pasta? I dare you. Check it.
Newsflash! Carbohydrates are more likely to be culprits in the development of heart disease, obesity or diabetes, not fats.
Eating carbohydrates triggers the release of the hormone, insulin. Insulin will then stimulate the body’s cells to take in the sugar for fuel. When eating too many carbohydrates and too often, insulin is constantly released so that eventually, the cells become numb to it, a term called, insulin resistance. Once insulin resistance is developed, sugar begins to overload the blood and body.
Diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease have all been implicated as negative outcomes to a diet high in carbohydrates. As Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health says: “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”
The problem is, actually, not just high consumption of the food groups listed above, but also farm raised beef, poultry or fish that has been fed a high carbohydrate diet. Sugar is everywhere!
Fat is everywhere too, but we have been brain-washed to believe that it is bad.
Though some fats are “bad”, like trans-fats, healthy fats that are found in avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, fish or almonds, do not cause heart disease, diabetes, or make you fat for that matter.
In fact, it has been found that a ketogenic diet—one that is high in fat and no carbohydrates—can help with epilepsy, weight loss, help prevent and kill cancer cells and treat or prevent dementia. The key to this type of diet is that the body burns fat into ketones, which are used for energy instead of sugar. This means that if your body is not burning the fat that is being consumed, it will burn the fat in the body instead.
Though this type of diet is not likely beneficial for long periods as most people do need more carbohydrates for daily life, the studies do point to the health benefits of healthy fats.
What I take away from this is what I recommend to my coaching clients, athletes and patients alike:
Eat more fat:
• Eat saturated fats like coconut oil, grass-fed butter or ghee daily. Aim to have a teaspoon of coconut oil a day. If you eat beef, make sure it is grass-fed.
• Eat foods that are high in omega -3 fatty acids found in salmon, mackerel, anchovies, trout, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach seaweed and chia seeds.
• Avoid trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. This means avoid baked goods, processed foods, fried food, refrigerated dough, creamer or margarine.
• Eat mono-unsaturated fats like avocados, olives, and nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews).
• Aim for 25-30% of your total daily intake to consist of fat.
Choose your carbs wisely:
• Choose to have carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index (they do not raise your blood sugar very high. See list here.)
• Eat carbohydrates during the time of the day when you are most physically active and you need the extra energy, like the morning or before or right after working out.
• Eat a total of three carbohydrate servings a day or less, depending on your activity level with at least one of the servings being a complex carbohydrate like rice, quinoa or millet (especially pre- or post-workout) and the other two servings being fruit.