For readers who grew up learning about nutrition from the Food Pyramid, you might recall that at its base we were advised to eat six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. At the pyramid’s top we were told to consume fats, oils and sweets sparingly.
Wow things have changed! In today’s nutrition news good fats (including nuts, seeds, fish and avocados) are in, and refined carbohydrates (like flour based and sweetened foods and drinks) are out. A growing population of Americans is turning to a “ketogenic diet” where fats are the majority of food intake.
What happened? Why are we turning the Food Pyramid upside down?
While I’m still sifting through the science behind this new “fat is healthy” way of thinking – although some scientists and advocates have been claiming the health benefits of fats and toxicity of refined carbs since the 1950s – I’m grateful that we’re making radical and scientifically based shifts in food recommendations. The guidelines of the last several decades are clearly backfiring.
Currently, one in three American children are overweight or obese. The journal Diabetes Care calls type 2 diabetes “the emerging epidemic” and 31 percent of our total population is considered obese, with that number predicted to increase to 43 percent by 2018 if we stay on this course.
The food recommendations we’ve been following – high carb and low fat dieting – is one of the main culprits of our current state of health. When we consume refined carbs such as bread, pasta, chips, soft drinks and alcohol, our blood sugar levels spike. High blood sugar is toxic to the body so the pancreas releases insulin (a fat storage hormone) to clear out the sugar we’re not using for fuel. Then it is biochemically converted into a fatty acid and stored in our fat cells, resulting in weight gain.
If we eat refined carbs throughout each day, week after week, year after year, the chronically overworked pancreas can begin to fail, leading to type 2 diabetes. When we eat fats however, blood sugar is not affected and therefore insulin is not released.
The argument against eating fat used to be that it has 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram. If we’re operating under the outdated model of “a calorie is a calorie” and that we simply gain and lose weight by how many calories we consume and burn, it stands to reason that we should eat less fat because it’s clearly more calorie dense.
Thankfully, we are getting out of this old paradigm and hopefully by doing so, will begin to turn the eating habits of our country around so we can reverse obesity, diabetes and the other preventable diseases stemming from the Standard American Diet (SAD).
In the next issue of EBS I will discuss high fat diet fads and trends, who they are helping and pitfalls to avoid.
In the meantime, check in with your own body. At each meal or snack, ask yourself how many refined carbohydrates you’re eating and notice how your body responds to spikes in your blood sugar.