For decades, low-fat diets have been recommended to help protect our hearts and curb obesity, but recent studies and new research are questioning that line of thinking.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death in the world. Every year more people die from heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure than from any other causes. In China, about one in six people are afflicted with this condition. The traditional recommendation has been to incorporate dietary changes avoiding saturated fat and fat in general. These have been followed since the 1950s and since then the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease has continued to rise. Even though we’ve been eating less fat, obesity is now at an all-time high, and it’s considered a global epidemic. In China, obesity rates are on the rise. One in four Chinese children age 7 or above will be obese in 2030, according to a report issued by Peking University’s School of Public Health. So how can we protect ourselves from this global killer? Read on!
It is well understood that most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing lifestyle factors. Helpful recommendations include avoiding tobacco use, eating a wholesome diet, achieving a healthy body weight, becoming physically active, and avoiding the harmful use of alcohol. Simple right?
Let us focus on the wholesome diet part. Hopefully, you’re asking yourself, what exactly does “wholesome” mean? In our desire to avoid saturated fats (these fats are solid at room temperature, and are more plentiful in a food like butter), we created hydrogenated oils containing harmful trans fats. The process of hydrogenation makes oils that are liquid at room temperature, solid. For years naturopaths maintained that these artificial fats were harmful, and now we have evidence that they are. Trans fats create inflammation and stiffness in the blood vessels, thus contributing to atherosclerosis, another CVD. It also decreases the amount of HDL in the blood, what we often refer to as the “good” cholesterol. And even more interesting, trans fats contribute to weight gain, specifically abdominal obesity, which is a known risk for CVD. Going back to the word wholesome, a whole foods diet is the best choice to maintain health and prevent disease, including CVD. When people switched to a low-fat diet, they replaced fats with processed foods and excessive simple carbohydrates including sugar. Fats naturally enhance the flavor of food, so once you remove them you must use sweeteners and other often artificial additives to give a similar texture or flavor. Now we’re starting to understand the harm that excess carbohydrate intake can cause, leading to obesity, fatty liver, and diabetes. The takeaway message here is to eat real food; nuts, seeds, a moderate amount of whole grains, good sources of protein and to keep it plant-based. Good fats should be incorporated into the diet because fats are needed for hormone production, healthy skin, hair, and nails. They give us a steady source of energy and can help maintain balanced blood sugar. Healthy fats from natural sources include avocados, nuts, olives, fatty fish, and they can even be found in grass-fed beef.
When it comes to diet, moderation is the name of the game. Wholesome, natural foods are the answer. And no, fat is not the enemy.
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Melissa Rodriguez is a naturopathic specialist and mother of two. To find out more, check out her website at drmelissarodriguez.com
This article first appeared in the beijingkids December 2018 Charity and Goodwill issue.
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