In the 1950's, Americans were told that fat is what was making us fat. Wrong-o. I mean, too much of anything isn't good, but saying that fat in our food is what is adding fat to our bodies is just poppycock. The fear of fat has set up an entire generation for failure in health ventures.
...ok maybe that's a little dramatic. But there was a long period of time where Americans were told that fat is the enemy and should be avoided at all costs. What was subbed in? Carbs! Lots and lots of carbs! And we all know that carbs are important to a healthy diet; but easy-to-cook, refined carbohydrates were apparently the answer to filling the satiety gap left by nixing the fat.
Before delving into the bad, lets take a look at the good:
Fat is cool!
(+) Fatty acids! Our bodies can make most of the fats it needs from our diet. There are a couple that our bodies can't make, so we need to get them from food.
(+) Brain and nerves. Apparently fat surrounds nerve cells so they can transmit messages between the brain and.... everywhere else. The brain needs some fat in it, too
(+) Fat helps combat cravings!
(+) Fat helps you feel full. It keeps food in the stomach longer, making you feel full longer.
(+) Some vitamins are fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K), which means that that fat needs to be present for these vitamins to be absorbed by the body. If there is not enough fat, your body can't pull the vitamins from your other foods :(
Let's get to it!
In our grocery stores today, we see products labeled as "low fat" or "fat free," and many of those products are the painful reminders of the fat-free movement of yore (aka the 50's). We see cookies labeled as "fat free" and our brain knows that can't be right. Well, brain.... high-five. While maybe (literal) fat has been removed, the manufacturer needed to add something in to compensate for taste. Sugar and salt are two big perpetrators of this phenomenon.
Do an experiment when you go to the grocery store next time: find a product that has an original as well as a fat free/reduced fat/low fat option. Take the two products and compare the labels. Check the calories, fat, sugar, and salt. I bet you'll be surprised. Want to be even more surprised? Take a look at the Daily Value column (labeled as DV%).
What's the big deal about replacing fat with sugar?
Good question. The answer is: because of the way it is metabolized. As I understand it, the simplest answer is: fat takes longer to digest because it is more complex. Excess sugar in our food is so frustrating and infuriating to me that I want to scream. You can read more about how our bodies handle sugar here.
Now, we know that fat is an important part of a healthy diet. It shouldn't be the most prevalent portion of our diet, but it needs to be there. Salt and added sugar on the other hand... are 2 things that we are told to be acutely aware of. I don't know about you, but if I'm going to choose the original version (on the rare occasion I do purchase crackery-chippy-cookie type things).
Dairy products should be examined, too! Apparently fat free half-and-half is a big perpetrator, but I'm not really sure since its not a product I purchase. I know that some yogurts are ok and some are.... very not. The best way to tell is flip the product over and take a look at the ingredient list. For example, I my yogurt is labeled as nonfat, but only has natural ingredients (pasteurized milk and active cultures).