If you have been following the press you'd be forgiven for thinking that the world of nutrition has descended into the Wild West. Should we or shouldn't we be eating fats? A new report by the National Obesity Forum has sparked outrage and controversy. On one side is Dr Aseem Malhotra, a senior adviser to the National Obesity Forum: "The change in dietary advice to promote low fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history." On the other side is Dr Alison Tedstone from Public Health England: "Calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible."
This public battlefield compounds the nutrition confusion that already overwhelms so many people. If we're not careful, it can lead to a state of inertia. There are so many mixed messages, people don't know what to do and end up not making any healthier changes.
I propose a truce, a middle ground:
1. Fats are not to be feared.
With over ten years experience in clinical nutrition practice, I have encountered many clients afraid to eat avocados, nuts and seeds. I have seen a correlation in their symptoms of constipation, hormone imbalances, low mood/ depression, dry skin, weight gain and sometimes binge or overeating. I am convinced that we need good fats in our diet. (Examples include oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, nut and seed oils.)
2. Not all fats are created equal.
Obviously there is a huge difference in the nutritional value of oily fish compared to a plate of fries. Headlines around the benefits of eating fats can easily be misinterpreted. No one is suggesting we eat more burgers and chips.
3. Have a rough idea of portion sizes.
Some of the healthy fats can be quite moreish! It is easy to wolf down a few handfuls of nuts or seeds without realising. As a general guideline, think of a portion as roughly the size of a golf ball.
4. Know your body.
We are all individuals and general advice doesn't apply to everyone. For example, if you have gallstones you may find that healthy peanut butter on an oatcake triggers symptoms. If you have Type 2 Diabetes, you may find that the very same healthy peanut butter helps to control your blood sugar levels. The key is finding what works for you as an individual.
5. The less processed, the better
Choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. For example natural, full-fat yoghurt is preferable to fruity yoghurts with 0% fat. Compare the lists of ingredients especially noting sugar and artificial sweeteners. Another good example to look out for is low fat mayonnaise compared to normal. Notice how the fat is replaced with sugar. Sugar is more likely to cause weight gain than fat.
National Obesity Forum Report (2016) Eat Fat, Cut the Carbs and Avoid Snacking to Reverse Obesity And Type 2 Diabetes https://phcuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Eat-Fat-Cut-The-Carbs-and-Avoid-Snacking-To-Reverse-Obesity-and-Type-2-Diabetes-National-Obesity-Forum-Public-Health-Collaboration.pdf [Accessed 25.05.16]