For decades, we've been told to eat “balanced meals” in order to be healthy. But balanced how?
The latest research in nutrition challenges our understanding of that balance, upsetting the scales in favor of adding more fat to our diets, and less carbs. A higher-fat and lower-carb diet purports to offer not only weight loss but a decrease in the presence of triglycerides, resulting in decreased blood pressure and healthier cholesterol levels, thereby lowering risk of stroke and heart disease. They’re also much more conducive to the development of – and maintenance of – muscle, thereby helping prevent your metabolism from decreasing too rapidly.
The results of a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine supports that research. For the study, about 150 people of a variety of races between the ages of 20 and 70 with no signs of diabetes or heart disease, were split them between a “high-carb, low-fat” eating group and a “high-fat, low-carb” eating group. The low-carb group ate a diet where approximately 28% of their calories came from carbs, in comparison to the high-carb group, where almost 45% came from carbs.
While both groups’ participants lost weight, the low-carb group’s average weight loss was three times the amount of the low-fat group, even as both groups were consuming the same amount of calories.
Much of the hand-wringing over this research is over concerns that it’ll be challenging to convince an anti-fat society to finally embrace fats as not only healthy but essential to weight loss success. So many diets – and brands – have been built around catering to the needs of the low-fat lifestyler, that the thought of asking people to go against the grain of what’s felt most comfortable to them seems impossible.
That being said, it’s still a pretty easy argument to make.
People who go on diets often quickly cut consumption of both fat and protein – the macronutrients most able to provide the most satiety. Fat aids in the consumption of essential nutrients; improves the quality of your hair, skin, and nails; and aids in the support of your cardiovascular system. Not to mention, it makes your food taste a thousand times better.
We’re not talking about grabbing the fattiest cut of meat you can find and slamming it on your plate, because this isn’t your permission slip to go HAM on a piece of… beef. We’re not talking about vegans giving up their lifestyle, either. We’re talking a healthy medium where people can get the right kinds and amounts of what they need for their particular lifestyle.
While trans fats have always been scrutinized, foods like butter, cheese, ice cream, coconut oil, and whole-fat dairy products are now given a second chance. As saturated fats were not prohibited in the higher-fat group’s nutritional intake, seeing that the risk factors for heart disease and high blood pressure should serve as a polite nudge that it’s okay to consume these within your regular caloric intake levels. This essentially leaves only trans fats as the unhealthy source of fat.
However, there are non-animal-related sources of fat that one can use to bump up the amount of healthy fats in their diet. Avocado, olives, pumpkin seeds, nuts and nut butters, sesame seeds, cooking oils, and tofu are all vegan and healthy ways to add more fat to your diet. (If you have any concerns regarding the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in your diet, remember: this naturally levels out when you remove consumption of processed food from their diet.)
All in all, it’s tough to keep up with the ever-changing tide of nutrition information out there. It can be frustrating, but we should remember that the goal is to help improve our quality of life not only externally, but internally as well. The best way to incorporate this new research in your life is the same way you incorporate all new habits: slowly! Adding a little avocado with your breakfast, a little sesame oil on your lunch salad, or even a little coconut oil with your stir fry can make not only a world of difference in the taste and in how full you’ll be, but also in how you feel! As I always say, your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the certified trainer, nutritionist, and writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.