Overrated: Low-fat food can make you ...fat

Women about my age, in their 30s and 40s, will (I am sure) remember college, when most of us ate a diet consisting of Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, skim milk, and pasta with the barest sprinkling of low-fat mozzarella and maybe a pat of margarine. And lots, and lots of salad, dressing on the side. Then came Snackwells and for a time we gorged ourselves on low-fat high-preservative cookies. Just thinking about my Snackwells and Baked Lays binges gives me a headache.

After a while, I gave up the low-fat lifestyle as gimmicky -- how could the delicious things humans have been eating since time immemorial be bad for you? I wondered -- and began to embrace whole foods, real butter, and the occasional doppio (a latte made with half-and-half, yum). And then I bought In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and my mind was blown. In the book, he cites significant evidence that low-fat diets don't contribute in the least to weight loss or reduction in heart disease; to the contrary, diets low in animal fats and high in refined flours and sugars (read: the contents of my dorm kitchen) could be the cause of dietary diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The real mind-blower is that low-fat diets can make you fat.

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Well knock me over with a rice cake! I couldn't be happier and continued to read up on the concept of eating good old-fashioned unprocessed animal fats -- raw milk, cultured butter, whole-milk yogurt, lard from sustainably-raised pigs, ground beef and roasts and steak from grass-fed beef, truly free-range chicken (the skin too!), real sour cream -- and started living my life the full-fat way.

I haven't had more than a pound or two of refined sugar since December (most Americans eat 158 pounds of refined sugar each year -- that includes white sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup sweeteners) and probably no more than a cup-full of refined grains a week. I'm slimmer than I've ever been, muscular, energetic, and I never count calories or skimp on the fat.

Whatever your dietary profile, low-fat food is vastly over-rated. Most low-fat products are nutritionally inferior to their less-processed, full-fat counterparts; something has to replace fat and usually it's sugar, corn syrup sweeteners, or chemicals. It doesn't take a famous author or scientist to realize that foods that are closer to the earth are better for you (I doubt many people are still claiming that Snackwells sandwiches cookies were mistakenly-maligned brain food); an avocado is better for you than "guacamole dip" that's mostly partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil and chemical stabilizers. An oven-roasted chicken breast is better for you than a handful of low-fat chicken nuggets. Sourdough whole-grain bread with butter is better for you than white bread with "zero grams trans fats!" spread with "I can't believe it's not butter!" Those statements are uncontroversial.

Living without worrying about the fat content of your food is both liberating and delicious. Instead of poring over health claims in the grocery store, why not bake a loaf of whole-wheat bread? Your health, and your budget, will be better for it.
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